Metrics and Process Maturity


In keeping with the season, I'll try to keep this month's article on the Light side (both Chanukah and Christmas are Festivals of Light). Not easy to do when talking about metrics. If you're serious about attaining SEI CMM Level 5 certification, or about improving your processes in an effective manner, metrics are critical. Changing processes based on gut feel, or even based on some other organization's best practices can lead you backwards. Metrics not only permit you to detect this, but give you the basic data you need to improve your processes.

Why do I Like Metrics?
I enjoy looking at metrics. Even more, I enjoy devising new metrics to deal with specific issues. So, why? Why would I want to spend so much time on non-core activities?

1. First of all, they're interesting. They teach me things I didn't know. They confirm or reject my suspicions. Sure Dept. A is delivering more lines of code than Dept. B, but Dept. B is delivering more features. There’s less code to maintain too.

2. Secondly, I agree with the philosophy: What you measure (publicly), improves. Are testers not productive enough? Put up a chart of the weekly number of problems uncovered by each tester or test group. People spending too much time surfing the net at work? Put up a chart each week of how much surf time occurs in each dept. during nine-to-five (if you can measure it!).

3. Third, the need to tune processes. The biggest part of tuning a process, for me, is dealing with the most frequent cases and ensuring the process handles these well. Metrics point me in the right direction. The low frequency cases may have as big an effect, but I can deal with low frequency without automation - not so for high frequency.

Why else? Forecasting. Mostly, I need to be able to predict, accurately, when resources will be required and when product will be ready.

How about identifying change? My metrics tell me that something different is happening - that makes me want to isolate the cause. On the flip side, when I change my processes, I can identify the impact of the changes. It's about process, productivity, and accuracy. Metrics are important.

Making Metrics Work
What can you do to make metrics work well? First of all, compare apples to apples. Don't use a Java line count metric to compare to a Perl line count metric (unless you're studying the virtues of different languages).


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