A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Software Standards and how to develop and use it properly

Over time, I have come across many attempts by software engineers from different development shops or organisations and have formed an opinion that many of these attempts are not only poorly compiled but often containing dangerous information. They are better served by adopting world recognised publications but there are very few that are well written and of International standard quality.

I have never been able to find any publication to back up my observation and opinion until I come across the chapter titled "Standards and enforcers: Do they really help achieve software quality?" in a book called "Softeware Conflict 2.0 - The Art and Science of Software Engineering" by Robert L. Glass.

This chapter not only supports my opinion but also clear my doubt of whether or not adherence to software standard produces quality software by his explanation that:
Standards are a narrow subset of the total issue of quality, and although it would be nice to establish the definitions of quality in terms of conformance with a sufficient set of standards, it is simply not possible. Software quality is defined in terms of attributes such as portability, efficiency, human engineering, understandability, testability, modifiability, and reliability.... you will quickly see the software quality cannot simply be legislated, it must be performed. Efforts to measure software quality in terms of standards conformance are doomed to letting poor-quality software slip through undetected.
While conformance to standards alone does not necessary produce quality software, he has found:
They do indeed help software quality and software productivity. But they must be done right. There are many pitfalls along the way, and many people aren't doing them right.
So how do you do it right? Here are his recommendations:
First of all, standards should be terse and to the point. The must rules for writing software, no matter what the installation, should be distilled into a short manual which can be digested quickly, applied easily, and enforced conveniently..... Guidelines, not standards, should be established. This document may be as long as it needs to be, because it contains helpful hints which most programmers will want to read, and length will not be a problem since there is no need or even intention of enforcing these rules.

Second, standards should be written and reviewed by the best programming talent in the shop, not by whomever happens to be available at the moment.
Third, enforcement of standards should be mandatory, not something done if there happens to be time.... Enforcement processes should include automated enforcers where possible (these are sometimes called code auditors), and the use of reviews as necessary where automation is not possible. Peer code reviews are one important way of doing standards enforcement, although the main focus of such a review should be on quality as a whole, not just standards enforcement.
Finally, Glass has this warning to Quality Assurance group:
Often quality assurance organizations will perform standards enforcement activities, and pronounce the software to be of high quality.

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