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Practical Software Measurement - Anita Carleton

Practical Software Measurement - Anita Carleton

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11/12/2012

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It is only in the state of statistical control that statistical theory
provides, with a high degree of belief, prediction of
performance in the immediate future.

W. Edwards Deming, 1993

…the necessary and sufficient condition for statistical control is
that the causes of an event satisfy the law of large numbers as
do those of a constant system of chance causes.

Walter A. Shewhart, 1931

…any unknown cause of a phenomenon will be termed a
chance cause.

Walter A. Shewhart, 1931

Process stability is considered by many to be at the core of process management. It is
central to each organization’s ability to produce products according to plan and to improve
processes so as to produce better and more competitive products.

CMU/SEI-97-HB-003

21

What is meant by stability? To answer this question, we must first understand that almost all
characteristics of processes and products display variation when measured over time. This
variation has two sources:

•phenomena that are natural and inherent to the process and whose results
are common to all measurements of a given attribute

•variations that have assignable causes that could have been prevented

In equation form, the concept is

[total variation] = [common cause variation] + [assignable cause variation]

Common cause variation is the normal variation of the process. It exists because of normal
interactions among the components of the process (people, machines, material,
environment, and methods). Common cause variation is characterized by a stable and
consistent pattern over time, as illustrated in Figure 2-3. The results of common cause
variation are thus random, but they vary within predictable bounds. When a process is
stable, the random variations that we see all come from a constant system of chance
causes. The variation is predictable, and unexpected results are extremely rare.

Time

x

x

x

x

x

xx

x

x

x

xx

x

x

x

x

x
xx

x

Variation in
Measured Values

Frequency
of
Measured
Values

Figure2-3:The Concept of Controlled Variation

The key word in the paragraph above is “predictable.” Predictable is synonymous with “in
control.” Processes can vary in known, nonrandom ways and still satisfy Shewhart’s
definition of a controlled process. One example that Shewhart gives is that of the distance
covered in successive intervals of time by a freely falling body [Shewhart 31]. Here our
ability to predict the results is extremely precise, so by Shewhart’s definition this is a

22

CMU/SEI-97-HB-003

controlled process, even though the distance traveled increases steadily from interval to
interval. The stock market, on the other hand, is not a controlled process.

The processes that we use in business and industry are rarely in control. As Shewhart
points out,

…in the majority of cases there are unknown causes of
variability in the quality of a product which do not belong to a
constant system. This fact was discovered very early in the
development of control methods, and these causes were
called assignable.

Walter A. Shewhart, 1931

Variations due to assignable causes have marked impacts on product characteristics and
other measures of process performance.3

These impacts create significant changes in the
patterns of variation. This is illustrated in Figure 2-4, which we have adapted from Wheeler
and Chambers [Wheeler 92]. Assignable cause variations arise from events that are not part
of the normal process. They represent sudden or persistent changes in things such as
inputs to the process, the environment, the process steps themselves, or the way in which
the process steps are executed. Examples of assignable causes of variation include shifts in
the quality of raw materials, inadequately trained people, changes to work environments,
tool failures, altered methods, failures to follow the process, and so forth.

Time

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

x

xx

x

xx

x

x

x

x

x

Frequency
of
Measured
Values

Variation in
Measured Values

Figure2-4:The Concept of Uncontrolled or Assignable Cause Variation

When all assignable causes have been removed and prevented from recurring so that only a
single, constant system of chance causes remains, we have a stable process. The law of

3

Assignable causes are sometimes called special causes, a term introduced by W. Edwards Deming.

CMU/SEI-97-HB-003

23

large numbers then applies, and we can assume that the objective probability that such a
cause system will produce a given event is independent of time [Shewhart 31].

Stability of a process with respect to any given attribute is determined by measuring the
attribute and tracking the results over time. If one or more measurements fall outside the
range of chance variation, or if systematic patterns are apparent, the process may not be
stable. We must then look for the causes of deviation, and remove any that we find, if we
want to achieve a stable and predictable state of operation.

One technique that is often used to establish operational limits for acceptable variation is
statistical process control (SPC). SPC and its associated control charts were developed by
Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s to gain control of production costs and quality. Shewhart’s
techniques were used extensively in World War II and again in more recent years by W.
Edwards Deming and others as a basis for improving product quality, both in Japan and in
many U.S. companies. As a result of the successes of SPC in industrial settings, the
techniques have been adopted for use in many other business areas.

To some, SPC is a way of thinking, with tools attached. Its aim is to improve processes
through causal analysis. SPC differs from other, more traditional approaches—such as
problem management, zero defects, and repairing and reworking products after they have
been produced—in that it provides more constructive help in reducing the causes of defects
and improving quality.

The principal thesis of this guidebook is that the techniques of SPC can be applied to
software processes just as they have been to industrial processes, both to establish process
stability and predictability and to serve as a basis for process improvement.

For example, Figure 2-5 shows a control chart for the number of reported but unresolved
problems backlogged over the first 30 weeks of system testing. The chart indicates that the
problem resolution process is stable, and that it is averaging about 20 backlogged problems
(the center line, CL, equals 20.4), with an average change in backlog of 4.35 problems from
week to week. The upper control limit (UCL) for backlogged problems is about 32, and the
lower control limit (LCL) is about 8. If future backlogs were to exceed these limits or show
other forms of nonrandom behavior, it would be likely that the process has become unstable.
The causes should then be investigated. For instance, if the upper limit is exceeded at any
point, this could be a signal that there are problems in the problem-resolution process.
Perhaps a particularly thorny defect is consuming resources, causing problems to pile up. If
so, corrective action must be taken if the process is to be returned to its original
(characteristic) behavior.

We must be careful not to misinterpret the limits on the individual observations and moving
ranges that are shown in the control chart. These limits are estimates for the natural limits of
the process, based on the measurements that were made. The natural process limits
together with the center lines are sometimes referred to as the “voice of the process.”

24

CMU/SEI-97-HB-003

0

5

10

15

20

25

30

8

12

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20

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28

32

LCL = 8.49

CL = 20.04

UCL = 31.6

Week of System Test

0

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10

15

20

25

30

0

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

CL = 4.35

UCL = 14.2

Moving
Range

Number of
Unresolved
Problem
Reports

Figure2-5:Control Chart for the Backlog of Unresolved Problems

The performance indicated by the voice of the process is not necessarily the performance
that needs to be provided to meet the customer’s requirements. If the variability and location
of the measured results are such that the process, albeit stable, produces too many
nonconforming products, the process must be improved. This means reducing the variability,
moving the average, or both. We will illustrate these alternatives in Section 2.4 when we
address the issue of process capability.

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