Biting the Silver Bullet
Pop Quiz: What do Charles Petzold's Programming Windows and
Andrew Schulman's Undocumented DOS have in common? Your
knee-jerk reaction would probably be, "Not very much!" Philosophically, the two books lie at extreme opposite ends of the programming spectrum. Yet, on a more abstract level, the books are members of the same exclusive club: they established a new genre or ecological niche in computer trade book publishing, and then -- by virtue of their authority, comprehensiveness, and readability -- went
on to dominate that niche for many years.
Steve McConnell's Rapid Development is instantly recognizable as another member of that rare breed of highly original and definitive books. It addresses a dire need in mainstream commercial or "shrinkwrap" software development that was previously unmet and only dimly perceived. It integrates a vast amount of practical information within a logical, easily grasped structure. It is soundly grounded in the author's mastery of his subject and common sense, and it is
backed up by hundreds of references. And, last but hardly least, it is beautifully written in an economical, direct style that makes every page count.
For those of you who are (justifiably) skeptical about the extravagant claims made for "Rapid Application Development" (RAD) products, fear not --this book is not about CASE or Visual Basic. RAD development tools are certainly described in the book, but only as one arrow in a quiver of many. Rather, Rapid Development is a wide-ranging book on the professional and fact-based management of software development projects, with "rapid(er) development" as the hook.
The chapters of Rapid Development are organized under the umbrella of three main themes. The first section is principally concerned with "efficient development" rather than "rapid development" -- focusing in on fundamental technical and management principles, assessment and management of risk, and avoidance of classic mistakes. Proper attention to these areas makes schedules and costs at least predictable. Most of the topics are illustrated with entertaining (and sometimes painfully familiar) case histories.
The second section is a detailed exploration of a diverse strategies, techniques, and tools for speeding up the development process. Each topic, ranging from lifecycle planning to improving the motivation of developers, gets the careful, thoughtful treatment that is McConnell's hallmark. The chapters on estimation, scheduling, and feature-set control are especially valuable. I've read about code
size estimation and software project scheduling many times elsewhere, but only after reading Rapid Development did I truly believe.
The last section of the book is a collection of mini-essays on 27 "best practices"in a common format. Each begins with a table that summarizes the technique's efficacy in various domains, major risks, interactions, and tradeoffs. The table is followed by a (sometimes extensive) discussion of usage, risk management, side effects, and "keys to success" for the practice at hand. Citations for further
reading on each "best practice" are often provided as well.
In Rapid Development, we are privileged to see a virtuoso author/programmer and a superb editing and publishing team working together at the top of their form. Very few books I have encountered in the last few years have given me as much pleasure to read as this one. The only teensy quibble I have with the book is a design issue -- elimination of the excessive white space and the slightly patronizing "hard facts," "classic mistake," and "cross-reference" icons and tags in the left margins would have shortened the book by a hundred pages or more and saved quite a few trees.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books