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How to Monitor Software Process Improvement

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When an improvement program is in full swing, you can use a mini-assessment to get a quick snapshot of the effectiveness of an improvement effort. Use this list of questions, which are based on measurable criteria.
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When an improvement program is in full swing, it is necessary to monitor progress. A mini-assessment obtains a quick snapshot of the improvement program. The results show which practices are being adopted and which are not. A mini-assessment is not an audit or a full process assessment, but a friendly check to determine progress.

Before a mini-assessment is conducted, it is important to decide what practices will be checked for adoption. This could include the activities described by the organization's development life cycle, SEI CMM, ISO9001 or Bellcore model. A list of questions is based on these criteria.

Sample mini-assessment questions

Does your team:

  • Perform inspections or walk-throughs for critical work products (e.g. code, design, test cases, and plans)?

  • Perform black-box testing?

  • Perform configuration management (CM) of all critical work products (from plans to code)?

  • Have adequate cross-site development version control?

  • Have adequate computer network stability?

  • Use a process for estimation?

  • Use a process for risk management?

Mini-Assessment Process

There are five steps to the mini-assessment process.

  1. Meet with the developers and managers to explain what will be checked and how.

  2. Perform the mini-assessment (verbal interview with questionnaire).

  3. Publish the results (organization summary).

  4. Debrief with the participants.

  5. Improve the questionnaire (add examples and remove ambiguity).

  • Meet with the developers and managers to explain what will be checked and how

    Start with a one-hour meeting of all the participants and describe the process. Involving the developers and managers throughout the mini-assessment process will help ensure its effectiveness and create buy-in.

  • Perform the mini-assessment (verbal interview with questionnaire)

    The mini-assessment team interviews each development team using the defined questions. A verbal interview is used to ensure the quality of the responses. For example, if the project team answered yes to, "Do you perform configuration management of all critical work products?," then you can ask clarifying questions about CM practices.

    The interview typically takes one or two hours, depending on the number of questions asked.

  • Publish the results (organization summary)

    The results of a mini-assessment can be published graphically using a bar chart (see Figure 1) to indicate the percent of "yes" responses. This chart shows the trend of the group. If the organization is very large, you may decide to publish the results for each major division. The graph indicates that progress was made between January '99 and May '99. Ground was lost in September. The cause of this decline was the attrition of personnel.

    Figure 1Figure 1

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