Managing Distributed Software Development

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voice-over-IP and even video-over-IP. Anything that promotes effective team communication should be considered.

Shared Repositories
In typical projects, developers must share many of the assets used to specify, design, implement, and test software. In the past, network bandwidth and even the tools themselves prevented remote developers from having direct access to the same repositories used by developers operating behind the corporate firewall. Today, a broad array of software management tools are Internet-enabled. Combined with better availability of reliable bandwidth, these tools increasingly make it feasible for all team members to share common repositories.

Shared repositories provide developers with up-to-date information, thereby reducing conflicts. Internet-enabled, repository-centric tools are available for key development processes such as

  • Requirements Management: formal requirement specifications, dependencies, responsibilities, and change history
  • Source Code Management: versioned file assets such as design documents, source code, and binary files
  • Change Management: bug reports, new feature requests, defect tracking, and traceability
  • Project Management: Project schedules, task breakdowns, work assignments, and progress reports
  • Test Management: Test plans, test cases, and test results
     

Moreover, some Internet-enabled tools that help to manage these processes are starting to provide integrated collaborative features, such as threaded discussions and peer-to-peer messaging. These tools further foster team synchronization.

Large projects and large project teams may require access to many corporate resources. In these scenarios, teams can benefit from resource portals that consolidate and concentrate disparate information sources. For example, Web-based Development Resource Portals (DRPs) can provide access to research materials and project information from multiple repositories, focused on the needs of developers. Integrated search and discovery capabilities provide a central place to traverse a broad array of information. For effective distributed development, the key is to surface information stored in corporate repositories to all members of the team.

Keep Remote Developers Involved
Perhaps the most important way to keep remote developers on track is to keep them included. Every team member needs periodic reassurance that they are important to the project. The more a remote developer feels in the loop, the more likely they are to contribute effectively. There are many ways to ensure that distant team members are on track while fostering their sense of involvement. Here are a few ideas:

Show-and-Tell: Remote team members should periodically demonstrate their work via online presentations. They should also be included in training sessions, turnover meetings, and even customer presentations. Participation in important milestones such as these allows distant developers to showcase their work and demonstrate their expertise.

Reviews: Periodic design and code reviews are good ways to keep tabs on remote developers' progress. In order to keep them from feeling singled out, they should participate in reviews of other team members' work as well. One approach is to perform code walkthroughs, in which the author drives the presentation. This approach rotates each team member's responsibilities and maintains a sense of equality.

On-Site Visits : Teams shouldn't forget the importance of periodically inviting remote developers to headquarters or other development centers. Conversely, most remote developers appreciate having occasional team meetings at their locale. Digital collaboration and information sharing is helpful, but nothing can replace the interaction and camaraderie of occasional face-to-face meetings.

Conclusion
Distributed development teams are becoming the norm for today's software projects. In lieu of close physical interaction, distributed teams are faced with the challenge of keeping software projects on track and keeping remote developers involved. The same forces that have fostered the use of distributed teams are also yielding new ways to keep team members in touch. New forms of information exchange provide new ways for distributed developers to collaborate. Internet-enabled, repository-centric development tools give developers

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