Software Product Lines
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What is a Software Product Line
What Software Product Lines
Are Not
Benefits and Costs of a
Product Line
A Note on Terminology
Starting Versus Running a
Product Line
Product Line Essential Activities
Product Line Practice Areas
Software Engineering
Practice Areas
Technical Management
Practice Areas
Organizational Management
Practice Areas
Frequently Asked Questions

A Framework for Software Product Line Practice, Version 5.0

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A product line is a set of products that together address a particular market segment or fulfill a particular mission. Product lines are, of course, nothing new in manufacturing. Airbus builds one, and so do Ford, Dell, and even McDonald's. Each of these companies exploits commonality in different ways. Boeing, for example, developed the 757 and 767 transports in tandem, and the parts lists for these very two different aircraft overlap by about 60%, achieving significant economies of production and maintenance. But software product lines based on interproduct commonality are a relatively new concept that is rapidly emerging as a viable and important software development paradigm. Product flexibility is the anthem of the software marketplace, and product lines fulfill the promise of tailor-made systems built specifically for the needs of particular customers or customer groups. A product line succeeds because the commonalities shared by the software products can be exploited to achieve economies of production. The products are built from common assets in a prescribed way.

Companies are finding that this practice of building sets of related systems from common assets can yield remarkable quantitative improvements in productivity, time to market, product quality, and customer satisfaction. They are finding that a software product line can efficiently satisfy the current hunger for mass customization. Organizations that acquire, as opposed to build, software systems are finding that commissioning a set of related systems as a commonly developed product line yields economies in delivery time, cost, simplified training, and streamlined acquisition.

But along with the gains come risks. Using a product line approach constitutes a new technical strategy for the organization. Organizational and management issues constitute obstacles that are critical to overcome and often add more risk, because they are less obvious. Building a software product line and bringing it to market requires a blend of skillful engineering as well as both technical and organizational management. Acquiring a software product line also requires this same blend of skills to position the using organizations, so they can effectively exploit the commonality of the incoming products, as well as lend sound technical oversight and monitoring to the development effort. These skills are necessary to overcome the pitfalls that may bring failure to an unsophisticated organization.

We've worked to gather information and identify key people with product line experience. Through surveys, workshops, conferences, case studies, and direct collaboration with organizations on product line efforts, we have amassed and categorized a reservoir of information. Organizations that have succeeded with product lines vary widely in

Nevertheless, there are universal essential activities and practices that emerge, having to do with the ability to construct new products from a set of common assets while working under the constraints of various organizational contexts and starting points. This document describes a framework1 for product line development. The framework is an online product line encyclopedia; it is a Web-based document describing the essential activities and practices, in both the technical and organizational areas. These activities and practices are those in which an organization must be competent before it can reap the maximum benefit from fielding a product line of software or software-intensive systems. The audience for this framework includes members of an organization who are in a position to make or influence decisions regarding the adoption of product line practices, as well as those who are already involved in a product line effort.

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1 Our use of the word framework is meant to suggest a conceptual index–a frame of reference–for the information essential to success with software product lines. We are using the dictionary definition with no intended connections to current technical usages in the vein of architectural or application frameworks.