A Generic View of Software Engineering


Engineering is the analysis, design, construction, verification, and management of technical (or social) entities. Regardless of the entity to be engineered, the following questions must be asked and answered:

• What is the problem to be solved?
• What characteristics of the entity are used to solve the problem?
• How will the entity (and the solution) be realized?
• How will the entity be constructed?
• What approach will be used to uncover errors that were made in the design
and construction of the entity?
• How will the entity be supported over the long term, when corrections, adaptations,
and enhancements are requested by users of the entity.

The work associated with software engineering can be categorized into three generic phases, regardless of application area, project size, or complexity. Each phase addresses one or more of the questions noted previously.
The definition phase focuses on what. That is, during definition, the software engineer attempts to identify what information is to be processed, what function and performance are desired, what system behavior can be expected, what interfaces are to be established, what design constraints exist, and what validation criteria are required to define a successful system. The key requirements of the system and the software are identified. Although the methods applied during the definition phase will vary depending on the software engineering paradigm (or combination of paradigms) that is applied, three major tasks will occur in some form: system or information engineering, software project planning, and requirements analysis .

The development phase focuses on how. That is, during development a software engineer attempts to define how data are to be structured, how function is to be implemented within a software architecture, how procedural details are to be implemented, how interfaces are to be characterized, how the design will be translated into a programming language (or nonprocedural language), and how testing will be performed. The methods applied during the development phase will vary, but three specific technical tasks should always occur: software design, code generation,and software testing.

The support phase focuses on change associated with error correction, adaptations required as the software's environment evolves, and changes due to enhancements brought about by changing customer requirements. The support phase reapplies the steps of the definition and development phases but does so in the context of existing software. Four types of change are encountered during the support phase:

Correction. Even with the best quality assurance activities, it is likely that the customer will uncover defects in the software. Corrective maintenance changes the software to correct defects.

Adaptation. Over time, the original environment (e.g., CPU, operating system, business rules, external product characteristics) for which the software was developed is likely to change. Adaptive maintenance results in modification to the software to accommodate changes to its external environment.

Enhancement. As software is used, the customer/user will recognize additional functions that will provide benefit. Perfective maintenance extends the software beyond its original functional requirements.

Prevention. Computer software deteriorates due to change, and because of this, preventive maintenance, often called software reengineering, must be conducted to enable the software to serve the needs of its end users. In essence, preventive maintenance makes changes to computer programs so that they can be more easily corrected, adapted, and enhanced. 

In addition to these support activities, the users of software require continuing support. In-house technical assistants, telephone-help desks, and application-specific Web sites are often implemented as part of the support phase.

The phases and related steps described in our generic view of software engineering are complemented by a number of umbrella activities. Typical activities in this category include:

• Software project tracking and control
• Formal technical reviews
• Software quality assurance
• Software configuration management
• Document preparation and production
• Reusability management
• Measurement
• Risk management
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