ERCIM News No.23 - October 1995 - SZTAKI

Software Process Assessment and Improvement from a Decision Making Perspective

by Miklós Biró and Piroska Turchányi

The quality of the process determines the quality of the product. This slogan is becoming more and more accepted in industrial production in general and in the software industry in particular. MTA SZTAKI recognized the importance of increasing the awareness of the benefits of software process improvement in Hungary. But managers making decisions need to be addressed in the language of business decisions which is mostly different from that of process quality experts. For this reason, we identified and analysed the business decision problems which are supported by various approaches to software quality. Our next objective is the application of multiple criteria decision making techniques to software process assessment and improvement.

The evaluation of the quality of a software product is one of the basic issues in information technology. A system of product quality criteria is summarized in the ISO/IEC 9126 standard. The first level of the criterion hierarchy contains the following elements: functionality, reliability, usability, maintainability, portability and efficiency. The business decisions that are supported by this standard are as follows:

There are, however, fundamental business decisions which are not supported by ISO/IEC 9126 or other systems of product quality criteria and these are the ones which justify the existence of software process assessment and improvement approaches:
The customer's decision problem:
- Is the supplier able to sustain the reliability of its production?

The supplier's decision problem:
- How can we improve the reliability of the production?

ISO 9000 certification is intended to support the customer's decision by focusing on the process rather than on the product. Nevertheless, certification provides little support for the supplier's decision. It is software process assessment and the corresponding improvement action plan which serve the fulfillment of this need.

While the customer's decision problem involved only the two alternatives, yes or no, the supplier's decision problem admits a large number of alternative courses of action the choice among which is supported by the BOOTSTRAP method for software process assessment and improvement among other things.

BOOTSTRAP was a European ESPRIT project (5441) completed in February 1993 by a consortium of European software companies and universities. The aim of this project was to develop a method for software process assessment and improvement. BOOTSTRAP enhanced and refined the method developed at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI, Carnegie Mellon University, USA) for software process assessment of US Department of Defense contractors, and adapted it to the European software industry, including the non-defense sector such as administration, banking, and insurance. Bootstrap designed a very detailed process quality attribute hierarchy and enhanced the SEI Questionnaire by taking into account the ISO 9000-3 guidelines for software quality and the ESA (European Space Agency) PSS-05 software engineering standards. Additionally, it refined the SEI maturity level algorithm to be able to calculate a maturity level for each of the individual process quality attributes. Thus, we get a process quality profile that provides a representation of strengths and weaknesses. This quality profile serves as a quantitative basis for making decisions on process improvement. Having based the work on the ISO 9000-3 standard, BOOTSTRAP can calculate wether 85% of the ISO attributes are satisfied or not. Therefore, BOOTSTRAP can also be used as a preparation for the ISO certification.

MTA SZTAKI (The Computer and Automation Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) became the first Central and Eastern European member of the BOOTSTRAP Institute, a European Economic Interest Group whose mission is the continuous development of the BOOTSTRAP methodology. The SZTAKI BOOTSTRAP team initiated a wide range of actions for increasing awareness of the importance of software process improvement in Hungary.

Please contact:
Miklós Biró - SZTAKI
Tel: +36 1 269-8270

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