Orbital ATK’s defense electronics systems segment builds missiles for naval aircraft. Many departments, including software engineering, production, testing, and quality assurance, work together in a highly regulated fashion. Ed Dantes, Software Configuration Manager for Orbital ATK, knows all about the importance of collaborative team work in this context: “We’re a defense contractor and have to comply with very strict navy regulations. An automated solution which helps us enforce standards and processes is vital. Our teams are geographically dispersed and so we need to have a central solution where everything is stored and documented. Before we implemented StarTeam, software release notes, code, or artifacts would end up on employees’ personal drives which could lead to a total mess when trying to follow an audit trail of a particular release. We need to ensure the right approval process is followed when we release our software for missile installation. This is the software which will steer the missiles to their targets, so there really is no room for error!”
Software releases are well planned following a very stringent product lifecycle. StarTeam contains a dedicated project for release software. The configuration integrity has to be closely guarded, so certain team members have authority to check code out of StarTeam, but they cannot check it in. Dantes: “Once the official release software has been checked into StarTeam, the QA team will conduct final checks and I’ll then release it for downloading onto our missiles. This process includes various steps and approvals to ensure we fully comply with the requirements of our navy customers. StarTeam has been completely customized to follow this workflow and is instrumental in our day-to-day jobs.”
The StarTeam workflow management tool has helped Orbital ATK to modify the standard workflows, in partnership with all stakeholders, to mirror exactly the processes in engineering and production. The software engineering teams love the StarTeam integration with Visual Studio, which makes their life so much easier. Orbital ATK is considering a move to an agile development environment and can see the benefit of StarTeam during this transition.
Dantes is also a lead on Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) with Orbital ATK. As a government contractor, Orbital ATK needs to comply with CMMI level 3 maturity requirement. This means that the quality assurance of all software processes and artefacts is regularly audited. Metrics are key in this process and StarTeam really proves its worth here, according to Dantes: “Metrics are important to us as they provide a measurable way to improve our processes and ensure our ongoing CMMI compliance. We use StarTeam to compile metrics to show us how many defects were fixed in a release, in what stage of the product lifecycle the defects were found, and how they were addressed. Everything is housed in StarTeam and it’s easy for us to extract the information we need for audit purposes.”
StarTeam has been in use with Orbital ATK for a long time. As part of regular due diligence exercises, it is often compared with similar tools from IBM Rational and the consensus is always that StarTeam delivers strong functionality but is much more user-friendly. The ability to link change requests to development and have a clear view of the history and the ability to compare revisions, is invaluable to Orbital ATK.
Dantes is very clear about the benefits: “StarTeam has given us centralized standards and processes in a world which would rely on ad-hoc actions across different locations. It is the go-to place for anyone starting a new project and it has increased our productivity and visibility across the product lifecycle.”
He concludes: “Basically, if StarTeam shuts down, and let me be clear, I think that has happened once in over 10 years, missile production stops. It is THAT important to us. The Micro Focus support we receive is superb and I am very thankful that we have a solution such as StarTeam in our arsenal. We depend on it every day and without it we would not be able to release the quality of products we do.”