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If it’s not what you do for a living, it’s something you should
think about paying someone else to do. Configuring, maintaining and
updating a development team’s life-cycle management tool set seems like
an excellent example, and Rally
Software Development Corp.’s
forthcoming Rally Release 5 looks like
an attractive option for improved process quality — despite the
growing challenges of decentralized teams.

“We all have to see each other’s eyes” to meet the expectations of
so-called “agile”
software development
processes, said Rally VP Richard Leavitt
before showing me the company’s latest effort. Agile development, with
its two- to four-week cycles of delivering fully tested incremental
updates, needs that kind of immediacy in identifying and addressing any
kind of blockage to any team member’s work. Even NASA has recognized
the need to tighten the eyeball-to-eyeball feedback loops among team
members, literally changing the
shape of the table
where daily management meetings will convene
when the space shuttle returns to
later this week — hurricanes

Eye-to-eye interfaces loosen, though, when teams work in different
locations and increasingly even in different time zones — and even
having development team members on different floors of the same
building can add weeks of time and tens of thousands of dollars to
project costs, as
by consultant Alistair Cockburn in his October 2001 book
on agile techniques. Improved communication tools, as
by Borland Software Chief Scientist Randy Guck, have the
potential to shift things back in the right direction, but unstructured
tools like e-mail don’t live up to that potential.

An online environment that’s structured to consume available data, such as test
reports, and to digest that information for developers in an
action-oriented way, is a better way. Guck addressed
related needs
in a paper this past February on the use of Borland’s
StarTeam in distributed efforts: He has a dog in the fight, to be sure,
but he makes some good general points about issues of designing and
maintaining a distributed team’s support environment.

As I said earlier, though, there’s a case to be made for letting
someone else walk and feed the dog — especially if a team only exists
in the virtual, project-oriented sense of an SOA development effort and
does not even share a single physical infrastructure.

I was therefore pleased to get an early look last week at the Rally
Release 5 update that’s planned for subscriber availability on July 23.
With service-model pricing beginning at $65 per user per month, I have
to admit that the service can look expensive compared with using a
whiteboard or a spreadsheet to monitor project status and trends. The
problem, of course, is that the latter approaches often prove to be
false economy. Manual tracking and scheduling tools often don’t reflect
reality; when they do, it’s because a new task of progress reporting
has been shoved to the head of the to-do list. And minutes of delay, or
hours of confusion, add up quickly into real costs — direct or

I therefore looked hard for signs that Rally’s designers had crafted
an integrated approach to requirements tracking, testing, defect
reporting and correction, and end-user feedback response. I liked what
I saw, and their site will soon be offering a test-drive environment
where you can get an idea of the facilities that Rally provides.

Getting everyone around the right-shaped table, figuratively
speaking, can be a growth experience for all involved. “Testers become
first-class citizens and acquire analyst skills,” observed Rally’s
Leavitt during our meeting. When a developer has two ways to do
something, he added, a tester may seize the opportunity to say, “Well,
I can test that” — and guide small choices in the direction of big
quality gains.

Tell me what kind of guidance you’d like to get from a process tool

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