The earliest phase of any software project is the planning phase. At this stage, people involved with the project have meetings and discuss some very high level needs. There are probably some presentations and documents that are created. Project management plans have not been developed, but they should be thought about. And as I stated previously, we begin creation of our work instructions (the application of our SOPs) in this stage.
The design history file (DHF) of a project must contain all of the historical “stuff” that goes into the project, so even at this early stage it is necessary to decided on a version control system and create a repository. Sure, there may be no tracing involved yet, but this early “stuff” should still be kept around In the DHF. Because the earliest phases of the software project result in outputs that are to be included in the DHF, it is necessary determine the version control tool and establish the version control repository early on (for the sake of this article, I assume a basic understanding of version control/revision control systems).
Once again: Tracing. Tracing is everything, and Subversion, with its changesets, lends itself extremely well to integration with other tools used throughout the project. When used with your issue tracking software every issue can be linked directly with a set of items in the repository that are related to addressing and resolving that issue. With a click of the mouse we can see a list of all the project file modifications related to a single issue.
I recommend using a single version control system and repository for all of the “stuff” that goes into a project (there are many good reasons to use a repository-per-project approach as well). This means that project management plans, documents, presentations, code, test data and results should all go into the same repository, and the repository itself is laid out so that each project has its own trunk, tags and branches. If documents are stored in a separate repository (or in a different version control system altogether) and software code is stored in a different repository, we lose much of the project traceability that we could have.
(Note: When placing binaries in a version control system there is no merge path as there is with text file source code. This means it is good practice for team members, when editing documents, to place a strict lock on the file while editing. This can be done in Subversion. Strict file locking allows others to be notified that another user is currently working on a file.)
While a clear benefit of this approach is the fact that all of the “stuff” of a project is associated with the same repository, some may view this as a problem with the setup. I suggest this setup only because I am thinking specifically in terms of an FDA regulated software product in which it is beneficial to relate all elements of the project in a single traceable repository. In this setup documentation will be versioned (and tagged) along with project source code, and this may or may not be desirable depending on project needs.
Subversion is superior to many of its predecessors because of (among other things) its introduction to “changesets.” A changeset provides a snapshot in time of the entire project repository. When documents, presentations or source code are changed and committed to the repository, a new changeset number is created. Now at any time in the future we can checkout all items in the repository tree as of that changeset. When asked what version of a product something was changed in we can pull everything relevant to the project at the point of that change. No longer do we have to tag or label our repository in order to revisit a particular instance in time (although Subversion still allows tagging). Every single commit to the repository effectively results in a “tag.”
This is not to say that tagging is no longer useful. On the contrary, it remains very useful. All software releases, included internal releases, should be tagged (and our work instructions should tell us when and how to perform tagging).
Another advantage of Subversion is that, unlike some of its predecessors, it allows for the control and history of directories as well as files (including file and directory name changes). The most commonly used predecessor to Subversion, CVS, did not maintain a version history of a file or directory was renamed. Subversion can handle the renaming of any version controlled object.