Developing with Microsoft technologies
09 Jun 2008

In the most significant post on factories to come out of Microsoft in a long time, Jack Greenfield unveils Software Factories 2.0. The software factories initiative has been repositioned within Microsoft to address a larger scope:

“Perhaps the most significant change is that the leadership of the Software Factory Initiative has moved from the Visual Studio Team Architect team to the Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) Platform Architecture Team. This move was designed to broaden the scope of the initiative”

Some of the things that now come into scope for the Microsoft Factories Initiative:

  • “Leverage Microsoft products such as InfoPath and SharePoint This is a good thing! At Macaw, we designed the Macaw Solutions Factory to target all Microsoft server products right from the start. This proved to deliver much more value (for us as a systems integrator) than more common factories that focus mainly on modeling and code generation for (parts of) the .NET framework.Especially targeting SharePoint (WSS and MOSS) deployment and ALM aspects has provided great value for us, since this is a very challenging product in these area’s. Jack is not specific about whether “Leverage” means using these products to implement the factory itself and/or targeting solutions built on top of these products. I hope it will be both, of course.
  • “integrating Software Factories with Software-plus-Services (S+S) Blueprints
    Michael Lehman, who developed the project GlidePath infrastructure that underpins the existing blueprints, has recently moved to Jack’s new team. This will be an interesting marriage to watch!
    Jezz Santos mentions in “Factories & BluePrints – TechEd 2008” that Michael has already grabbed all Factories slots at TechEd Orlando, he seems to be moving fast.
  • SOA Think Oslo…

And much, much more… which brings me to the next point:

Will “Larger” mean “Later”?
When you work on realizing the factories vision, as I have been doing with the Knowledge Development team at Macaw for some years now, one of the main challenges you have to deal with is scope.

Realizing the factories vision is most effective if you combine all aspects of the vision (think of the four pillars of software factories). If you have a company-wide initiative, your scope will eventually include all solutions technology as well as all people realizing solutions. Of these two, people require the bigger part of the effort [getting them to use and enhance the factory]. At least, this is what happened at Macaw.

Fortunately, at Macaw we were the right size of company to target our entire primary process (realizing IT solutions based on Microsoft technology) with one comprehensive factory initiative when we started. No “seperate kingdoms” of unaligned initiatives that we could not conquer had evolved – yet. We were lucky to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right idea.

Why am I telling all this? Because I recognize some of the same developments in this repositioning of the factories intiative at Microsoft. Microsoft moves to include more technology and – even more important- more people in their initiative. The move to DPE seems logical and even necessary. The “people” dimension of the scope at Microsoft is truly staggering, though. Which translates to very large efforts and very big inertia.

The real challenge in this Microsoft initiative will be to balance agility (regularly delivering tangible results that are most useful right now) with integration (aligning many Microsoft groups, products and initiatives to the right degree) and durability (earlier results not being invalidated by next steps). Because the factories vision takes such a long time to fully realize, a good balance on these three aspects is essential to both sustain the initiative and to actually arrive at the full vision.

If you misbalance, you run the risk to either fizzle out (lose momentum with people by taking too long – agility), disintegrate (collapse into a mess because directions of people and technologies are too disparate), or never reach your goal (one step forward, two steps back if next steps invalidate earlier efforts in the same initiative).

So is this factories thing a long shot?

In my opinion Microsoft is doing the right thing with this move, but you should appreciate that this initiative will take a long time to come close to realizing the full vision.

Does this mean that we should wait 10 years until all of this arrives? Definitely not, because significant benefits can be realized with what can be done today!

What I learned while working on Macaw’s factory initiative is that most important for progress and value is not substantial factory foundation technologies, but the core factory concepts and the mind shift of people that are both the factory users and it’s innovators: the people building IT solutions every day.

In my experience you can implement factory concepts with relatively light investments, using simple, existing Microsoft technology, today (more details on that in a later post). The real effort and time – but also value – is in the change in people’s mindset.

Strategy

Realizing the factories vision as a systems integrator can have a redefining effect. To realize a factories initiative and to get full benefits from it though, it needs to be a core part of the company strategy. This way, the technology, users, innovators as well as the business model all are guided to reap the very significant benefits. Building factories is not just about building a development tool…

We really are transforming the way IT solutions are being developed. When the industrial age of software development has arrived, will your company be part of it? Will your people have internalized the new paradigm? Will your business model allow you to maximize profit?

Will you be a factories 2.0 company? If you want to, my advice is – take your time: not in waiting for it, but to realize it. With the people and business model in place using current technology, you will be able to quickly leverage new factory foundation technology as Microsoft delivers on the vision, increasing your lead on competitors even further.

About the Author
Vincent Hoogendoorn is a hands-on .NET architect and a Xamarin cross-platform mobile veteran, working as lead mobile @ Workstreampeople. His areas of interest are Augmented Reality, Cross-Platform Mobile Development, Windows Azure, Solution Architecture and Software Factories.
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