Sunday, April 20, 2008

Building Value

This week, one of my colleague (a guy named Josh) was all grumpy about the time he spent adding documentation in his projects Maven sites so operations could deploy his application properly. This made me reflect on how great is this tool not only for building software but value in general.

By giving developers the opportunity to document in the same environment as where they code and by embedding the HTML rendition of this documentation in the project site alongside all the other technical reports, Maven presents to the stakeholders an overview of the value built by a project.

Value is a vague term, so let me be more specific:
  • Intrinsic value: technical metrics, like the ones coming from static bug analysis, package dependencies, test coverage or code style compliance, represent the core value of the code in term of quality, flexibility and maintainability.
  • Business value: results from acceptance testing tools like Selenium or FitNesse represent the capacity of the application to satisfy business requirements.
  • Corporate value: on top of the auto-generated technical documentation from the code base, all the extra documentation that is added, whether it is installation guides, monitoring procedures or deployment diagrams, brings value to the company as a whole, from operation teams to new recruits.
With all this goodness available, I am still baffled by the limited number of managers who pay attention to the reports generated by Maven. I imagine that they might be too technical for "generic" managers who are in the business of software as if they would be in the one of gravel and stone delivery. Moreover, the usual metrics for software development is generally focused only of features delivery and deadlines.

This said, thanks to continuous integration and the dashboard plugin, I believe it is possible to catch the interest of a broader audience because it is now possible to display trends instead of static values: management understands trends.

For example, a flat test coverage value is meaningless but a trend that shows it increases means that quality, thus value, does the same. Similarly, comparing projects based on their metrics is a non-sense, while comparing their trends makes sense.

Did you have any good experience sharing Maven sites to management? Did they get the feeling that value was being built?

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