We do not always get to pick the project we work on

Sometimes a company will halt all development on a project only to restart it at a later (sometimes much later) date. The reasons for this are many and varied but there are a few things to keep in mind which might help you if you ever have to restart an old project.

Find all of the resources involved with the old project. 

This would obviously include the source for the project. It also includes build scripts, tests, requirements docs, and any other support files.
In addition to the files which make up the project it is useful if you can find the systems which were involved in previous development such as build servers and developer workstations. Some parts of the project may not have made it into source control or it may have an unexpected prerequisite to build or run. These may be identified by examining the old build/dev boxes.
You may also try to track down any email chains involving the project. Even if all of the people involved in the original project are gone the company may have kept an archive of their inboxs in case they needed to be referenced for just this purpose.

Determine the state of the project

Once you have all the bits of the project together it is time to determine where the project was when it stopped. This will accomplish a couple of things. First it will help you and those who want to restart the project determine if the restart is actually worth the time. Second it will keep you from accidentally rewriting functionality which is already present but not immediately obvious. 

Setup or create a build process

If the project has a set of build scripts or some manner of build process it should be reinstated on a nightly or continuous integration build machine. If not then a process should be created.
If this is an internal tool then it should copy its binaries (or other end user useful bits) to a build repository. If this project has installers or some other more involved deployment system then these deliverables should be built as part of the build process and copied out to your build repository.
A build created on a dev workstation should only be used by a dev. Only those builds created by a build server (which should be labeling the builds) should be distributed, handed to QA, or shipped to customers. Adhereing to this rule will prevent one off and otherwise unrepeatable builds from entering the wild. 

Are there unit tests for any part of this project?

If you should be so lucky then these are the next items up to reinstate. Tests will help give you an idea of how the various parts of the project are supposed to work (or expected to break) as intended by those who wrote them. They can also catch fatal flaws you might introduce in the future due to a lack of knowledge of how a particular component is intended to be used.

Deploy a build for QA

Using the output of your now functioning build process deploy an instance of this project and the test it. Validate the current level of functionality of the project. If you have a bug tracking system which has records for this old project then check any obvious issues against any open defects.
The goal of this step is two fold. First is to ensure the project is still in sync with any requirements documents and bug tracking systems you may have. Second is to survey for yourself the true current state of the project with a build and deployment which you can now reproduce.
A quick note about build reproducibility. You should always ensure your build process can exactly recreate any arbitrary build which has come before. There are several insidious things which could prevent this ability with the simplest example being files not under source control (possibly some infrequently modified data files or libraries). Should a defect be introduced into files not under source control this defect will effect all new builds including those of older versions or on branches.

Validate the restart of the project

This point may arise earlier based on what you find along the way, if not then now is the time to consider whether restarting the project is worth it. 
It may turn out the project doesn’t actually do what project management thought it did. Or perhaps it does do what project management thought but is at a lower level of development than expected. A great number or severity of defects may also make the project a non starter. The project may have some big external dependency which is difficult to support or expensive to license. Even if none of the previous apply it may be difficult to add the new features project management wants to the project given the way it has been designed and built. 

The last and possibly most important point

If the objective of restarting an old project is to add some small feature to an old but operational deployment you may be tempted to just make the change to the source, build on your local system, and manually update the binaries on the production system. This is very bad idea. 
If you successfully pull off the update, then all is well. If, however, there are complications it will be very difficult to determine if the issue is caused directly by your update, indirectly through its interaction with other parts of the system, or if your update had nothing to do with the new issue at all. Additionally if you made a manual update to a system which is normally deployed via an installer you have now created a deployment which you may not be able to reproduce thereby making QA by another group virtually impossible. 

Leave a Reply