As software comes to represent an ever larger percentage of embedded-system development efforts, designers need effective approaches to succeed with complex software projects. The agile software development philosophy offers one such approach, and it has demonstrated the ability to improve project success rates.

Polarion is one company that has applied such an approach. Speaking Nov. 13 at the Better Software Conference East in Boston, Stefano Rizzo, senior vice president for strategy and business development, described Polarion’s experience in a presentation titled “Requirements Elicitation—the Social Media Way.”

Polarion, founded in 2004, offers requirements management, collaborative test management, and application life-cycle management software for the medical and automotive industries, among others, with the capability to accommodate diverse standards and regulations such as ISO 26262 for automotive applications.

Rizzo noted that agile methods—including scrum, an iterative and incremental agile software development framework—give customers a key role in the development process and that customers essentially become part of the development team. But, he said, Polarion has 1 million plus users and 10,000 registered community members. Such a large customer base, he said, offers software development challenges in shortening time to release, providing transparency, reacting quickly, and synchronizing widely distributed teams.

“Scrum had proven its benefits in small projects,” he said, “but our projects are huge.” The key, he said, is to implement scrum in a way that gives power to the development team while ensuring traceability and accountability.

Social networking has been instrumental in the success of Polarion’s approach, Rizzo said, offering a way to harvest customer requests. A scrum “sprint” approach enables two-week iterations. Using social networking, Rizzo said, the company acquires user stories, with every user submission having an owner within Polarion. “Owners play the users in sprint meetings,” he said.

Rizzo noted that user stories might have to be broken down into substories—representing the essence of customer requirements—that can be addressed. In that he mirrored the contention of another presenter at the conference, Iris Classon, a software developer at the Swedish IT company Evry. In her presentation titled “To Build Better Software, Build Better Developers and Testers,” she said, “Renovating your house is not an action item.” She recommended that goals need to be SMARTer: specific, measureable, actionable, realistic, and time-based, and it must be possible to evaluate and revise your goals.

Before implementing social media, Rizzo said, Polarion developers could miss relatively small issues and not understand the customers’ mood. Polarion would be in touch with superusers, he said, but would miss out on problems faced by lower level personnel who would turn to superusers within their own organization rather than to Polarion.

Rizzo noted that effective social media is not like a radio broadcast where you push out information in one direction. Instead, “It’s like having a beer with friends.” He recommended starting with a user conference, creating a community, enlarging that community, and nurturing that community: “Post useful content every day at least,” he said.

Polarion has employed a variety of social-media channels but has found it effective to build social media into its platform. “We made our product more social,” he said.

“Engage your users,” he concluded. “It will give you the ability to harvest unusual requirements and unsolicited feedback.” That sounds like good advice—not just for software development, but for any project.

Rick Nelson
Executive Editor
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