Defining the Process Domain

Defining the Process Domain

Domain processes are the interrelated activities that are specific to the functioning of the organization for which a software project is developed. The first step is to determine the domain in which the product will finally be used. For all domain analysis, the critical point of view is that of the ultimate end-user. Valid analyses and evaluations of options must be done from this view. If there is no "real" customer available, then we must rely on a secondary "voice of the customer". This is generally someone from the marketing organization. Even when a matrix is viewed from the "developer's" point of view, the customer is ever present.

The measure of quality for a software project is based on how well the software solves particular domain-related problems. For the software customer, the view is from his business domain, not that of a computer scientist or software engineer. For this reason, to deliver quality software, the project manager must understand the domain for which the software solves particular needs. For software product development, there are six classes of product domains:

1.  Consumer
2.  Business
3.  Industrial
4.  Real-time
5.  Really timely
6.  Scientific

Individuals buy consumer products for personal use. This use could be at home, while traveling, or at work. The key here is that the consumer market is a mass market and is usually addressing a price-sensitive purchaser. Examples of consumer products utilizing software are cellular phones, automobiles, televisions, personal computers, and personal digital assistants.

The greater part of software products are targeted at the business product domain. Here the key is providing a cost-effective product to the business customer that will improve overall business profits. These products are generally expensive compared to consumer products and have maintenance, service, and installation services available as an essential part of the product. Examples of these types of products are database tools such as Oracle, enterprise resource planning products such as PeopleSoft, development tool suites such as WebSphere and VisualAge, and operating systems such as Solaris.

Industrial products are a particular subclass of business products. These are software tools that are purchased for the particular purposes of machine automation, factory automation and integration, and embedded control software. These are special-purpose and generally focused on a particular industry such as automotive, food processing, and semiconductor fabrication. This domain has the highest percentage of product customization and integration with legacy systems. Examples of these products are factory automation software from FactoryWorks, embedded development systems from Wind River, and process modeling tools such as Hewlett-Packard's Vee.

Real-time products are used to control processes that have a defined and finite time budget. Real-time systems are used for data collection of events that last less than a microsecond. Real-time products control embedded medical devices such as pacemakers, where information must literally be processed between heartbeats. These products also work in the interface between the collection of analog data such as voice or music and its conversion to digital data that can be stored on a magnetic disk or CD-ROM. All real-time software is written particularly for the target hardware on which it executes.

Really timely, as opposed to real-time, software products must execute within a time budget that does not bother the end user. Examples of this are the software that runs ATM machines and does credit card verification while ordering over the Internet. Most really timely software products are a part of either business or industrial software products. They are broken out as a subclass because of the potential for causing customer irritability if they do not function efficiently.

Scientific products simulate real-world activities using mathematics. Real-world objects are turned into mathematical models. Implementing formulas simulates the actions of the real-world objects. For instance, some of an airplane's flight features can be simulated in the computer. Rivers, lakes, and mountains can be simulated. Virtually any object with known characteristics can be modeled and simulated. Simulations use massive calculations and sometimes require supercomputer speed. As personal computers become more powerful, more laboratory experiments will be converted into computer models that can be interactively observed by students without the risk and cost of the actual experiments. Members of this product domain are Matlib for large mathematical formula development, Analytica for developing large-scale business models, and Expert Choice for developing large-scale decision support systems. Scientific software products are generally special-purpose tool kits for problem solving.

The question now arises, "What about the government market?" For the six classes of software product domains as defined, all of them could be "government" customers. Where the separation of government from private customers comes into play is in the areas of business plans, legal concerns, contracting, and risk analysis.

Four classes of product systems look at ways that the software product will be built and delivered from the developer's point of view. These four have different product development plans and life cycles. Although all product development is an iterative process, in the real business world there is generally an existing product portfolio. During the conceptual stage, the project manager will have worked on the product concept and selected a beginning life cycle. That earlier work influences the selection of one or more of these product system classes:

1.  New software product
2.  Re-engineering of existing product
3.  Component integration
4.  Heroic maintenance

A new software product starts with a set of requirements and moves through its development life cycle to delivery. It will use some sort of development tools and possibly object libraries, where suitable. This is building a truly new software product for taking advantage of a new technology such as the Internet or using a new set of programming tools such as Java. It may also be a new market opportunity because of changes in government regulations such as telecommunications or banking deregulation.

Re-engineering existing product is simply that. This product already exists in a form that may use outmoded software technology or be hosted on obsolete hardware. An example would be a DOS-based data collection system that would be re-engineered to run on Linux.

Taking available commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products and integrating them into a product is component integration. An example of this type of product is taking an available embedded database tool along with a script-generation tool and a graphical user interface (GUI) generator to produce a new product that is used for integrating factory equipment into the overall manufacturing execution system.

Heroic maintenance occurs when a company wants to wring the last bit of revenue out of an existing software product that has been passed over for re-engineering. Software product companies take great care in the management and timing of the releases of new capabilities within their product portfolios. When completely new products or extraordinarily re-engineered products are released, there is always a potential to cannibalize existing customer sales instead of having new customers buy the new product. Timing decisions may result in the delay of the newest product and the release of the old product with heroic work done to dress it up in new clothes. An example of this is once again our DOS system: Instead of re-engineering the whole system, the command-line interface was replaced with a pseudo-GUI. This is known in the software industry as "same dog, new collar!"

The first matrix to be developed by the project manager involves identifying the product domain type, demonstrated in Figure (a). This product domain type resides at the intersection of the six product domain classes and the product type classes. A software product can be defined to exist in various cells on this matrix. For instance, suppose that there is a new, Web-based software product for registering personal DVD movies in a trading club in which points are earned to borrow (or a small fee is paid, if points are inadequate). This product would "live" in the consumer and really timely product domain classes as both a new software product and component integration. Although the concept of the product is new and new software would be developed, there are many libraries of components available for use. This example is represented in the matrix with an X in the relevant cell.

Step 1- Identify the Product Domain Type

Another example product is an enhancement to an existing factory-integration product to take information from past process steps and determine the optimum process for the product through the factory based on past production yield information and customer orders. We can tell immediately that this will be re-engineering an existing product, but some new software also will be developed. This product may touch four of the product domain classes: business, industrial, real-time, and scientific. Business could be touched because of accessing historic information on production yields. Industrial and real-time apply because it will be operating on factory automation equipment. The scientific piece comes in with the optimization algorithms necessary for determining the best individual product flow through the factory. This example is represented in the matrix with an O in the relevant cell.

The third part of defining the process domain is the product component classes. This set of classes is also viewed from the viewpoint of the end-user. There are six members of the class, and the key question to ask is, "What does the customer expect to have delivered?" The software development project manager must discover whether the end-user has a product expectation. Six product component classes exist:

1.  Software
2.  Hardware
3.  People
4.  Database
5.  Documentation
6.  Procedures

If a project is to develop a "pure" software product, the end-user has an expectation that he will get an installation set of media or an access key to a remote site to download the product. This is the way most consumer software is purchased - the only items received are the media or a digital file.

Many products are turnkey: The developed software is hosted on hardware. Buying a cellular phone generally dictates the software running within the hardware. Although the software is a critical system component, the customer purchases the hardware.

People are a critical part of many software products. Enterprise-wide software systems used for financial management, factory control, and product development may require consulting services to be "purchased" along with the software to aid in product installation, integration, and adoption into a specific environment.

Database products, although most definitely software, are separated as a different class because of the expectations that accompany the purchase of this class of complicated software. A database product is generally purchased as a separate, general-purpose tool kit to be used as an adjunct to all of a company's other information systems. More "software" products are delivered with an embedded database package within the product. It is important for the customer to realize that he is purchasing not only the "new" software, but also a database product.

Documentation is almost always a part of the product. In some cases, it may be books and manuals purchased as a "shrink-wrapped", off-the-shelf software product. Many complex enterprise software products have third-party authors writing usage and tips books sold through commercial bookstores. If downloaded, the digital files may include a "readme" file and possibly complete soft copy documentation. Acquiring software from some sources such as SourceForge ( may provide no documentation other that the software's source code.

Procedures or business rules are a final component class. In situations in which the customer is buying systems and software used for decision support, equipment control, and component integration, it is important for the customer to understand the procedure deliverables. Generally the custom development of the business rules for an organization are done by either the organization itself or consultants hired from the software company. This can be a very gray area, and it is important that the project manager understand all of the project deliverables early in the development life cycle, particularly those that can cause customer dissatisfaction and demonstrate a lack of quality.

Now that the third set of domain classes has been defined, the project manager can fill out the last two matrices. The next one to complete is the identification of the critical product components, shown in Figure (b). This matrix is a table of the product component classes matched with the classes of product systems. This matrix provides us with the deliverables for the defined product based on whether it is new software, re-engineered software, a component integration product, or the heroic maintenance of a legacy product within the company's portfolio. Remember, the Web example is the X and the factory integration is the O.

Step 2 - Identify Critical Product Components

For instance, our Web-based software product for registering personal DVD movies was determined to be both a new software product and component incorporation. The critical product components for this product are software and documentation. It is Web-based and runs from a browser running on the customer's personal hardware. The customer will see no database, people, or procedures. The only documentation may be the instructions on the Web page itself.

Our other example product, an enhancement to an existing factory integration product, involves re-engineering an existing product and some new software development. Based on how the product is to be marketed, the customer will see all the component classes except hardware. He will expect software to be delivered along with a field applications engineer to do the installation and acceptance testing within the customer's factory. The customer will also expect a database to keep the real-time product status and yield information along with the procedures for running the optimization algorithms. Documentation will be critical to both a company's engineers doing the installation and the customers after the product is accepted.

The third matrix that the project manager produces to define the domain is to link the product domains to the delivered components. This matrix shown in Figure (c) is a table of the product component classes matched with the product domain classes. This matrix provides us with the deliverables for the defined product based on whether it is going to be installed into a consumer, business, industrial, real-time, really timely, or scientific domain.

Step 3 - Link Product Domains with Components

Using our two examples, the Web-based software product for registering personal DVD movies in a trading club would "live" in the consumer and really timely product domain classes. The deliverables would be software and documentation. The second example, an enhancement to an existing factory integration product, touches four of the product domain classes: business, industrial, real-time, and scientific. The deliverable components are software, people, database, documentation, and procedures.

"Selecting Software Development Life Cycles", provided the descriptions of normally used software development life cycles and the selection criteria for each. When compared to the overall company versus product life cycles, the software development life cycle is assumed within the acquisition phase of the product life cycle. "Managing Domain Processes" figure shows this.

A project manager must understand the relationship within his organization of software development within product life cycles. A classic product development life cycle begins with a development or acquisition phase during which the product is built or acquired. Figure (d) represents the product development phase. The project manager works hand in hand with the product manager to plan for the manufacturing of the product. This phase is the production ramp. Investment is made on the infrastructure for product manufacturing, and first products are built. After the production ramp, the software portion of the product is out of the hands of the software project manager, except for problem fixes.

Software Development Life Cycle

Figure (e) shows the complete product life cycle plotted in months versus thousands of dollars invested. The dollars of investment on the left side of the graph and below the zero line is the estimated investment in the product. The dollars above the zero line are the estimated revenue dollars that the product will earn. This type of information is generally developed by marketing and is a critical part of the return on investment that the product will make.

Software Product Life Cycle

Finally, the relationship between the development and product life cycles is graphically represented in Figure (f). This relationship is critical to keep in mind as the project manager works through the product development process. In the product world, the product life cycle drives decisions and investment. Only the investment part of the software development life cycle is important to product managers planning product portfolios.
Software Product and Development Life Cycles


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