Advancing the State of Software Product Line Practice


This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Software Product Lines

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: March 1, 2001

Organizations developing software-intensive systems face a number of challenges. These include long product cycles, very little return on investment from software assets, and difficulty with systems integration.

A product line approach for software can overcome these challenges. A software product line is a set of products sharing a common, managed set of features that satisfy the specific needs of a particular market segment or mission and that are developed from a common set of core assets in a prescribed way. Software product lines amortize the investment in core assets through strategic reuse. Organizations that apply this approach can develop and maintain multiple software products quickly, efficiently, and economically. Furthermore, software product lines can improve product quality and reduce system integration costs.

Currently, a large number of organizations are using a product line approach for their software and achieving large-scale productivity gains, reduced time to market, and increased customer satisfaction. However, there remain many organizations that require the benefits of the strategic, large-grained reuse characteristic of software product lines, but do not know where, when, or how to start.

The SEI is helping these organizations by distilling, codifying, tailoring, and transitioning the technology organizations need to successfully implement software product lines. At the same time, the SEI is helping to nurture a software product line community. To that end, the SEI organized and sponsored the first major international conference devoted exclusively to software product lines.

The First Software Product Line Conference (SPLC1)

SPLC1 brought together leaders in software product lines from industry, academia, and the government. According to Conference Chair Linda Northrop, the SEI had several goals for the gathering: "The SEI organized this event to bring together the emerging software product line community. We also wanted to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information related to current research and practice."

SPLC1 attracted 185 participants from North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. Recognized software product line authorities from Rational, Lucent Bell Labs, the European Software Institute, Raytheon, the University of Texas at Austin, Hewlett-Packard, Thomson-CSF, Siemens, Robert Bosch Corporation, Philips, Boeing, and other well-regarded organizations made up the program committee.

Committee members reviewed a total of 59 submissions from which they selected 27 technical papers for presentation. The technical papers reported both software product line research and experience. The resultant technical paper sessions covered a broad range of product line topics: practice and experience, organization and management, methods, process, components, architecture, tools and techniques, and domain engineering.

In addition to the technical paper sessions, SPLC1 included ten tutorials, seven workshops, two panels, and a keynote lecture, all on a broad range of software product line technology and issues. The conference also initiated a Software Product Line Hall of Fame to support and recognize excellence in software product lines. SPLC1 participants nominated those software product lines that serve as exemplary models, that were designed as product lines and paid explicit attention to commonality and variation, and that were a commercial success. Four product lines were selected, the U.S. Navy’s A7 Avionics System, CelsiusTech SS2000 command and control system, HP Owen Printer product line, and Nokia mobile cellular phone product line.

Conference proceedings, Software Product Lines, Experience and Research Directions, were published as part of the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science.1

The SPLC1 brought the global software product line community together for four days of vibrant information exchange in a refereed forum. To build on this foundation, the SEI is planning the Second Software Product Line Conference (SPLC2) for 2002.

Framework 3.0 Released

As part of its product line practice work, the SEI seeks to mature product line technology and disseminate it to the community. The publication of A Framework for Product Line Practice Version [Note: Since this article was published, the Framekwork has been updated. The most recent version is available in the Product Lines section of our site.] represents an important milestone in this effort.

A Framework for Software Product Line Practice is a constantly evolving, Web-based document. The SEI developed the framework to

  • identify the concepts underlying software product lines and the essential activities to consider before creating or acquiring a software product line
  • identify practice areas that an organization creating or acquiring software product lines must master
  • define practices in each area, where current knowledge is sufficient
  • guide an organization through the process of moving to a product line approach for software

The framework is available online at

To date, 29 practice areas required for product lines have been defined. This information has been culled from research, workshops, product line collaborations with customers, and feedback from the community. Over the past years, the framework has been used in scores of organizations in their software product line efforts. Version 3.0 represents a significant advance over Version 2.0 in that all practice areas have been completely defined. The framework will continue to be improved as more product line information is gathered.

The SEI is also developing An Acquisition Companion to the Framework for Software Product Line Practice. Designed for the DoD acquisition community, this document presents information to streamline the process of commissioning and implementing software product lines within a DOD environment.

In addition, a book based upon the SEI’s work, Software Product Lines: Practices and Patterns, has been published by Addison-Wesley as part of the Addison-Wesley SEI Series in Software Engineering.

1 Donohoe, Patrick, et. Software Product Lines, Experience and Research Directions. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000.

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