Sunday, June 02, 2002

On Software Process Improvement. Before we become mired down in Oracle topics I am going to take an abrupt turn back towards quality and process improvement. One excellent book on the subject that covers both process assessment and improvement, is Software Process Improvement. With exceptions that I've noted below this is an in-depth examination of standards, initiatives and methods for software process improvement (SPI) and software process assessment (SPA).

The book is divided into twelve chapters, each of which contains two or more papers written by top experts in the field, including Mark Paulk (of CMM fame), Watts S. Humphrey (creator of PSP and TSP, and prolific author of software engineering process papers), Robert B. Grady (author of three standard references on metrics), and others who key players, but are not as widely known outside of the SPI and SPA community.

Chapter 1 covers software process assessment with an article by Paulk that surveys the more common models for SPI and SPA, and a reprint of Sarah Sheard's excellent article from CrossTalk Magazine titled "The Frameworks Quagmire". Chapter 2 contains three articles on the SW-CMM, which seems to be the centerpiece of this book. Chapter 3, "Other Approaches to Software Process Assessment" contains four articles that add balance by covering non-CMM approaches that are in common use, especially in Europe (Bootstrap). I especially liked the article by David N. Card titled "Sorting out Six Sigma and the CMM", which combines two hot topics. One of the exceptions that I cited at the beginning of this review is the article on Trillium, which in my opinion has been superseded by TL 9000 in the telecommunications industry.

The three articles in Chapter 4 (Software Process Improvement: How To Do It) address common concerns and barriers to any SPI initiative, and each add well thought out ideas, especially Sandra McGill's "Overcoming Resistance to Standard Processes, or, Herding Cats", and William Florac's "Statistically Managing the Software Process".

Watts Humphrey's Personal and Team Software Processes, and CMMI are the key topics in Chapter 5, which covers developments inspired by the SW-CMM. All of Chapter 6's Software Product Evaluation articles were my favorites from among the collection in this book, and I particularly liked Jørgen Bøegh's "Quality Evaluation of Software Products" and Geoff Dromey's "A Model for Software Product Quality" because they go to the heart of key issues in both product line engineering challenges and user acceptance testing.

Chapter 7, ISO 9000 Series and TickIT, is the second exception that I previously noted. Much has changed in ISO 9000 with the 2000 standard, which renders this entire chapter moot in my opinion. I also thought the five articles in Chapter 8, The SPICE Project, would have been a better fit in Chapter 3. The same goes for Chapter 9, Experiences of Software Process Assessment, which is nearly an extension of Chapter 8, and is closely related to Chapter 3.

Two other favorite chapters are 10 (Software Process Improvement for Small Organizations) and 11 (Benefits of Software Process Improvement). Chapter 10's three articles dispell any notion that SPI is only feasible for large organizations, and the three articles in Chapter 11 focus on the benefits of SPI, especially Herb Krasner's article titled "Accumulating the Body of Evidence for the Payoff of Software Process Improvement". I also liked the final chapter, which covers software processes in general, including an excellent article on modeling. I felt that this chapter should have been at the beginning of the book instead of the end.

Overall, this is a book for those of us who are nearly religious about SPI; but is not a good introductory text. It's main value will be to IT consultants who specialize in either SPI or SPA (or both), and who need to be familiar with the mainstream standards and approaches.

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