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The SEMAT Charter – A proposal

This blog entry was originally posted December 11, 2009 on  In order to make it easier for us to comment we now also post it here.

Where are we as a community?

Since this initiative was launched early October this year, we have 31 signatories, more than 600 supporters and 5 corporate signatories agreeing with our Call for Action.  We have a web site and a blog.  Still the hard work of defining our process and ultimately our “kernel” lies ahead of us.

What do we need to do?

We must agree on the direction for our work for the next 12 months.  We propose 12 months as a suitable period as it is long enough to achieve some first steps and short enough to produce visible results.  As for a software project, the goal will be larger as we get closer.

The call for action statement is the starting point:

“We support a process to re-found software engineering based on a solid theory, proven principles and best practices that:

  • Includes a kernel of widely-agreed elements, extensible for specific uses.

  • Addresses both technology and people issues.

  • Is supported by industry, academia, researchers and users.

  • Supports extension in the face of changing requirements and technology.”

At the launching workshop, in Zürich March 17-18, we will start discussing potential solutions.  To get there, we need a clear sense of direction.  Starting from the Call for Action, we need to narrow down the solution space with a Vision Statement laying out our expectations for the next twelve months. There should be a first widely-agreed version by 15 February 2009.

The SEMAT launch phase revealed that many of us already have, or feel they have, partial or full solutions to the problem.  These should yield position statements.  A Call for Position Papers will soon be presented on, and a blog entry will follow.  The three of us will work as the program committee, making sure that all facets of the problem space are explored and all reasonable solutions presented.

Working on the vision statement?

In the meantime, let us work iteratively through the blog to create a series of exploratory discussions.  These discussions can be harvested and turned into an initial vision statement. To get started, we have already published a blog entry “Establishing a kernel?”  Please, start to comment on this.  Feel free to suggest new blog entries leading to our goal.  Let the Call for Action guide you.

We can envision blog entries to establish the width and breadth of SEMAT and the overall SEMAT vision.  Moreover, there may be blog entries about the kernel from different perspectives: developers, computer scientists, researchers and so forth.  Specific features of the kernel can be discussed also on the blog.

This will lead to useful materials, which we will share with the community,

Key to the success of this approach will be the comments and discussions

Perhaps not all subjects lend themselves to be explored in this way. A different approach might be needed to answer the question, “what is software engineering?”  We want to draw upon the outstanding set of signatories, asking you to publish your thoughts on what software engineering is or isn’t.  For example we could start with the following discussions:

Is Software Engineering?  Why Software Engineering? Thoughts on Software Engineering by Alistair Cockburn

Thoughts on Software Engineering by Watt Humphreys


Beyond the vision statement

In order to get anywhere in Zurich, we need people to either strictly respond to the vision statement or express refusal of the vision statement.  In the latter case, we will have to propose a new vision statement.   Moving forward will normally require consensus. In the rare case that consensus turns out to be impossible to achieve, we — Ivar, Bertrand and Richard — will find a way forward.

Every participant at the Zurich meeting has to present a position statement describing a solution or a part of a solution.  The meeting is over two days only. We hope that this will lead to selecting one or a few of the position statements as the basis for the future.  This is, however, all speculation; at this point we really cannot see beyond getting together in Zurich.

Leading this effort

How much leadership do we need?  After all we as a group include some of the best minds in the industry, many with long experience in consensus building.  Our approach to leading this effort will be very open.  We all want to find a great path forward, not being compromised by the consensus process.  We are all intent to ensure that the end result is “widely-agreed” and it “addresses both technology and people issues, is supported by industry, academia, researchers and users.”

Join us!  Only a lively discussion will lead to a widely-adopted work product based on the best thinking on the subject.

Ivar Jacobson, Bertrand Meyer and Richard Soley

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