Thursday, October 08, 2009

Memories of IT - when I started to learn about Methodology

So, these posts are still in the 80's, but a lot was going on. By coincidence, both I and my company were thinking more about methodologies and the system development life cycle. Looking back, it's hard to explain that we weren't really thinking in these terms, work just got done, a simpler time I suppose. Of course, the idea of using a methodology was not new in the mid-80's but it wasn't accepted everywhere either.

The only real methodology concept I was exposed to early in my career was the Scheduled Maintenance Release. Working on an existing system, requests for change would come in at any time. I suppose at one point before my time such changes might be dealt with as they arrived, but it had become apparent that this was not a best use of resources. It became clear that "opening up a system" for changes carried a certain level of cost irrespective of what the change was, including implementing changes into production.

So, change requests were evaluated as they came in (production bugs were fixed as they happened); if the change could wait, they went on the change list. At a future point, either on a regular basis or when resources were available, all the current changes were considered for a maintenance release project.

As I worked in a department where the systems were relatively small, and project teams may be one person, I don't recall doing much estimating or cost-benefit analysis for these projects during that era. Releases might be organized around major functions, like all changes for month-end reporting. Once a scope and a set of changes were agreed to with my main business contact, I just went ahead and did the work. I remember that I would figure what code changes were needed, do them, and test them. For the small systems I worked on, I don't recall there being separate unit, integration or User Acceptance Testing.

If you have read my earlier posts, you will know that I did work on a large in-house development project as a programmer, but I can't say if the project was following a methodology. I came on the project during construction, and all I remember was that the PM/BA did write and give out what would be considered Specs today. I think she also did the integration testing of the system as we delivered unit-tested bits.

But there was indeed some work on Methodology work going on in the company... One day some of us were scheduled to attend training on the company's new System Development Methodology (SDM). Apparently one or two people in IS Training had been developing an SDM (still had that in-house bias). So off we went; to the creators' credit, I recall it what we saw was pretty good. This is probably when I first heard the word "phases", and that there were at least 4 or 5 of them in this SDM. Unfortunately, creating an SDM is a lot of work, and so far they had only completed the Analysis phase in detail, the rest was just the framework. They said the remaining phases would come over time; well, time ran out on this work when someone figured out you could buy a whole/complete SDM, so the remaining phases were never done and the in-house SDM was never mentioned again.

... but I recall it was my IS department that then went out and got an SDM. The winner was from a local consulting company, who offered "The One Page Methodology"; methodologies were already getting the reputation that they were big and unwieldy, and the manuals would be put on a shelf and never used again. Now, this "one page" was as 4' by 2' foot wall-poster, but it served the purpose. The poster was divided in to 5 horizontal bars, one for each phase, and each phase had around 10 boxes/steps, going from left to right, but that's all I remember.

What I do remember was the vendor also had a CASE tool, called "The Developer", to automate the diagrams used in the methodology. These were basically data models and data flow diagrams. It also had a data dictionary for the data model, and text boxes for documenting your DFDs. So, Excelerator was gone, replaced by this Developer.

I used it quite a lot as I started doing analysis on a lot of smaller projects. I can't say that our developers got what the models were for, but it was mostly current system maintenance so they would ask questions and figure it somehow.Not sure how this situation was tolerated, but things were changing all the time, so newer methods and tools were coming...

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About Me

Ontario, Canada
I have been an IT Business Analyst for 25 years, so I must have learned something. Also been on a lot of projects, which I have distilled into the book "Cascade": follow the link to the right to see more.