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Best Method For Evaluating Existing Software or New Software

How many of us have been faced with having to decide on an off-the-self or a custom built component, application, or solution to integrate in to an existing system or to be the core foundation of a new system?

What is the best method for evaluating existing software or new software still in the design phase? One of the industry preferred methodologies to use is the Active Reviews for Intermediate Designs (ARID) evaluation process.  ARID is a hybrid mixture of the Active Design Review (ADR) methodology and the Architectural Tradeoff Analysis Method (ATAM).

So what is ARID? ARD’s main goal is to ensure quality, detailed designs in software. One way in which it does this is by empowering reviewers by assigning generic open ended survey questions. This approach attempts to remove the possibility for allowing the standard answers such as “Yes” or “No”. The ADR process ignores the “Yes”/”No” questions due to the fact that they can be leading based on how the question is asked. Additionally these questions tend to receive less thought in comparison to more open ended questions.

Common Active Design Review Questions

  • What possible exceptions can occur in this component, application, or solution?
  • How should exceptions be handled in this component, application, or solution?
  • Where should exceptions be handled in this component, application, or solution?
  • How should the component, application, or solution flow based on the design?
  • What is the maximum execution time for every component, application, or solution?
  • What environments can this component, application, or solution?
  • What data dependencies does this component, application, or solution have?
  • What kind of data does this component, application, or solution require?

Ok, now I know what ARID is, how can I apply?

Let’s imagine that your organization is going to purchase an off-the-shelf (OTS) solution for its customer-relationship management software. What process would we use to ensure that the correct purchase is made? If we use ARID, then we will have a series of 9 steps broken up by 2 phases in order to ensure that the correct OTS solution is purchases.

Phase 1

  1. Identify the Reviewers
  2. Prepare the Design Briefing
  3. Prepare the Seed Scenarios
  4. Prepare the Materials

When identifying reviewers for a design it is preferred that they be pulled from a candidate pool comprised of developers that are going to implement the design. The believe is that developers actually implementing the design will have more a vested interest in ensuring that the design is correct prior to the start of code.

Design debriefing consist of a summary of the design, examples of the design solving real world examples put in to use and should be no longer than two hours typically. The primary goal of this briefing is to adequately summarize the design so that the review members could actually implement the design.

In the example of purchasing an OTS product I would attempt to review my briefing prior to its distribution with the review facilitator to ensure that nothing was excluded that should have not been. This practice will also allow me to test the length of the briefing to ensure that can be delivered in an appropriate about of time.

Seed Scenarios are designed to illustrate conceptualized scenarios when applied with a set of sample data. These scenarios can then be used by the reviewers in the actual evaluation of the software,

All materials needed for the evaluation should be prepared ahead of time so that they can be reviewed prior to and during the meeting.

Materials Included:

  • Presentation
  • Seed Scenarios
  • Review Agenda

Phase 2

  1. Present ARID
  2. Present Design
  3. Brainstorm and prioritize scenarios
  4. Apply scenarios
  5. Summarize

Prior to the start of any ARID review meeting the Facilitator should define the remaining steps of ARID so that all the participants know exactly what they are doing prior to the start of the review process.

Once the ARID rules have been laid out, then the lead designer presents an overview of the design which typically takes about two hours. During this time no questions about the design or rational are allowed to be asked by the review panel as a standard, but they are written down for use latter in the process. After the presentation the list of compiled questions is then summarized and sent back to the lead designer as areas that need to be addressed further.

In the example of purchasing an OTS product issues could arise regarding security, the implementation needed or even if this is this the correct product to solve the needed solution.

After the Design presentation a brainstorming and prioritize scenarios process begins by reducing the seed scenarios down to just the highest priority scenarios.  These will then be used to test the design for suitability.

Once the selected scenarios have been defined the reviewers apply the examples provided in the presentation to the scenarios. The intended output of this process is to provide code or pseudo code that makes use of the examples provided while solving the selected seed scenarios. As a standard rule, the designers of the systems are not allowed to help the review board unless they all become stuck. When this occurs it is documented and along with the reason why the designer needed to help the review panel back on track.

Once all of the scenarios have been completed the review facilitator reviews with the group issues that arise during the process. Then the reviewers will be polled as to efficacy of the review experience.


Clements, Paul., Kazman, Rick., Klien, Mark. (2002). Evaluating Software Architectures: Methods and Case Studies Indianapolis, IN: Addison-Wesley

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