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DNDJ Feature — Understanding the Methodology Workbench of Microsoft Visual Studio Team System

Underlying Concepts and Architectures

Microsoft Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) provides tools and features that can be used in almost all areas of software development. As Microsoft VSTS has a broad spectrum of features and target areas, some of its core feature areas are still not well understood by many people working with the product. One of these feature areas is the methodology management system for software development lifecycles, which is built into the VSTS platform.

This article describes the underlying concepts and architectures used by the VSTS methodology management system. It also describes the benefits and limitations of using VSTS for implementing lifecycle methodologies.

Lifecycle Management Tools and VSTS
Over the years, the software industry has matured to a great extent in terms of the processes used. Today, the industry has quite a number of established and proven software development methodologies that cater to different kinds of project lifecycles: Microsoft Solution Framework (MSF), Rational Unified Process (RUP), Waterfall, Agile, etc.

Currently, most of these methodologies are available as document references only. Practitioners need to learn the processes defined in the methodologies from the documents; then they need to follow the processes manually and submit the required data to separate life cycle tools that do not have much integration with development tools such as Visual Studio. For example, there isn't a tool available that guides you through the different stages of the MSF lifecycle methodology and automatically collects the required data from the activities that are performed within those stages. This limitation makes it difficult to have a consistent implementation of the methodology across multiple projects. Also, as the processes are followed manually, data collection and reporting becomes a manual task, which results in lower productivity and lower delivery efficiency. These limitations can cause considerable problems because the methodologies involve multiple roles and different sets of inter-related (and multi-level) activities spanning long periods of time.

Some software vendors like Borland and Microsoft provide lifecycle management tools; these tools automate many of the activities involved in the software development lifecycles, including data collection and reporting. These tools not only provide consistency across different implementations, but also enhance the productivity of the delivery teams by providing a set of tools for team collaboration and common development activities.

For software development lifecycle management, Microsoft provides VSTS - an integrated environment that covers most of the activities involved in a software development project. VSTS not only provides a sophisticated lifecycle methodology management system, but also provides tools for every role in a typical software development team: architects, project managers, developers, and testers. This support for a broad spectrum of roles combined with a sound framework for managing lifecycle methodologies enables VSTS to support the entire project lifecycle.

Figure 1 indicates a high level of VSTS inclusion in different stages and processes of the software development lifecycle.

You can use VSTS for projects that are not developed in Visual Studio-supported languages such as Java. You need to install Visual Studio and Team Explorer to use VSTS for lifecycle management, but you don't necessarily need to write code in the Visual Studio-supported languages such as C#, C++, or VB.NET. (Team Explorer is an add-in to Visual Studio 2005 installed with the VSTS clients. It provides tools to access the VSTS Server called Team Foundation Server (TFS) and manages data in the server. One of the key tools it provides is the Team Explorer window in Visual Studio IDE; the window is similar to Server Explorer or Solution Explorer windows.) If you are using another language such as Java, you won't get the development-related benefits (explained in the "VSTS Benefits for Lifecycle Management" section below), but you will still get the other lifecycle management related benefits listed in the same section.

To select a lifecycle management solution, you should analyze your processes and methodology related requirements and compare them to the different solutions available. You can opt for one of the following:

  • Use a separate solution for lifecycle management that can be used in any development environment, e.g., Osellus Process tools (www.osellus.com/products/iris_suite/iris_suite.html). In this case, you would use one tool for development and the other tool for lifecycle management.
  • Use a lifecycle solution that supports your development language, e.g., Borland tools (www.borland.com/us/products/alm/index.html) support both .NET as well as Java based development. This provides a single integrated tool for both development and lifecycle management.
If you are planning on using a separate lifecycle management solution, you might well consider VSTS if its lifecycle management features meet your requirements. VSTS is a compelling solution for .NET based projects.

VSTS Benefits for Lifecycle Management
Let's now see why VSTS is a compelling solution for lifecycle management. VSTS provides a tightly integrated set of tools that caters to various areas of software development (such as coding, unit testing, etc.) and have different degrees of benefits in those areas.

Particularly for lifecycle management, the key benefits are described below.

VSTS is well integrated with MS Project and MS Excel, which enables you to view and modify project data using these tools you are familiar with. Data such as tasks, requirements, bugs, risks, issues, etc., are stored on a VSTS server. As the data is stored in VSTS, you automatically get features like business rules, workflow state transitions, central reporting, and data consistency. You can synchronize the data in a project plan or Excel file with the latest data in the VSTS server (which is updated as team members complete their tasks), thus reducing the time spent in status meetings. You can combine the rich project tracking features of a MS Project or the calculation framework of MS Excel with VSTS to get a highly efficient, consistent and productive environment in which to work with the project data. However, the integration with the MS Project has certain limitations. It doesn't support the storing of task hierarchies (achieved using summary tasks and sub tasks) of MS Project in the Team Foundation Server. Also, you cannot assign more than one resource to a particular task. But, overall, it provides a well integrated environment.

To find out more about MS Project and VSTS integration, see my article "Combine Microsoft Project and Visual Studio Team System for a One-two Punch of Productivity" (www.devx.com/dotnet/Article/30187).

Generally, organizations find it difficult to enforce the processes defined in a methodology in a consistent manner. VSTS provides features such as role management, alerts and notifications, check-in policies, build rules, etc., which can be used to implement processes as defined in a methodology.

With VSTS, team members such as software designers, developers, and testers rarely need to go outside the Visual Studio environment. Visual Studio now provides tools for the entire lifecycle: modeling tools for application architecture, data center design and class design, development tools like version control server, static code analysis, code profiling, and testing tools for unit testing, Web testing, and load testing.

You can enforce some of the policies defined in the methodology using these integrated tools. For example, you can set the developer to run unit test cases on the code before any check-in. To get a brief overview of different VSTS features, see the MSDN Article: "TEAM UP!: Get All Your Devs in a Row with Visual Studio 2005 Team System" (http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/06/00/TeamSystem/default.aspx).

All the methodologies require that the software projects maintain certain reports (e.g., effort variance, schedule slippage, bug rates, etc.) to assess project performance. Collecting data and manually creating reports is a time-intensive and error-prone activity. VSTS provides an out-of-the-box OnLine Analytical Processing (OLAP) data warehouse that can be used by reporting tools such as SQL Server Reporting Services or MS Excel Pivot Tables to generate the required reports quickly. VSTS takes care of populating the warehouse with the required data from project artifacts such as tasks, phases, etc.
VSTS provides extensibility points in its reporting warehouse that enables you to get data from other data sources into the VSTS warehouse. Using this, you can also integrate other systems in your organization like resource management, billing, etc. in VSTS warehouse to provide a single source for all kinds of reports.

The data warehouse and reporting tools integration helps in delivering complex reports in an efficient manner, which enables the project managers to analyze project performance and make decisions more quickly.

More Stories By Sanjay Narang

Sanjay Narang is a Senior Technology Consultant at Global Delivery India Center (GDIC) of Hewlett-Packard. He is based in Bangalore, India and has around 8 years of IT experience. Sanjay has done Post Graduate Diploma in IT (PGDIT) and holds MCSD for .Net Framework and SCJP certifications. He has been involved in designing and developing solutions based on Microsoft technologies for a long time. Apart from software process automation and VSTS, he is working on SOA related projects around Microsoft technologies and their interoperability with other technologies. He has published papers around IPv6, VSTS, SOA, and Web Services and writes extensively about VSTS in his blog: http://sanjaynarang.wordpress.com/ He can be contacted at [email protected]

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Most Recent Comments
Kamal Ahluwalia 12/22/06 07:04:03 PM EST

Osellus offers two different solutions for customers who would like to develop custom processes or would like to enact available methodologies (with or without tailoring them) in VSTS.

Using IRIS Process Author, a methodology-agnostic standards based process authoring tool, process engineers can define-tailor-publish software development processes in a collaborative team based environment. This is made possible by the sophisticated server side support for extending and reusing process content, including best practices and patterns, being developed across an enterprise. These processes can then be exported as VSTS process templates to instantiate new team projects in VSTS.

For those teams who would not like to spend the time in coming up with their own processes but use available processes such as those from RUP, Osellus offers the VSTS ContentBridge. The VSTS ContentBridge allows project managers to transform RUP processes into VSTS Process Templates allowing flexible mapping to user defined work item types and attributes, as well as work item form layout. This transformation is lossless preserving the content defined in RUP. In many cases this would include content that has been used from one or more method plug-ins (for example the different RUP plug-ins). These VSTS Process Templates can be used to instantiate and enact new VSTS Team Projects.
After getting the right-process content at the right-time for the right-practioner, the IRIS Plugin for VSTS (to be release 1Q07) would use our second-generation enactment technology to offer advanced workflow execution, including triggering work product state machine based pre/post conditions. It would also offer a sophisticated process-rich web interface to TFS that would include linked work-items. This plugin would then make use of the advanced reporting capabilities built in VSTS to offer reports on enactment, including metrics and process compliance that would be extremely useful to our customers implementing CMMI and other quality initiatives.
I hope you find this information useful. For more information you can go to www.osellus.com or send us an email at [email protected].

Kamal Ahluwalia
Osellus Inc

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