Section: Research Program

Collaborative Development

Software development processes are collaborative in nature. The active participation of end-users in the early phases of the software development life-cycle is key when developing software. Among other benefits, the collaboration promotes a continual validation of the software to be build, thus guaranteeing that the final software will satisfy the users’ needs. In this context, we have opened two novel research lines focused on the collaborative development in MDE and the collaborative development with MDE. The former is aimed at promoting the collaboration in the context of MDE while the latter uses MDE techniques to promote the participation in software development processes.

Collaboration is important in the context of MDE, in particular, when creating Domain-Specific Modeling Languages (DSMLs) which are (modeling) languages specifically designed to carry out the tasks of a particular domain. While end-users are actually the experts of the domain for which a DSML is developed, their participation in the DSML specification process is still rather limited nowadays (they are normally only involved in providing domain knowledge or testing the resulting language). This means that the MDE technical experts and not end-users are the ones in control of the DSML construction and evolution. This is a problem because errors in understanding the domain may hamper the development process and the quality of the resulting DSML. Thus, it would be beneficial to promote a more active participation of end-users in the DSML development process.

We have been working on the required support to make effective this participation, in particular, we have developed Collaboro, an approach which enables the involvement of the community (i.e., end-users and developers) in the DSML creation process. Collaboro allows modeling the collaborations between community members taking place during the definition of a new DSML and supports both the collaborative definition of the abstract (i.e., metamodel) and concrete (i.e., notation) syntaxes for DSMLs by providing specific constructs to enable the discussion. Thus, each community member will have the chance to request changes, propose solutions and give an opinion (and vote) about those from others. We believe this discussion will enrich the language definition significantly and ensure that the end result satisfies as much as possible the expectations of the end-users. Collaboro has also been extended to support the example-driven development of DSMLs, thus promoting the engagement of end-users in the process.

The lessons learnt from this MDE-focused collaboration research are now being applied to the more general context of software development. In particular, our interest is to study how software development processes are governed (i.e. how the collaboration among developers and user takes place). Any software development project has to cope with a huge number of tasks consisting of either implementing new issues or fixing bugs. Thus, effective and precise prioritization of these tasks is key for the success of the project. Governance rules enable the coordination of developers in order to advance the project. Despite their importance, in practice governance rules are hardly ever explicitly defined, specially in the context of Open Source Systems (OSS), where it is hard to find a explicit system-level design, a project plan, schedule or list of deliverables. To alleviate this situation, mechanisms to facilitate the communication and the assignment of work are considered crucial for the success of the development. Tracking and issue-tracking systems, mailing lists and forums are broadly used to manage the tasks to be performed. While these tools provide a convenient compartmentalization of work and effective means of communication, they fall short in providing adequate support for specifying and enforcing governance rules (e.g. supporting the voting of tasks, easy tracking of decisions made in the project, etc.).

Thus, we believe the explicit definition of governance rules along with the corresponding infrastructure to help developers follow them would have several benefits, including improvements in the transparency of the decision-making process, traceability (being able to track why a decision was made and who decided it) and the automation of the governance process (e.g. liberating developers from having to be aware and follow the rules manually, minimizing the risk of inconsistent behaviour in the evolution of the project). We resort on MDE techniques to tackle this problem and provide a DSL specially adapted to the domain of governance in software projects to let project managers easily define the governance rules of their projects.