Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University
Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

Product Line Technical Probe

The Product Line Technical Probe is a method for examining an organization's readiness to adopt or ability to succeed with a software product line approach. The PLTP uses a focused series of structured interviews of small peer groups within the organization, followed by data analysis. The probe is a diagnostic tool that uses the SEI Framework for Software Product Line Practice as a reference model. The results of the probe are a set of findings that portray an organization's strengths and challenges with regard to a product line approach.


Whether your organization is considering a software product line approach or already has started one, you should think about the following:

  • What practices should we institute or improve?
  • What are the greatest challenges we should address?
  • What strengths do we have to build upon?

In either case the Product Line Technical Probe can help you with the bottom line question: What can we do to increase our chances for success?


The Product Line Technical Probe provides a crucial baseline of findings about organizational practices that directly support a product line approach. These findings can be used to develop an action plan with the goal of making the organization more capable of achieving product line success and achieving business goals.

The Product Line Technical Probe has been used successfully in several organizations. In each case the organization has used the results as a foundation for planning and guiding their strategic efforts.

Who Would Benefit

The Product Line Technical Probe provides a planning basis for senior software managers, software product line managers, software product or project managers, and technical leads.


The PLTP follows a structured process based on proven mechanisms and principles honed through extensive application by the SEI on similar diagnostic instruments for software process capability, technical risk evaluation, and earlier product line evaluations. The process consists of three phases: the Preliminary Phase, the Technical Probe Phase, and the Follow-On Phase. 

The primary participants in these phases are the SEI PLTP team, the organizational sponsors, and designated organizational participants from among the product line stakeholders (managers, architects, developers, technical support, marketing and sales staff, customers, end users, and engineers).

Preliminary Phase

During this phase, the probe team works with key managers and technical leads to establish the context, goals and logistics for the probe phase. The primary purpose of the Preliminary Phase is to gather initial information that provides a sketch of the organizational context for the probe. This first round of data to be gleaned includes

  • the goals for the product line effort
  • the status of the product line effort (how far along the organization is in its product line activities)
  • a description of the product area for the intended product line
  • the current organizational structure
  • any terminology particular to the organization
  • the organization's level of process discipline
  • the organization's experience and legacy assets in the area of the intended product line effort
  • any specific product line practices that are being followed
  • a list of available, relevant documentation

This information provides a framing of the organization and its product line effort that allows the PLTP team to identify:

  • the appropriate range of questions to be used in conducting the probe
  • which groups within the organization to interview
  • what supporting documents to review
  • the logistical details and schedule for the Technical Probe Phase

Technical Probe Phase

During this phase, the PLTP team gathers data, analyzes it, and compiles the results. Data is gathered through structured interviews of small groups designated as representative of the product line stakeholders. These peer groups are chosen to have similar job responsibilities and no reporting relationships.

The team follows a rule of strict confidentiality and non-attribution of any remarks in order to promote the free flow of information. The interview questions are derived from the framework as tailored based on the information gathered during the Preliminary Phase.

After each interview session, the team organizes and analyzes the interview data relative to the 29 practice areas specified in the Framework. This ongoing data consolidation provides the basis for determining the results that are characterized as general observations, strengths, challenges, and recommendations. Strengths and challenges are reported for each relevant practice area, and then rolled up to form overall strengths and challenges. The results are reported in the Final Findings Presentation at the conclusion of the on-site Technical Probe Phase.

Follow-On Phase

In this phase, the PLTP team prepares and delivers a written report that details the findings of the PLTP. You can choose to include the following services in this phase:

  • the development of action plan(s) using the SEI Product Line Action Planning Workshop to address the probe findings. The action plan(s) work toward surmounting the challenges while at the same time exploiting identified strengths
  • tailored assistance in executing appropriate portions of the action plan(s). This assistance includes support in the areas of
  • architecture definition
  • mining existing software assets
  • scoping and commonality analysis (product line analysis)
  • development of a software product line business case
  • development of a software product line operating concept
  • development of software product line metrics
  • development of a product line acquisition strategy


SEI staff will work with a customer team to plan and conduct the probe and any follow-on activities. Contact us using the link in the For more information box at the bottom of this page.

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