Re: software life cycle

Subject: Re: software life cycle
From: "Dick Margulis" <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 14:04:55 -0500

Ardene Whittlesey wrote:

>Hi all,
>I'm a new subscriber to techwr-l and have some
>questions about the software development life cycle.
>I've done mostly hardware documentation, but am
>looking to expand my skill set.

Welcome aboard.

>I've already had one contract where I was initially
>brought in to write training doc, and then was asked
>to do process documentation as well as work on
>functional and technical specifications during/after
>development. Needless to say, I moved on to find
>something a bit more manageable.

Smart move.

>But I'm curious - what's the difference between
>functional and technical specs? I assume functional
>describes what a piece of software will do and
>technical describes how it's done. If that's correct,
>does the functional spec come before coding and the
>technical spec after? The functional spec come from
>the users (and management) and the tech spec from

Different organizations define these differently, but you have gist of it. In reality, the functional spec may or may not have any actual user (or potential user) input. It may be created out of whole cloth by some marketing genius who is sure he (almost always _he_)knows what the market wants.

The technical spec (design spec) ought to be written before coding begins. It takes the _what_ from the functional spec and explicates the _how_ in terms of the design. Depending on the organization and the type of product, it may include mockups of the user interface to indicate appearance and location of visible elements. It may include equations, formulae, or algorithmic procedures that need to be coded. It may include specifications for database tables or relationships between database tables, etc. It may be constructed by design engineers or by the same people who will subsequently write the code. However, if the technical spec is done right, with careful review cycles, etc., the coding itself should go quickly and require a minimal amount of decision-making on the part of the person doing it.

In many organizations, of course, life does not proceed according to this grand plan and the technical specification is written, as you suggest, after the coding is done. In this case it is written primarily to satisfy a bureaucratic need for a document in hand.

>Also, are use cases the same as test cases?
>And do most companies really follow a formal life
>cycle process? My experience in hardware is that a
>customer wants something, sales & marketing promises
>it to them, and engineering has to come up with
>something - fast! And the writer is at the end of the
>loop, trying to document as it goes out the door.

Your experience applies in most companies but not in the best companies ;-)


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