SOA and the Kitchen Sink

Mike “The Mad Greek” Kavis had an interesting post on SOA Lessons Learned over at IT Toolbox. First off, a big thank you to Mike for sharing some experiences about an effort that didn’t go the way it was originally planned. We can learn as much from these as we can from success stories.

The part of the post that caught my attention began with this line:

As we started the second wave of projects, I mandated that all code should be delivered with test harnesses, the build process should be 100% automated, and testing automation should be part of the project deliverables.

Mike went on to discuss how automation and governance were quickly forgotten when the schedule began to slip. The surprising thing to me was not that these aspects were dropped when the schedule began to slip, but that the implementation of things like continuous integration and testing automation were tied to the SOA effort to begin with.

To me, this was indicative of something that I’ve seen at a number of places which is to use “SOA” as the umbrella to fix all things in need of improvement within the software development process. Continuous integration is a great thing and everyone should be practicing it. But if you organization hasn’t adopted it or created a standard, repeatable way of doing it, don’t target your pilot for another key initiative (like SOA) to try to make it happen. SOA adoption is not dependent on having a continuous integration system. If you have it, will it make SOA easier? Yes, probably, but more so because it’s making all development easier, regardless of whether you’re practicing SOA or not. Give it its own pilot where it can be successful in a very managed fashion, and roll it out to the rest of the enterprise.

Part of the problem is finding ways to adopt these improvements in the development process. Is the business going to care about continuous integration? You can argue that they should, but it’s really about internal IT processes. All too often, IT is left to take the congressional lawmaker approach and find some big project that will be sure to be funded and then push everything but the kitchen sink into it under the radar. This creates additional risk and often results in the project team biting off more than they can chew. It’s unfortunate that IT frequently has little ability to improve on its internal processes due to the project-centric nature of its work. Take another support organization like HR. While I’m sure some work in HR work is project-driven, a lot of the work is day-to-day operations. My suspicion is that organizations that are focused more on fixed-cost day-to-day work like this probably have more ability to take on internal improvement initiatives.

My point of all this is that an organization has to be careful on what they try to take on. There’s always opportunities for improvement, and the point should be quality, not quantity. Trying to take on everything is unlikely to lead to success on any of it. Taking on a smaller set of goals and ensuring that you do them well is a safer approach.

2 Responses to “SOA and the Kitchen Sink”

  • Todd,

    I have come to the same conclusion after learning the hard way. Let me explain my reasoning for throwing the “kitchen sink” at the SOA project. One of my biggest challenges is resources. We did not have the luxury of adding resources to these projects. We did have funds to supplement staff with consultants but only for a period of time. Over time we will shut down enhancements to certain legacy systems and shift resources over to other SOA projects. Until then I have to make due with what I have. To deal with that constraint I wanted as much automation as possible to reduce the need for incremental resources. Although this thought process seemed good at the time, the real lessons learned is that I need dedicated resources to implement governance and automation. So in the end, I need more resources regardless if I automate or not. If I can get automation done, I’ll need less resources down the road.

  • Thanks for the comments, Mike. I think we’ve all done this at one time or another. The more important point of my post is the sad state of affairs on how we have to find ways to add in process improvements under the radar. The process improvements are needed, but when they can’t be treated as a pilot on their own, we’re forced into a situation where we must add risk to some other project.

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