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metrication barriers
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in the news Soft Target  Tony Blair is confident of achieving his commitment to bring UK health spending up to the European Union average by 2005.  Find out how metrication shifts.
Those who count, know. Those who don't know, don't count.
[Old Stock Exchange saying]
Quantity derives from measurement, figures from quantities, comparisons from figures, and victories from comparisons.
[Sun Tzu, 500 BCE]


It is not easy to define useful metrics with which productivity and quality can be measured, even after the event. It is even more difficult to define predictive metrics - in other words, estimating the level of productivity ir quality that is being or will be achieved for a given deliverable, or in a given task.

However, what cannot be measured cannot be controlled. It is always better to have some reasonable information about what has happened (and is happening), than to have none. Nothing can be learned from no information. Fact-based management will always be better than management by unsubstantiated assertion.

It is therefore necessary to formulate some simple metrics, even if these are rough and approximate. At a minimum, some metrics should be used which represent reported field failures and/or defects from the customer's point of view.

Metrics can give early benefits within a single organization, where the difficulties of calibration do not arise. Metrics increase predictability, and provide feedback that may allow increases in productivity and quality.

Metrics are a management tool, not a quick fix for problems. They must be used for learning, not punishment. Rewards (never punishment) may be associated with external measures (e.g. customer satisfaction).

The SPICE model and the SEI Capability Maturity Model rightly regard metrication as an essential step to get to the higher levels of maturity.

Key Ideas

There are many metrics that could be defined. If you used all of them, you would be for ever collecting metrics, and never doing the job.
A few key metrics must be selected. The choice should be based on the quality drivers. This choice will vary by situation, as there is no single right answer independent of context.
Metrication can be supported by tools. This certainly helps lighten the burden of metrics. But be aware of the danger of concentrating your measurement on what can easily be measured, instead of what really needs to be measured.
Conformity to standards is a means to an end, not an end in itself; it is not itself a quality criterion. You should always ask what is achieved by such conformity, what is the purpose of these standards (e.g. completeness, reusability, or whatever); the real quality criteria are found in the answers to such questions.
A metric may sometimes provide the symptom of a possible problem. Further (qualitative) analysis may be needed to determine whether there is a real problem.
Don't restrict metrication to software and the software process. Consider metrics for other aspects of information systems development: planning, requirements analysis, implementation.
All metrication should be available to the people actually doing the job, and training should be provided where necessary to enable them to use the metrics as tools for maintaining/improving the quality of their own work. 

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Metrication Barriers and Pitfalls

veryard projects > software quality > software metrics > pitfalls

What are the reasons for poor metrication? Why are software organizations so relectant to take measurement seriously? ommonly found excuses for poor metrication include the following:
Difficulty selecting & defining metrics
Belief that metrics must be perfectly accurate in order to be usable
Organizational resistance, perhaps caused by anxiety over poor results, fear of bureaucracy or general inertia.
Long term wait for benefits (especially process metrics)
Inadequate or insufficient tools, forcing manual calculation, storage and analysis of metrics. Needs simple automation/integration.
Doubts about reusability of metrics. Difficulty calibrating metrics for comparison between two or more organizations (benchmarking).
Fear of inappropriate (political) use of uncalibrated metrics.
Belief that you can prove anything with statistics, so they are not worth having.

What are the common failures of a metrication programme?

Managers regard metrics as irrelevant
Developers regard metrics as negative commentary
Project staff burdened with data collection
Metrics fail to generate improvement actions
more Six Sigma - a true story
Pitfalls of six sigma metrication

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Metrication Shifts

veryard projects > project management > metrication > shifts

23rd October, 2001.  Tony Blair is confident of achieving his commitment to bring UK health spending up to the European Union average by 2005.  But not by dramatically improving UK spending. As countries from Central and Eastern Europe join the EU club, the average will fall. Convenient, huh?
source: Financial Times, October 23rd, 2001

2nd March, 1999. A UK Government minister on BBC radio this morning, defending some policy on the control of genetically modified crops.The environmental issue: is a gap of a certain size sufficient to prevent cross-pollination between GM crops and other plants?

The minister argued that a gap of a certain size was widely accepted by scientists as adequate for the production of "pure" seeds, which means no more than a fraction of a percent impurity. Therefore a gap of this size should also have been adequate for prevention of the spread of GM pollen.

It is interesting how, once a control or performance measure becomes established for one purpose, it gets applied for an entirely different purpose. The situation changes faster than the metric.

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References & Recommended Reading

veryard projects > project management > metrication > books

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Gerald M Weinberg

Quality Software Management Volume 2 First-Order Measurement

New York: Dorset House, 1993

As a writer on systems and software, I regard Weinberg's books with awe. He seems to have an endless stream of relevant anecdote and insight, logically combined into a thorough and systematic analysis of his subject. His books are always entertaining to read, and thought-provoking on every page. 

This book contains simple yet powerful techniques for measuring software products and processes, and for using these measurements intelligently.

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This page last updated on September 16th, 2002
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