Object-Oriented Analysis and Design

Most developers are well-aware of the concepts of object-oriented development, but those same concepts originate from a broader approach to the entire software development life cycle known as object-oriented analysis and design (OOAD). OOAD is a technical method of analyzing and designing an application based on that system’s object models (the logical components of the system that interact with one another).

We will explore exactly what object-oriented analysis and object-oriented design are, how these techniques are typically used in modern development, and any potential advantages or disadvantages you may consider when implementing OOAD into your own work.

Origins of Object-Oriented Analysis and Design

During the software development life cycle, development is typically broken up into stages, which are loose, abstract concepts used to separate the activities taking place within each phase of development. Often, these stages might include requirements, planning, design, coding/development, testing, deployment, maintenance, and so forth.

In the case of stringent development methodologies, such as the waterfall method1, these stages are sequential and intended to be completely separate from one another. Thus, when creating an application using the waterfall method, it’s unlikely that discoveries made during the testing or deployment phases can impact the decisions already made during the planning or design phases. These limitations, along with the strict step-by-step staging process of waterfall-esque models, led to the rise of iterative models like object-oriented analysis and design.

While OOAD practices have been around for a number of decades, the core ideas and techniques were largely cemented in the collective mind of the development community in the 1990s. An assortment of practitioners and authorities in the industry, working together and on solo endeavors, began to publish a number of books, articles, and techniques that all relied heavily on OOAD concepts. Some of these publications and methodologies are still well-known and in use today, including the Unified Modeling Language2 and the Rational Unified Process3.

What is Object-Oriented Analysis ?

To define object-oriented analysis we must first define what we mean by an object. The definition of an object, according to most dictionaries, is “a tangible, material thing.” Drilling down a bit more to the realm of computer science, an object can be most anything in a programmatic sense, from a variable or data model to a function, class, or method. Moving even deeper into the realm of object-oriented programming, an object is an instance of a thing that typically represents a real world object and has all the same types of characteristics (properties), behaviors (methods), and states (data). When discussing OOAD concepts, an object most closely resembles the object-oriented programming version of an object, in that it is a representation of a real world object with behaviors, characteristics, and states.

With that out of the way, we can define object-oriented analysis (OOA). In short, OOA is an iterative stage of analysis, which takes place during the software development life cycle, that aims to model the functional requirements of the software while remaining completely independent of any potential implementation requirements. To accomplish this task via OOAD practices, an object-oriented analysis will focus everything through the lens of objects. This forces OOA to combine all behaviors, characteristics, and states together into one analysis process, rather than splitting them up into separate stages, as many other methodologies would do.

To accomplish this goal, a typical OOA phase consists of five stages:

  • Find and define the objects.
  • Organize the objects.
  • Describe how the objects interact with one another.
  • Define the external behavior of the objects.
  • Define the internal behavior of the objects.

For example, a typical implementation of OOA is to create an object model for an application. The object model might describe the names, relationships, behaviors, and characteristics of each object in the system. With this information established for each object, the design process that follows is much simpler.

What is Object-Oriented Design?

The process of object-oriented design is really just an extension of the object-oriented analysis process that preceded it, except with a critical caveat: the consideration and implementation of constraints. For example, with an analyzed object in hand, such as an object model, we must now consider how that object would actually be designed and implemented, which will often require the application of constraints, such as software or hardware platforms, time and budgetary limitations, performance requirements, developer aptitude, and so forth.

Put another way, the OOD process takes the theoretical concepts and ideas planned out during the OOA stage, and tries to find a way to design and tangibly implement them, usually via code using whatever language and platforms the development team has settled upon. If OOA is the what, then OOD is the how.

Advantages of Object-Oriented Analysis and Design

Encourages Encapsulation: Since everything within OOAD revolves around the concept of objects (specifically, the object-oriented variety), one of the biggest advantages of OOAD is that it encourages planning and development of systems that are truly independent of one another. Just like a class written using object-oriented techniques, all the systems and objects produced during an OOAD development life cycle can be mixed and matched as necessary, since they will ideally be built as completely self-contained entities.

Easy to Understand: Since OOAD principles are fundamentally based on real world objects, it’s quite easy for everyone on the team to quickly understand what an object name means or how a particular behavior, well, behaves. This makes the overall development life cycle a much smoother process, particularly if your team needs to frequently interact with customers or other non-technical users about the objects and components in the system. In such cases, most people still understand how system components and modeled objects work when they’re based on real world objects and ideas.

Disadvantages of Object-Oriented Analysis and Design

Suited to Procedural Applications: Given the object-oriented nature of OOAD, it is quite difficult (although not impossible) to practice OOAD techniques within a procedural programming language, or often to apply the techniques to non-object business logic. Whereas procedural applications are often logically bound by concepts of scope and modularity, object-oriented applications, of course, emphasize objects that simulate the real world, making OOAD methods ill-suited for procedural languages and applications.

Too Complex for Simple Applications: While arguably not a disadvantage that is applicable to all projects, it’s certainly the case that OOAD practices are generally not ideal for simpler projects. Many developers have their own personal hard and fast rules to help when deciding whether a project should be procedural or object-oriented, but in most cases, the more basic the needs of the application, the more likely a less-structured, procedural approach is the best fit. As always, we must always use our own best judgment.

1. “Waterfall Model: What Is It and When Should You Use It ?”, Andrew Powell-Morse, https://airbrake.io/blog/sdlc/waterfall-model
2. “Unified Modeling Language”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_Modeling_Language
3. “Rational Unified Process: What Is It And How Do You Use It ?”, Andrew Powell-Morse, https://airbrake.io/blog/sdlc/rational-unified-process

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