Thursday, December 07, 2006

Software Quality

This is one of the first posts on software quality. Since 2002 I have been working on a project called "Dune", which is basically an automated system that helps you in the process of quality (it does not inspect, nor write code for you, nor writes documents), but if your company has strict processes regarding baselines, inspections, document control and especially traceability, this may be an interesting thing for you to try out.

The software is at: and
Yep, it is GPL'd, so anybody can download, help out and use it, however you cannot take the sources and close it down for any commercial product.

There are some good rationales behind the project that I am going to write and design soon and put on the site. The whole work on the project is good to understand quality a lot better. I read through entire books about software quality (dry reading material about "process", "audit" etc. *yawn*), but in the end just discover that whatever they are talking about.... it can be automated! And how many tools do you know that automate traceability and have import functions for project plans, RF and UC documents?

A "quality process" in the end is nothing but the definition of responsibility. Setting the boundaries where the responsibility of one person ends and the other starts. So if you believe that a process is going to improve your software, I wouldn't really think so. The only thing able to do that are the people that you have in your time. The process should only help to create an environment wherein this team can flourish! And as written before, definition of processes is not always good, because if the process writer 'forgets' to write down a certain responsibility, it is likely that this issue falls through the cracks with no one to blame (blame it on the process, not yourself :).

The rationale for adopting a software quality standard doesn't really have much to do with actual software quality. That is, a software standard certification need not be in place in order to write good software. Good quality depends on good people, not on processes of any kind. It may help, but only if the process is defined and adopted by the people in the company. Rather, a process must be seen as the formalization of how work is done in that company with that culture, not an enforced method of work by a select few in the organization that read a good amount of books on software quality and then run around crazy with the theory.

I have not yet read CMMi in its entirety, but I understand what it is about. I am not yet sure whether what I am building will comply with CMMi or vice-versa. I do expect though that the "rules for certification" of CMMi fit in nicely.

Any quality "system", whether this is a quality plan, a set of software tools or adopted method of work should aim for a couple of objectives to achieve software quality:
  • transparency
  • traceability
  • control
Control is the means that a team has to exercise control over the 'states' in the project. There are initiatives, purchases, work items, bugs, features and change requests to be managed. The better the software is aligned with how the team wants to manage this information, the more effective it will be.

Traceability has much to do with the CMMi and ISO standards. This is often interpreted as a "paper trail", but I argue that it might just as well be a set of records in a database (it is actually much better). Traceability has much to do with "auditing" as well. To know when, how and who is basically the question that for each initiative, bug and feature needs to be answered.

Transparency means a system where the information is close to the surface. One should not have to open a separate locker with a key that only the manager has to go through drawers of paperwork to find out what happened to bug #35. This is one extreme transparency problem, but it shows how transparency is important in a system. Transparency is basically a measure how easy it is to get to the information in the system. The easier it is, the more value the system generates for its users.

So, this is what I am building. An automated quality support system. The system by itself is incapable of guaranteeing quality, but it helps to lift the effort in maintaining the audit chain and ties control, transparency and traceability together. This is very important for people involved in software development. It relieves the people involved from a couple of hours of effort a week (as an estimate), which can be directed to something really productive.

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