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4.5 Collecting Software Engineering Data

The challenge of collecting software engineering data is to make sure that the collected data can provide useful information for project, process, and quality management and, at the same time, that the data collection process will not be a burden on development teams. Therefore, it is important to consider carefully what data to collect. The data must be based on well-defined metrics and models, which are used to drive improvements. Therefore, the goals of the data collection should be established and the questions of interest should be defined before any data is collected. Data classification schemes to be used and the level of precision must be carefully specified. The collection form or template and data fields should be pretested. The amount of data to be collected and the number of metrics to be used need not be overwhelming. It is more important that the information extracted from the data be focused, accurate, and useful than that it be plentiful. Without being metrics driven, over-collection of data could be wasteful. Overcollection of data is quite common when people start to measure software without an a priori specification of purpose, objectives, profound versus trivial issues, and metrics and models.

Gathering software engineering data can be expensive, especially if it is done as part of a research program, For example, the NASA Software Engineering Laboratory spent about 15% of their development costs on gathering and processing data on hundreds of metrics for a number of projects (Shooman, 1983). For large commercial development organizations, the relative cost of data gathering and processing should be much lower because of economy of scale and fewer metrics. However, the cost of data collection will never be insignificant. Nonetheless, data collection and analysis, which yields intelligence about the project and the development process, is vital for business success. Indeed, in many organizations, a tracking and data collection system is often an integral part of the software configuration or the project management system, without which the chance of success of large and complex projects will be reduced.

Basili and Weiss (1984) propose a data collection methodology that could be applicable anywhere. The schema consists of six steps with considerable feedback and iteration occurring at several places:

  1. Establish the goal of the data collection.

  2. Develop a list of questions of interest.

  3. Establish data categories.

  4. Design and test data collection forms.

  5. Collect and validate data.

  6. Analyze data.

The importance of the validation element of a data collection system or a development tracking system cannot be overemphasized.

In their study of NASA's Software Engineering Laboratory projects, Basili and Weiss (1984) found that software data are error-prone and that special validation provisions are generally needed. Validation should be performed concurrently with software development and data collection, based on interviews with those people supplying the data. In cases where data collection is part of the configuration control process and automated tools are available, data validation routines (e.g., consistency check, range limits, conditional entries, etc.) should be an integral part of the tools. Furthermore, training, clear guidelines and instructions, and an understanding of how the data are used by people who enter or collect the data enhance data accuracy significantly.

The actual collection process can take several basic formats such as reporting forms, interviews, and automatic collection using the computer system. For data collection to be efficient and effective, it should be merged with the configuration management or change control system. This is the case in most large development organizations. For example, at IBM Rochester the change control system covers the entire development process, and online tools are used for plan change control, development items and changes, integration, and change control after integration (defect fixes). The tools capture data pertinent to schedule, resource, and project status, as well as quality indicators. In general, change control is more prevalent after the code is integrated. This is one of the reasons that in many organizations defect data are usually available for the testing phases but not for the design and coding phases.

With regard to defect data, testing defects are generally more reliable than inspection defects. During testing, a "bug" exists when a test case cannot execute or when the test results deviate from the expected outcome. During inspections, the determination of a defect is based on the judgment of the inspectors. Therefore, it is important to have a clear definition of an inspection defect. The following is an example of such a definition:

Inspection defect: A problem found during the inspection process which, if not fixed, would cause one or more of the following to occur:

  • A defect condition in a later inspection phase

  • A defect condition during testing

  • A field defect

  • Nonconformance to requirements and specifications

  • Nonconformance to established standards such as performance, national language translation, and usability

For example, misspelled words are not counted as defects, but would be if they were found on a screen that customers use. Using nested IF-THEN-ELSE structures instead of a SELECT statement would not be counted as a defect unless some standard or performance reason dictated otherwise.

Figure 4.7 is an example of an inspection summary form. The form records the total number of inspection defects and the LOC estimate for each part (module), as well as defect data classified by defect origin and defect type. The following guideline pertains to the defect type classification by development phase:

Interface defect: An interface defect is a defect in the way two separate pieces of logic communicate. These are errors in communication between:



Modules and subroutines of a component

User interface (e.g., messages, panels)

Examples of interface defects per development phase follow.

Figure 4-7FIGURE 4.7 An Inspection Summary Form


High-Level Design (I0)

Use of wrong parameter

Inconsistent use of function keys on user interface (e.g., screen)

Incorrect message used Presentation of information on screen not usable


Low-Level Design (I1)

Missing required parameters (e.g., missing parameter on module)

Wrong parameters (e.g., specified incorrect parameter on module)

Intermodule interfaces: input not there, input in wrong order

Intramodule interfaces: passing values/data to subroutines

Incorrect use of common data structures

Misusing data passed to code


Code (I2)

Passing wrong values for parameters on macros, application program interfaces (APIs), modules

Setting up a common control block/area used by another piece of code incorrectly Not issuing correct exception to caller of code


Logic defect: A logic defect is one that would cause incorrect results in the function to be performed by the logic. High-level categories of this type of defect are as follows:

Function: capability not implemented or implemented incorrectly

Assignment: initialization

Checking: validate data/values before use

Timing: management of shared/real-time resources

Data Structures: static and dynamic definition of data

Examples of logic defects per development phase follow.


High-Level Design (I0)

Invalid or incorrect screen flow

High-level flow through component missing or incorrect in the review package

Function missing from macros you are implementing

Using a wrong macro to do a function that will not work (e.g., using XXXMSG to receive a message from a program message queue, instead of YYYMSG).

Missing requirements

Missing parameter/field on command/in database structure/on screen you are implementing

Wrong value on keyword (e.g., macro, command)

Wrong keyword (e.g., macro, command)


Low-Level Design (I1)

Logic does not implement I0 design

Missing or excessive function

Values in common structure not set

Propagation of authority and adoption of authority (lack of or too much)

Lack of code page conversion

Incorrect initialization

Not handling abnormal termination (conditions, cleanup, exit routines)

Lack of normal termination cleanup

Performance: too much processing in loop that could be moved outside of loop


Code (I2)

Code does not implement I1 design

Lack of initialization

Variables initialized incorrectly

Missing exception monitors

Exception monitors in wrong order

Exception monitors not active

Exception monitors active at the wrong time

Exception monitors set up wrong

Truncating of double-byte character set data incorrectly (e.g., truncating before shift in character)

Incorrect code page conversion

Lack of code page conversion

Not handling exceptions/return codes correctly


Documentation defect: A documentation defect is a defect in the description of the function (e.g., prologue of macro) that causes someone to do something wrong based on this information. For example, if a macro prologue contained an incorrect description of a parameter that caused the user of this macro to use the parameter incorrectly, this would be a documentation defect against the macro.


Examples of documentation defects per development phase follow.


High-Level Design (I0)

Incorrect information in prologue (e.g., macro)

Misspelling on user interface (e.g., screen)

Wrong wording (e.g., messages, command prompt text)

Using restricted words on user interface

Wording in messages, definition of command parameters is technically incorrect


Low-Level Design (I1)

Wrong information in prologue (e.g., macros, program, etc.)

Missing definition of inputs and outputs of module, subroutines, etc.

Insufficient documentation of logic (comments tell what but not why)


Code (I2)

Information in prologue not correct or missing

Wrong wording in messages

Second-level text of message technically incorrect

Insufficient documentation of logic (comments tell what but not why)

Incorrect documentation of logic

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