Reporting across organizations presents challenges
The ability of organizations to accurately answer these questions drives success in systems and software development:
- Are we on target?
- Are we within budget?
- Are my projects contributing effectively to my operational objectives?
- How well are these operational objectives helping to satisfy our business goals?
- Can we easily demonstrate compliance with customer requirements or industry standards?
- Are we ready to deliver yet?
However, to answer such questions, teams must have access to accurate, timely, and appropriate project information and the ability to put it in the hands of decision makers. Because data is typically spread across different disciplines, geographically dispersed teams, and tools, team members struggle to quickly get the right information in the right format at the right time.
Adding to the challenge is the push toward making products more instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, or what IBM calls "smarter." Smarter products rely upon the tight integration of sophisticated software with hardware and electronics. This leads to increased systems and software development complexity and to demanding larger, more diverse teams than ever before. As a result, information has become even more dispersed across physical, organizational, and technological boundaries.
This article discusses the difficulties that organizations face as they gather critical information and explores the use of automation to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of reporting and measurement. It also describes IBM® Rational® software that can help automate reporting and measurement to improve project, program, and organizational management and decision makers' abilities to influence positive outcomes.
Manual reporting can cause problems
Software development organizations typically use existing and familiar tools, such as word processing or spreadsheet programs, to report and measure information. Although these might be adequate methods for local or one-time documentation, they require time-consuming manual effort from many individuals across the software development cycle to assemble and analyze the information for project reporting and measurement.
Having individuals extract and analyze information takes valuable time away from employees' core responsibilities. Moreover, manual reporting and measurement processes are dependent on the way an individual chooses to gather and analyze information. Consistency is essential when organizations update documents throughout a development lifecycle or repeat measurements over time to identify trends. Even with guidelines in place, manual processes leave opportunities for individuals to interpret information or perform tasks differently. As a result, it is difficult to generate consistent reporting and measurement data, which makes it hard to spot the real trends in the information.
Finally, because organizations must frequently generate reports for traceability, compliance, and decision making, sometimes business analysts or developers force reporting mechanisms into processes where they do not belong. For example, a developer who is modeling in Unified Modeling Language (UML) knows that he must create a particular diagram within the model for report documentation. To streamline the report generation process, he adds text boxes to the model to identify which model elements meet which requirement. Although this practice simplifies reporting, the developer now has report-specific data and formatting information embedded in the actual design model, which represents inherent risk to design information integrity.
Organizations need a more efficient, accurate and repeatable way of generating reports and measurements. To address compliance requirements and gain key business insights, they must provide stakeholders and decision makers with the right information at the right time. To do so, they need the ability to quickly publish accurate, timely documentation and real-time dashboards that allow users to recursively drill down through levels of abstraction to get to information relevant to the task at hand.
Automation results in more accurate, reliable data
Rather than manually measuring and documenting business-critical information, developers can use tools specifically designed to automate such tasks. As Figure 1 shows, by using the right software, you can extract information from repositories across the systems or software development lifecycle (spanning requirements management, modeling, testing, and change and configuration management), as well as beyond the traditional development boundaries into other business systems. Automated tools can collect information quickly, easily, and unobtrusively from across the enterprise, delivering accurate, timely reports and enabling better decisions about the right course of action for projects.
Figure 1. Automated reporting can combine information from multiple sources
As previously discussed, good tools used for the wrong purpose provide, at best, limited value. However, tools specifically designed for automated reporting and measurement deliver fast, accurate results that cater to specific needs. If you choose tools that offer automated document generation, as well as measurement and development analytics, you also streamline your compliance and decision-making processes.
There are two broad categories of information presentation that are important for software and systems development:
- Software and systems documentation, such as requirements and design documents, as well as compliance documents.
- Development analytics, such as requirements coverage, test coverage, defect trending reports, and other such measures that can be aggregated in executive development status dashboards.
For simplicity, IBM refers to both categories as "reporting."
Businesses continue to rely on documentation as a critical communication mechanism, both internally and across contractual boundaries. Development teams are often required to deliver documentation according to specific standards that are imposed either by customers or by industry regulators.
A key benefit of automated document generation is the separation of formatting and content. By creating report templates, you need to format the layout for the information that you need only once. When it's time to update it, you can populate the report template with the latest information. In an automated report, information is also always consistent between versions. IBM® Rational® Publishing Engine includes templates that you can customize (see the last section for more about this tool).
Automation inherently makes a process more efficient. In the case of reporting, it also enables organizations to control documentation production, rather than being controlled by the need to produce documentation. In other words, as developers work on projects, they don't need to worry about how they will document their output. This gives them the freedom to focus on their core responsibilities.
Measurement and development analytics
Measurements are essential to improving processes. As William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) said nearly a century ago: "If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it." Measurements enable a project team to gather feedback on an aspect of project performance so the team can modify the process to more effectively control that aspect. Measurement is a fundamental aspect of the IBM approach to incremental, continuous improvement. Other commonly used approaches, such as Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), require quantitative management of processes through measurement to drive ongoing process optimization. However, measurement is only part of the story. It is equally important that organizations understand what the data means to various stakeholders.
Automated measurement and analysis tools help organizations turn insight into action, and they bring efficiency and repeatability to the measurement process. The value of repeatable measurements is even greater over time, because analyzing trends further improves the predictability of project outcomes.
Much like automated document generation solutions, automated measurement and analytics collect data from disparate repositories across the development and delivery lifecycle (and in many cases, beyond). After the data is collected, these tools can show trends of that data over time and display the trend in appropriate formats that stakeholders can easily see and understand. By using software for automated measurement and analytics, you can generate different, yet consistent, metrics reports and views for stakeholders at all levels of the business, from developers to the CTO. This helps the development organization contribute to the operational objectives and overall business goals more effectively.
Rational reporting and measurement tools work together
Rational reporting and measurement tools can help you to extract and combine information from a wide variety of IBM Rational development tools, including these products:
- IBM® Rational® Focal Point software for product and portfolio management
- IBM Rational Requirements Composer software for requirements elicitation
- IBM Rational DOORS® software for requirements management
- IBM Rational System Architect software for enterprise architecture and framework modeling
- IBM Rational Rhapsody® software for visual modeling
- IBM Rational Quality Manager software for web-based test planning, test execution, and defect management
- IBM Rational ClearCase® and IBM Rational ClearQuest® software for change and configuration management
- IBM Rational Asset Manager tool for software development asset management
As well as extracting information from other Rational tools, Rational reporting and measurement solutions can extract information from nearly any source that either generates XML data or exposes a Representational State Transfer (REST) interface. In this way information from multiple sources can be combined to produce more complete reporting.
IBM Rational Publishing Engine
Developers can quickly produce accurate, up-to-date documentation by using Rational Publishing Engine software (also see Resources). It includes prebuilt templates that you can use or easily customize by using drag-and-drop technology.
The Document Studio interface (Figure 2) provides an intuitive workplace for document template design and customization, with easy access to a palette of document elements, data source schema, document element properties, and the template outline. You can build document templates visually by dragging the required document element from the palette to the appropriate point in the template. In this way, you can easily add document formatting items, such as headers, footers, tables (including tables of contents) and boilerplate text
Data source schemas give access to information in the data source tools. You can insert this information into the document by dragging the appropriate schema element into a container in the template. You can apply conditional formatting to extracted data to further enhance the document. For example, a table of requirements could highlight unsatisfied requirements in red. You can use the template outline to navigate around the template and to set the required styles for elements. And, with the Properties window, you can view and modify the properties of selected template items.
Figure 2. The Rational Publishing Engine Document Studio interface
When the template is complete and the data sources are specified, you can click a Generate Report button, and the report template will gather current information from the sources and transform and populate that data in the appropriate places in the template. It can produce documents in these widely used data formats so that all stakeholders can easily access the reports:
- Microsoft Word
- XSL Formatting Objects (XSL-FO).
- Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)
IBM Rational Insight
The IBM Rational Insight automated measurement and development analytics software uses the same flexible REST interfaces as the Rational Publishing Engine tool to extract data from systems and software development data sources. However, rather than publishing a document, the Rational Insight application collects and organizes the data in a central repository. Then it outputs consolidated data, measurements, and trends to customizable dashboards, as shown in Figure 3. This flexibility enables stakeholders and decision makers to obtain the up-to-date and accurate information they need, when and where they want it.
Figure 3. Customizable dashboards to display the right information
Rational Insight is a key technology in the implementation of a measured, incremental improvement approach, which provides organizations with a structured way to align their systems and software development capabilities to business objectives. With this technique, organizations define operational approaches to reach business objectives and then apply practices to implement those approaches. Metrics measure and control the implementation and effectiveness of such practices, and the Rational Insight application provides the automation mechanism for the measurement of those metrics. (Also see Resources.)
Automation is about more than just productivity
Use of automated reporting and measurement tools, such as Rational Publishing Engine and Rational Insight, is a key to providing accurate, timely and appropriate information to decision makers. Automated reporting can help you document compliance and eliminate the errors, inconsistency, and wasted time and effort inherent in manual reporting. Automated measurement can help improve processes and streamline project delivery. Ultimately, organizations that automate reporting and measurement help improve the success rates for their projects, gain productivity across their development teams, and improve their ability to meet high-level business objectives.
- Browse the developerWorks page for Rational Publishing Engine. Also check the Rational Publishing Engine Information Center for documentation for all versions, or get support from the Rational Publishing Engine help system.
- For more about Rational Insight, browse the developerWorks page for links to technical articles and many related resources, the product overview page for details, and explore the support page, as well as the user guide in the Information Center.
- Visit the Rational software area on developerWorks for technical resources and best practices for all Rational Software Delivery Platform products.
- Stay current with developerWorks technical events and webcasts focused on a variety of IBM products and IT industry topics.
- Improve your skills. Check the Rational training and certification catalog, which includes many types of courses on a wide range of topics. You can take some of them anywhere, any time, and many of the "Getting Started" ones are free.
Get products and technologies
- Get the free trial download for Rational Insight.
- Check the Trials and Demos page for Rational software.
- Evaluate IBM software in the way that suits you best: Download it for a trial, try it online, use it in a cloud environment, or spend a few hours in the SOA Sandbox learning how to implement service-oriented architecture efficiently.
- Participate in technical discussions in the Rational Publishing Engine forum.
- Participate in technical discussions in the Rational Publishing Engine forum.
- Join the Performance Management with Rational Insight forum to ask questions and participate in discussions.
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- Ask and answer questions and increase your expertise when you get involved in the Rational forums, cafés, and wikis.
- Connect with others who share your interests by joining the developerWorks community and responding to the developer-driven blogs.