Between 1986 and 1998 CelsiusTech evolved from a defense contractor providing custom-engineered point solutions to essentially a vendor of commercial off-the-shelf naval systems. They found the old ways of organizational structure and management insufficient to support the emerging business model. They also found that achieving and sustaining an effective product line was not simply a matter of the right software and system architecture, development environment, hardware, or network. Organizational structure, management practices, and staffing characteristics were also dramatically affected.
The architecture served as the foundation of the approach, both technically and culturally. In some sense, it became the tangible thing whose creation and instantiation were the ultimate goal. Because of its importance, the architecture was highly visible. A small, elite architecture team had the authority as well as the responsibility for it. As a consequence, the architecture achieved the "conceptual integrity" cited by [Brooks 95] as the key to any quality software venture.
Defining the architecture was only the first step in building a foundation for a long-term development effort. Validation through prototyping and early use was also essential. When deficiencies were uncovered, the architecture had to evolve in a smooth, controlled manner throughout initial development and beyond. To manage this natural evolution, CelsiusTech's integration and architecture teams worked together to prevent any designer or design team from changing critical interfaces without the architecture team's explicit approval.
This approach had the full support of project management, and it worked because of the architecture team's authority. The team was a centralized design authority that could not be circumvented, which meant that conceptual integrity was maintained.
The organization necessary to create a product line is different from that needed to sustain and evolve it. Management needs to plan for changing personnel, management, training, and organizational needs. Architects with extensive domain knowledge and engineering skill are vital to the creation of viable product lines. Domain experts remain in demand as new products are envisioned and product line evolution is managed.
CelsiusTech's turnaround from one-at-a-time systems to a product line involved education and training on the part of management and technicians. All of these are what we mean by the return cycle of the ABC.