Attempting to assess the relative benefits of more than 200 software development practices is not for the faint of heart. Context-specific considerations run the risk of confounding the conclusions at every turn. Even so, Capers Jones, a software development expert with dozens of years of experience and nearly twenty books related to software development to his credit, recently attempted the task. He's literally devoted decades of his career to assessing such things for clients. We're quite pleased with how using Hexawise fared in the analysis.

Scoring and Evaluating Software Methods, Practices and Results by Capers Jones (Vice President and CTO, Namcook Analytics) provides some great idea on software project management. The article is based on the Software Engineering Best Practices with some new data is taken from The Economics of Software Quality (two of the books Capers Jones has authored).

Software development, maintenance, and software management have dozens of methodologies and hundreds of tools available that are beneficial. In addition, there are quite a few methods and practices that have been shown to be harmful, based on depositions and court documents in litigation for software project failures.

In order to evaluate the effectiveness or harm of these numerous and disparate factors, a simple scoring method has been developed. The scoring method runs from +10 for maximum benefits to -10 for maximum harm.

The scoring method is based on quality and productivity improvements or losses compared to a mid-point. The mid point is traditional waterfall development carried out by projects at about level 1 on the Software Engineering Institute capability maturity model (CMMI) using low-level programming languages. Methods and practices that improve on this mid point are assigned positive scores, while methods and practices that show declines are assigned negative scores.

The data for the scoring comes from observations among about 150 Fortune 500 companies, some 50 smaller companies, and 30 government organizations. Negative scores also include data from 15 lawsuits.

 

The article provides guidance, based on the results achieved by many, and varied, organizations with respect to software projects.

finding and fixing bugs is overall the most expensive activity in software development. Quality leads and productivity follows. Attempts to improve productivity without improving quality first are not effective.

 

This is an extremely important point for business managers to understand. Those involved in software development professionally don't find this surprising. But business people often greatly underestimate the costs of maintaining and updating software. The costs of bugs introduced by fairly minor feature requests to a system that doesn't have good software test coverage or test plans often create far more trouble than business managers expect.

This is especially true because there is a high correlation between software applications that have poor software testing processes (including poor test coverage and poor or completely missing test plans) and those application that were designed without long term maintenance in mind. Both deficiencies result of decisions made to minimize initial development costs and time. They both show a lack of appreciation for wise software engineering practices and software application project management.

The article discusses a complicating factor for accessing the most effective software development practices: the extremely wide differences in software engineering scope. Projects range from simple applications one software developer can create in a short period of time to massive application requiring thousands of developer-years or effort.

In order to be considered a “best practice” a method or tool has to have some quantitative proof that it actually provides value in terms of quality improvement, productivity improvement, maintainability improvement, or some other tangible factors.

Looking at the situation from the other end, there are also methods, practices, and social issues have demonstrated that they are harmful and should always be avoided. ... Although the author’s book Software Engineering Best Practices dealt with methods and practices by size and by type, it might be of interest to show the complete range of factors ranked in descending order, with the ones having the widest and most convincing proof of usefulness at the top of the list. Table 2 lists a total of 220 methodologies, practices, and social issues that have an impact on software applications and projects.

The average scores shown in table 2 are actually based on the composite average of six separate evaluations:

  1. Small applications < 1000 function points

  2. Medium applications between 1000 and 10,000 function points

  3. Large applications > 10,000 function points

  4. Information technology and web applications

  5. Commercial, systems, and embedded applications

  6. Government and military applications

The data for the scoring comes from observations among about 150 Fortune 500 companies, some 50 smaller companies, and 30 government organizations and around 13,000 total projects. Negative scores also include data from 15 lawsuits.

The scoring method does not have high precision and the placement is somewhat subjective.

Top 10 tools and practices listed in the article:

Practice Score
1. Reusability (> 85% zero-defect materials) 9.65
2. Requirements patterns - InteGreat 9.50
3. Defect potentials < 3.00 per function point 9.35
4. Requirements modeling (T-VEC) 9.33
5. Defect removal efficiency > 95% 9.32
6. Personal Software Process (PSP) 9.25
7. Team Software Process (TSP) 9.18
8. Automated static analysis - code 9.17
8. Mathematical test case design (Hexawise) 9.17
10. Inspections (code) 9.15

 

We are obviously thrilled that Hexawise is listed. We have seen the value our customers have achieved using mathematical based combinatorial software test plans (see several Hexawise case studies). It is great to see that value recognized in comparison to other software development practices and judged to be of such high value to software development projects.

The article makes it clear the importance of the results is not "the precision of the rankings, which are somewhat subjective, but in the ability of the simple scoring method to show the overall sweep of many disparate topics using a single scale."

The methodology behind the results shown in the article can be used to evaluate your organization's software development practice and determine opportunities for improvement. But, as stated above, software projects cover a huge range of scopes. The specific software project needs will drive which practices are most critical to achieving success for a specific project. The list in the article, of what practices have provided huge value and what practices have resulted great harm, is a very helpful resource but project managers and software developers and testers need to apply their judgement to the information the article provides in order to achieve success.

A leading company will deploy methods that, when summed, total to more than 250 and average more than 5.5. Lagging organizations and lagging projects will sum to less than 100 and average below 4.0.

 

The use of Hexawise has been growing; that has helped increase the number of software projects using best practices (that score 9, or higher), however as the article states there is quite a need for improvement.

From data and observations on the usage patterns of software methods and practices, it is distressing to note that practices in the harmful or worst set are actually found on about 65% of U.S. Software projects as noted when doing assessments. Conversely, best practices that score 9 or higher have only been noted on about 14% of U.S. Software projects. It is no wonder that failures far outnumber successes for large software applications!

 

A score of 9 to 10 for a practice means that practice results 20-30% improvement in quality and productivity of software projects.

Conclusion: while your individual mileage may vary, this report provides further evidence that using Hexawise really does lead to large, measurable improvements in efficiency and effectiveness.

We are very proud of the success of Hexawise thus far; as a new year starts we see huge potential to help many organizations improve their software development efforts.

The article includes a list of references and suggested readings that is valuable. Included in that list are:

DeMarco, Tom; Controlling Software Projects, 1986, 296 pages.

Gilb, Tom and Graham, Dorothy; Software Inspections, 1994, 496 pages.

Jones, Capers; Applied Software Measurement, 3rd edition, 2008, 662 pages.

McConnell, Code Complete, (I'm linking to the 2nd edition the article references the 1st edition) 2004, 960 pages.

 

Related: Maximizing Software Tester Value by Letting Them Spend More Time Thinking - A Powerful Software Test Design Approach - 3 Strategies to Maximize Effectiveness of Your Tests

By: John Hunter on Mar 18, 2013

Categories: Software Testing, Software Testing Efficiency, Testing Case Studies, Testing Strategies