Saturday, June 15, 2002

It's About the Data. The foundation of any system, standalone, single-user, or enterprise-wide, is the data. Manufacturing Data Structures is an essential reference for ERP analysts, developers and DBAs. It is unique in that it addresses data requirements for materials management within the context of manufacturing processes, with an emphasis on bills of materials.

The chapter on engineering change control stands out because this aspect of both data structures and process change management are not covered (or only lightly touched upon) in other ERP references. This chapter and its companion on implementing change add significant value to the book and reflect mature and best practices. I also liked the chapter on new product introduction and custom manufacturing because these aspects of the manufacturing process come with a different set of challenges and requirements from steady production processes.

Regardless of whether you're using SAP, Baan or another ERP package (or are developing custom applications to automate manufacturing materials management) this book will expose the relevant details of the data structures, which are the foundation of any application.

Friday, June 14, 2002

Integrating the Enterprise. My next few entries are going to deal with some of the better books about enterprise systems. One such book is Enterprise Systems Integration.The audience for this book consists of architecture and integration group members, making this book an ideal addition to group libraries. The focus is on ERP architecture, although the range of topics overlap into non-ERP domains, and is best used as a desk reference because it's a collection of short papers written by 70+ authors instead of a book that focuses on a specific approach or methodology. The papers comprising this desk reference are organized in logical groupings that are akin to layers in an enterprise architecture.

Each section is devoted to carefully chosen papers, some of which reflect individual authors' experience. The strength of this approach is that you benefit from a rich diversity of viewpoints and deep subject matter knowledge. The weakness is that some of the material is inconsistent with what precedes or follows in the book.

Since this is a technology-focused book the highlights are that the information is current and reflects issues, methods and technologies that are valid as of the date this review was written. The editors ensured that information that is not commonly used in ERP integration, such as web services, are not addressed. This doesn't imply that web services will not play a future key role (such as in PeopleSoft 8), but that most ERP implementations are integrated using middleware, XML and other methods. The more typical integration methods are covered in great detail, and the sections on database servers and data warehousing are especially informative.

I also like the section on Internet commerce, which covers topics ranging from web-based testing and capacity planning to XML-based B2B commerce - topics that are not commonly found in other ERP texts. The section on project and systems management also contained excellent information, such as the paper titled "Service Level Management Links IT to the Business", which touches upon a critical aspect of integration. Each of the four papers in the Component-Based Development section also included information that should be carefully considered by large enterprises, especially those that are using off-shore development of off-site contractors to develop modules. This section goes into each of the major critical issues, including economic considerations, domain engineering, server-side Java development and object library management.

Some of the information in this book is time sensitive in that it will be rendered obsolete as web services play a larger role in ERP systems (which is already happening in a sense), and XML and/or ebXML emerge as a core component of all of the major packages, such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Baan, etc. If you have a defined architecture or integration group this book will make a good investment because of the wide array of topics covered. If, however, you are seeking a book that provides a methodology or focused technology description this book may not be for you.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Project management is a core skill that all IT professionals need to master in order to achieve increasing levels of responsibility and professional growth. There is another facet to project management in software, which is how to align project management processes and procedures to an enterprise operational model. One unique book that deals with this is Software Project Dynamics. This is not a book about project management per se, but a book about how to integrate project management processes into a large software development organization using analysis based on system dynamics.

If you are not familiar with system dynamics, it's a methodology for studying and managing complex feedback systems using time graphs and causal loops, and more formal analytical methods such as simulation and exploring alternatives in a structured manner.

This book uses those techniques to align project management processes to software development. The best way to determine if this book is right for you is to answer the following questions:

If the answer to at least two of the above questions is yes, then this book will be valuable. Also note that some knowledge of system dynamics is assumed. If you need to become familiar with this discipline I recommend Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World by John D. Sterman. This book addresses system dynamics from public policy and strategy points of view, but will provide a thorough understanding of the subject.

Those who will benefit most from this book are organizations that have found existing PM methodologies to not fully meet objectives. For example, the U.S. standard based on the Project Management Institute's Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is too generic for software development, and the U.K. standard called PRINCE2 is not as well suited for product-line and software vendor approaches to development. While the PMBOK and PRINCE2 contain processes and procedures that can be used, the system dynamics approach defined in this book gives a method for selecting, evaluating and integrating the processes and procedures borrowed from these two standards. Moreover, since the CMM and related models identify key process areas for project management, they do not prescribe how they are to be implemented. This book will provide the tools and techniques for tailoring the techniques to PM process areas.

If your objective is to find a book that describes a complete project management maturity model you will be better served by Strategic Planning for Project Management Using a Project Management Maturity Model by Harold Kerzner; if you are looking for an off-the-shelf methodology to use with iterative processes such as the Rational Unified Process I recommend Software Project Management: A Unified Framework by Walker Royce. However, if you are seeking to develop and implement a best-in-class, tailored project management methodology that is seamlessly integrated into your software development processes this book will show you how to achieve that goal.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Shifting Once More. We normally cover project management in Postcards from the Revolution, but when material is also applicable to the more technical readers of this weblog we cross post here. One such book is The Project Workout, which is one of the most business-focused books on project management that you can read. Where other books go into techniques that are specific to project planning, scheduling and control, this one ensures that business issues are interwoven into each element of project management.

Parts that set this book apart from the others include an emphasis on developing a business case and the structured way in which all project stakeholder requirements are considered in project quality and reporting. I also like the way projects are managed at the enterprise level as portfolios and integrated into programs instead of standalone projects. In addition, the many forms, checklists and diagrams are highly useful and can be used with little or no modification.

This book is also completely consistent with the PMI PMBOK and UK PRINCE2 methodologies, and the author's web site that supports this book contains a wealth of up-to-date information that adds to the value of this book.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

More About Components. It appears that Linda and I are locked into some spiral, because my chosen topic before she posted was also about components. Foundations of Component-Based Systems is an excellent secondary companion to Component Based Software Engineering: Putting the Pieces Together by Heineman and Councill. It is a secondary text for practitioners and academics that will provide insights into a narrow slice of component-based software engineering issues. Organization is a collection of papers that are grouped in four sections:
  1. Frameworks and Architectures. Consists of four papers of which I particularly liked Key Concepts in Architecture Definition Languages and Acme: Architectural Description of Component-Based Systems because of professional interests in ADLs.
  2. Object-Based Specification and Verification. The three papers in this section were focused on narrow topics; however, I gained much from Modular Specification and Verification Techniques for Object-Oriented Software Components. This paper alone made the book worthwhile to me, but this is a subjective remark with which you may not agree.
  3. Formal Methods and Semantics. Each of the three papers in this section were, in my opinion, valuable. My favorite, Toward a Normative Theory for Component-Based System Design and Analysis, contained a viable framework and approach to component design, which is a topic that receives little coverage in other component-based books.
  4. Reactive and Distributed Systems. The two papers in this section are interesting in that their topics intersect nicely with the discipline of semantic web engineering. If your interests or work also includes that knowledge area then the papers (Composition of Reactive System Components and Using I/O Automata for Developing Distributed Systems)will 'connect the dots' in a manner of speaking.
Much of the material in this book is academic and/or theoretical, but is backed up with results from projects and supporting project data. What I like most is that the material uses tools and technologies that are hot topics, such as UML, EJB and COM.

The second book is Component-Based Product Line Engineering with UML. Where most books on the subject cover the component-based development life cycle at a high level with an emphasis on the development, deployment and QA aspects, this one is about requirements and design. That is what sets it apart and an important work. It becomes even more important if you are using or trying to adapt the Unified Process to a component-based environment. Obviously if your environment also includes product line development the value of this book increases even more.

The book contains five parts which build upon each other. Part 1 is a thorough, 60-page introduction that compares and contrasts development life cycles, summarizes the approach the book proposes, and the concepts, artifacts and process associated with "KobrA" (a German abbreviation for "Component-based application development".

Part 2 is devoted to component modeling based on the KobrA component model, and covers all aspects in 153 pages. This part ends with an excellent introduction to patterns and UML, which lays the groundwork for the next part. The information in this part drills down into requirements and specifications, which is one of the reasons I cited above that sets this book apart.

In Part 3 (Embodiment) refinement and translation, component reuse and incremental development are covered in detail. Part 4 introduces and covers product line, framework and application engineering. It is here that the KobrA foundation laid in the previous parts begins to become coherent and the viability of the approach becomes apparent.

Part 5 is my favorite because, like Part 2, it gives a view of component-based development that most books gloss over. In particular, the chapters on maintenance and QA are filled with information that reflects the realities of component-based development, and the chapter on quality modeling is among the best treatments of the topic in any book or paper I've recently read. The 60 pages of appendices are also valuable sources of information and knowledge about metamodels, maintenance and process. I found this book to be an invaluable reference and recommend it to anyone who is heavily involved in component-based software engineering in conjunction with product line development.

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