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A Model for Succeeding with PBE

With this background in mind, we can state that a pattern is a specific type of asset, and we can state that PBE is a specialized form of ABD. The main difference is that we focus on a specific type of asset, namely, a pattern. We still look at and work with all of the other types of artifacts that could be assets, such as requirements, models, code, tests, deployment scripts, and so on. Within PBE, these other types of assets either are used in association with patterns or are used as input into our efforts to create new patterns.

However, we still need to find answers to questions such as these:

  • How do we perform PBE? That is, how can we take a systematic, disciplined, and quantifiable approach to using patterns to develop and deliver software?
  • How do we succeed in taking on a PBE approach and improving how we deliver software?
  • What are the best practices associated with PBE?
  • What are the roles and tasks associated with PBE?
  • How can we adopt and succeed with PBE as a team?

As we work our way through the rest of the book, we will discuss answers to these questions. As is the case with ABD, we can consider PBE from two perspectives. First, we are concerned with the available tools, processes, standards, and assets. Second, we look at the effort that we put into the identification, production, management, and consumption of patterns.

We can also leverage a model, as shown in Figure 1.2, to help us understand and position the content found in the rest of the book. The elements in the model build out from the base, leveraging the elements contained within. Starting with the innermost circle, we can see that there is a set of PBE Core Values. These core values form the basis of how we approach PBE. The goal is to ensure that we are able to quickly understand, remember, and relate a small and simple set of values that will influence all of our PBE efforts.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 A model bringing together the key elements that support our PBE efforts

There is then a set of PBE Patterns that build upon the PBE Core Values. These patterns, as expected, provide a set of proven best-practice solutions to recurring PBE problems. There are patterns that support us in identifying, producing, managing, and consuming patterns.

Beyond the PBE Patterns there are PBE Guidelines to further assist us in performing PBE. The PBE Guidelines provide advice on PBE, including how to use the patterns and core values.

The final element shown in Figure 1.2 is the PBE Practice. In general, a practice is a process component; that is, it is a building block to help in building out a software development process. Typically a software development process is composed of a number of process components. Some of the components are focused on testing, others on deployment; in this case we will look at a process component focused on PBE. The PBE Practice looks at the tasks, work products, roles, artifacts, and associated guidance, patterns, and core values that we can use in successful PBE efforts.

The following sections take a closer look at each of the constructs from Figure 1.2.

PBE Core Values

With an overall model of PBE in place, we can now start to take a more in-depth look at each of the components within that model. We start with the PBE Core Values, as they serve as the basis for the other elements. These are the PBE Core Values:

  1. Patterns are best used in combination, rather than in isolation. When building a solution, we expect to use many patterns. The patterns selected will vary in size and occur at multiple levels of abstraction, so we expect that the patterns will both connect and overlap. As stated by Christopher Alexander: "But it is also possible to put patterns together in such a way that many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density, it becomes profound." 11
  2. Always identify and build new patterns. We need to always be on the lookout for potential pattern opportunities across repetitive scenarios, repetitive code, repetitive solutions, and areas where we are just mechanically participating in the development effort.
  3. Patterns can be built and used within the same project. A challenge that has traditionally surfaced in building reusable assets is determining when we should harvest them. Harvesting, whereby we identify and then extract reusable assets from existing solutions, is a significant effort and expense. We thus look for ways to justify the time and monetary expenditure for the asset harvesting. Often we decide that we should just wait until the end of the project and then harvest the assets for reuse on a later project. With PBE we can identify and build patterns within the current project. The assets thus pay for themselves during the current project and are then also available for other projects to use.
  4. Make your patterns live. A good place to start with this principle is with a quote from Christopher Alexander: "You see then that the patterns are very much alive and evolving. In fact, if you like, each pattern may be looked upon as a hypothesis like one of the hypotheses of science." 12 Much like our development efforts, when we build patterns we leverage an iterative and incremental approach with a focus on always delivering value. In addition to building a better pattern over time, this approach also allows us the opportunity to look at ways in which we can increase the scope of the pattern. This also reduces pressure—we do not need to produce the perfect pattern on the first attempt. We are also able to collect feedback from the Pattern Users, leading to enhancements in future releases. As a result, the portfolio of patterns will grow and mature over time.
  5. Focus on making patterns consumable. All the effort of identifying and building patterns is pointless if Pattern Users are unable to work with the patterns. Pattern consumability touches upon many aspects such as ease of use, enablement materials, and the ability to find the right pattern at the right time.
  6. PBE can fit into many different development processes. PBE itself is not a process. It is a development practice that can be combined with and leveraged by other practices and processes. The PBE Core Values, Patterns, Guidelines, and Practice can be leveraged within most other modern software development processes.

PBE Patterns and Guidelines

The PBE Patterns and Guidelines support us in identifying, producing, consuming, and managing patterns. The patterns and guidelines support one another. The guidelines help us to succeed with the patterns, and the patterns in turn help with the guidelines. Why patterns and guidelines? PBE has a set of patterns that have surfaced over the years. It makes sense to discuss patterns that can help us follow PBE; think of them as metapatterns. Also, it is important to see that new patterns are discovered and created; we are not restricted to using patterns that have been discovered by others. Patterns are for everyone; we all need to be on the lookout for pattern opportunities.

Guidelines are also needed to provide advice on how to successfully apply PBE. Not everything needs to be or should be a pattern. We need to evaluate and review patterns to ensure that they are worthy of the name and add value. We don't want to get into a situation where everything is a pattern (think Maslow's Hammer13) and end up diminishing the value of the term and concept.

Additional details for each of the patterns and guidelines are provided in Part II. More specifically, Chapter 9 provides an overview of the entire set of patterns and guidelines. The following chapters then provide details on each of the patterns and guidelines based on categories, including foundational patterns, pattern discovery and identification, designing patterns, creating patterns, pattern packaging, using domain-specific languages (DSLs) and patterns, and consuming patterns.

PBE Practice

Typically, a software development process provides guidance regarding the roles, tasks, work products, and workflow needed to develop software. However, PBE is not a full-fledged process; it is a practice. In essence, a practice is a process component that is used in conjunction with other process components (practices) to create a process. The practice still looks at the roles, tasks, work products, and workflows needed; however, the focus is entirely on PBE and not all of the other things that you would normally do when developing software. If we view the software development process as a set of components—some on testing, others on writing code, and some on source code management—we will focus on the PBE component. To that end we will look at the roles, tasks, work products, and workflows associated with PBE.

The PBE Practice is available in source form that can be modified, configured, and integrated with other practices. Figure 1.3 provides a view of a published default configuration of the PBE Practice. This published configuration is a set of interconnected HTML pages that can be viewed through a standard web browser. As seen in the figure, we are able to use the navigation tree on the left-hand side of the screen to quickly access information about the concepts, roles, tasks, work products, tool list, checklists, and templates that the practice provides. Chapter 8, "PBE and the Software Development Process," provides more details on the elements in the PBE Practice and how to integrate this practice with a software development process.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 A view of the published PBE Practice from within a standard web browser

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