SEI Publishes Framework for Software Process Research



Matt B. Weissberg

This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Software Product Lines

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: February 1, 2007

Imagine a future in which our already highly integrated world becomes even more interdisciplinary. International investment heavily focuses on areas such as DNA-neural network integration, self-aware medical devices in human systems, and zero-gravity cellular computing environments. How will processes be defined to accommodate the multiple contexts of these varied disciplines?

Now imagine another possible future state, one in which the world faces a global pandemic. As a new disease threatens the majority of the world’s population, the Internet becomes the main tool for people to collaborate on improvised survival techniques, conduct commerce, and attend school and church. What processes would keep the Internet sufficiently robust to play this new, expanded role?

In an effort that began in August 2004, the SEI’s International Process Research Consortium (IPRC) brought together 27 leaders from academia and industry to study the process-research implications of possible future scenarios such as these, as well as to consider the directions in which existing research is currently pushing the process community. The result of this endeavor is the new SEI publication A Process Research Framework (ISBN-13: 978-0-9786956-1-3), which was made available in February.

This new book serves as a guide that strategically formulates questions to help direct future research efforts for the process community. “This SEI initiative drew researchers from around the globe and distilled their combined experience and observations into a cohesive research framework,” says George Wilkie, director of the Centre for Software Process Technologies at the University of Ulster, United Kingdom, and the architect of the framework.

Providing Strategic Guidance for Future Research

Through a collection of research themes and questions, A Process Research Framework provides guidance for industry, researchers, and funding agencies in determining the most pressing questions to pose in their research efforts. These programs of investigation can then be more effectively formulated to address strategically important challenges.

Wilkie notes that readers of the framework will take away “an awareness of the major driving forces that will shape the way technological products are engineered in the future. The IPRC has created broad research themes that provide readers with a means of structuring their thinking.”

Each research theme embodies a common or recurring topic that appears or is implicit through several of the plausible future scenarios that the IPRC developed. The themes are oriented to enable researchers to close the gap between process capabilities of today and the likely business and technical process needs of tomorrow.

“To our surprise, the four main research themes that evolved were quite familiar,” says Eileen Forrester, co-chair of the IPRC and editor of the framework. “Persistent concerns we have today—for example, how to deploy processes effectively or ensure that they produce the results we want—are still relevant in the context of future scenarios.

“Consider how urgent it will be to specify processes that reliably achieve the product qualities we need when facing a scenario such as a global pandemic. Can we ensure that the processes used to build the next version of the Internet will produce something that can function under the stringent conditions we would face during a pandemic? What research questions must we work to answer now so that we are ready?”

In addition to the four research themes, the IPRC members consider the influence of emerging trends and technologies on process issues. This assessment is composed of three factors: continuous requirements evolution, incomplete knowledge, and heterogeneous component-based systems integration.

Inside the Research Themes

A Process Research Framework does not provide the answers to solve the future challenges for processes. Instead, the book serves a tool intended to better focus the efforts of the entire process research community in preparing for possible future environments.

Research questions form the base foundation of the framework. The questions are grouped to form cohesive inquiries into specific research topics. Depending upon the challenges that individual framework users are attempting to address, the answers to some of these questions for a specific course of research may be relatively straightforward. For other questions, the answers may require significant programs of research.

In all, the research framework consists of a dozen possible future scenarios, four themes, a consideration of emerging trends, 20 topic-specific research nodes, and more than 230 research questions.

Raising Awareness of Process Issues

“It’s all about the evolution of a discipline,” emphasizes Wilkie, who was recently recognized as the British Computer Society’s IT Professional of 2006. “In the early days of software engineering, there was a tendency to jump straight into the coding with little or no regard given to the design phase.”

“We have evolved beyond this mentality but still have a long way to go before full development processes are given the attention they deserve. A Process Research Framework makes a key contribution to understanding why process is important and why its importance will only increase as time goes by,” Wilkie says.

“The SEI and its partners have been successful in leading the current process-improvement revolution in software, but we can’t stop there,” says Forrester. “It is also necessary for us to consider what’s next for process research. What research issues need attention now if we are to be ready for the world we will live and work in a decade from today?”

Next Steps for the Framework

The current edition of the framework is intended to act as a catalyst for communitywide discussions that might further enhance and expand the research scheme for future versions.

Plans for the next two years include gradually converting the book into an online, interactive site. The larger process community will be able to use the site to contribute to the framework and, in so doing, will be able influence the strategic direction of the field.

Forrester says, “We are eager to get the larger process community participating—we hope they will add content and context, and engage in a dialogue with us on what they think are the highest priority challenges as we prepare for the future. We are encouraged by the response already. Multiple organizations have notified us that they will be using the framework as an input to their strategic planning or suggested research programs in which they would like to participate.”

Forrester and Wilkie will be discussing the frameworkat the SEPG Conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 29, from 4:20 to 5 p.m. The first 50 attendees at the presentation, titled “Developing a Process Research Framework,” will receive free copies of the book.

A Process Research Framework is sponsored by BAE Systems, Robert Bosch GmbH, Lockheed Martin Corporation Integrated Systems & Solutions, the SEI, Tata Consultancy Service (USA), and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

For more information regarding A Process Research Framework, see To purchase a copy of the book, contact us using the link in the For More Information box below.

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