Software Process Improvement

Software Process Improvement

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The main objective of Software Engineering as a discipline [11] is the production of error-free, reliable software that meets user’s requirements effectively and that it is delivered on time and within budget. To support this objective introduces the idea of Software Process Improvement, which is a combination of appropriate software engineering techniques and principles geared towards improving software production. In order for these techniques to be engaged, they first have to be taught. This paper shall discuss the reason why SPI should be taught at undergraduate level and also look at the way it should be taught in an attempt to get the full potential of the SPI into the minds of undergraduate students as to equip them with new technical focuses. In this paper I shall analyze and discuss ways to improve the module and how to make it more interactive and produce a better learning environment for students and lecturers alike.

Software process improvement (SPI) is an essential topic in any computing curriculum. Students can be trained in the principles of SPI; later in industry this improves their chances [10] of implementing good software processes which in turn will be successfully defined and improved. [8] Discusses how all aspects of the computing field have had rapid, continuous change. As a result, university-level computing degrees curricula require frequent updating and review to remain effective and attractive for potential students, also to become more lucrative for industry as they need up-to-date graduates coming into the workforce. They [8] stress the point that there is no lessening in demand for IS knowledge and ability in organizations. Every discipline is experiencing growth in computer use and students who enrich there is knowledge is at a career advantage.

For this paper to achieve success in improving the quality of the SPI module there needs to be first, a general consensus for the modules objectives. The module must meet the needs of the stakeholders, for example: If a student feels the material is not relevant to their educational or career needs, they will most likely not enroll to the module. If the module does meet industry needs for improving real job skills, they will not provide time or financial support for employee enrollment. If the computing faculty feels that the module infringes on the academic prerogatives or fails to meet the academic standards, the faculty will not support the module and will be certified.

Overview of SPI

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This paper will now explore the backgrounds and reasons behind some of the methodologies of SPI to give you an overview of the subject. For instance, [6] displays certain concerns over teaching software engineering at the undergraduate and graduate levels due to alarming lack of emphasis on models and practices that support software process improvement, such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 9000-3, and Agile Methods and PSP (Personal Software Process).

The Personal Software Process was developed at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) by Watts Humphrey. It is [11] designed to bring discipline to the practices of individual software engineers, by providing a framework for measuring and analyzing their development work so that they produce programs of higher quality and in a more straight-forward and predictable manner. Learning this methodology for the module should ensure that it introduces students to a process-based approach to developing software and how to measure, estimate, schedule and track their work.

Humphrey [14] defines and describes the purpose and the wider scope of the PSP: “It can help you plan, better track your performance precisely, and measure the quality of your products. The PSP is not a magic answer to all your software problems. Although it can suggest where and how you can improve, you must make the improvements yourself”
In 1987, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and in cooperation with the Mitre Corporation, developed a five-level model to evaluate the maturity of an organization’s software development process and to provide SPI practices. The model is known as a Capability Maturity Model (CMM) for software. The model [6] has been through a number of revisions since then, it’s a framework that defines and describes the key elements of an effective software process. This in turn, serves as a guide for improving software development practices, including planning, engineering, management and software maintenance.

The traditional way of feeding students lecture material and memorizing information for an exam is fleeting and by today’s standards of learning, is redundant and not simulating for both lecturer and student alike. A more interactive and pro-active environment is the key to bringing modules to their full potentials. Therefore I shall put forward the notion of students giving presentations on different SPI topics each week in groups of 2 with a literature review at the end of semester to be handed in. There are many benefits this can bring to a module. Firstly, each student will have to present a SPI topic in front of the class while the lecturer examines them. The group will be given 10 minutes to give a background of their topic (for example XP (extreme programming)), show the class a case study involving the topic, discuss the topic and give an conclusion to their presentation. Marks will be awarded to the group presenting based on the content of their topic, background research, presentation and performance skills and show that they have a good knowledge of the topic. Once the presentation is concluded, the other groups that have watched the presentation will then have to produce one of the following:

• A valid question regarding their presentation and the topic at hand
• A different analysis on the topic that the presentation did not cover
• A case study that was not presented on the topic at hand

This interactive approach will ensure that all students will in effect, gain presentation skills, learn all the topics that will be covered in SPI and will be continuingly research the new topics each week. A 2hour lecture will be efficient for this implementation. The first 30 minutes of the lecture will consist of the presentation (8-12 minutes) and then questions/analysis/case study from the other groups (20 minutes approx). Continuous assessment will be given to the groups as to encourage and ensure students will be involved throughout the semester. The ratio for marks should be 40% continuous assessment (CA) and 60% exam. A rough estimate for marking in CA would be: 50% towards the presentation, 25% for overall questions/analysis throughout the semester and 25% towards the literature review. A literature review at the end of semester should be an individual project for the students to research a list of recommend papers of SPI and in it should include discussion and analysis of the papers. After improving presentation skills, the students can now improve their research and writing skills. The review should not be a full essay and should be around 3-5 pages long. Focused quality, not quantity will be the key to success for the review.

Semesters consist of a 12 weeks period, each week will have a 2hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial slot allocated for students only as a time when they should be researching. This [1] should take into account that the students cannot devote full time to this one project.

Discussion – Active Learning and Cooperation

Another reason for active involvement during lectures is due to the increased levels of retention. We learn and retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear and 50% of what we hear and see. The range of observable behaviors in students can be seen with this active involvement in the college lecture hall.
• Participatory behavior: The student is active and responsive, and engages in activities.
• Creative thinking: The student comes up with his/her own solutions/suggestions, the possibility of them bringing new insights to the topic.
• Engaged learning: The student is able to apply a learning strategy for a given learning situation.
• Construction of knowledge: Instead of passively receiving the information, the student is given tasks meant to lead him/her to understanding and learning.

With these behavioral patterns, educational research and student’s testimonials, this tells us that students who get involved with what they study learn more than those who receive information only passively. One of the most successful methods of helping students learn actively is cooperative learning, which can be seen from the CA modules I mentioned earlier in the paper. The essentials of this type of learning are shown in [5] and makes students realize in groups of 2, what each one does individually affects the work and success of the other team member. The whole idea of that they “sink or swim together. The lecturer structures and defines the work which is played out for the student so that they must share information. Having group presentations and working together throughout the whole semester encourages the students to support each other’s efforts to learn because they depend on each other to performance well, which is the case in many professions today like business, computing etc. Working together in this manner will ensure that students learn and use the necessary social skills that are always needed in life (e.g. leadership, decision-making, delegation of the workload, communication and conflict-management), all of which are discussed in more detail [4].

[1] Watts Humphrey, “An introduction to the personal software process” Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1997)

[2] James D. Herbsleb, Dennis R. Goldenson “A Systematic Survey of CMM Experience and Results”
Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, Pa 1996

[3] Stuart R.Faulk, “Achieving industrial relevance with academic excellence: lessons from Oregon Master of Software engineering” International Conference on Software Engineering Pages 293-302 (2000)

[4] David W. Johnson, Roger T. Johnson, Karl A. Smith. “Active Learning: Cooperation in the college” MN: Interaction Book Co. 1991) 1:19-20

[5] Ewell, P.T “Organizing for learning: A new imperative” AAHE Bulletin Pages 3-6 (2000)

[6] Erol Biberoglu, Hisham Haddad, “A survey of industrial experiences with CMM and the teaching of CMM practices” Journal of computing sciences in Colleges, Volume 18, Issue 2, Pages 143-152 (2002)

[7] Keishi Sakamoto, Kumiyo Nakakoji, Yasunari Takagi, Naoki Niihara, “Toward computational support for software process improvement activities” International Conference on Software Engineering Pages 22-31 (1998)

[8] Gordon B.Davis, John T.Gorgone, J.Daniel Couger. “IS 97: Model Curriculum and guidelines for undergraduate degree programs in information systems” Guidelines for undergraduate degree programs Pages 101-194 (1996)

[9] Bill Curtis, “Software Process Improvement: Methods and lessons learned” International Conference on Software Engineering Pages 624-625 (1997)

[12] Thomas B.Hilburn, Massood Towhidnejad. “Doing Quality Work: The role of software process definition in the computer science curriculum” Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education Pages 277-281 (1997)

[13] Edward Neal. “Active Learning Beyond the classroom” http://teaching.uchicago.edu/pod/neal.html

[14] W.Humphrey, “A Discipline for Software Engineering”, Addison Wesley, w 1995

[15] Kenneth M.Dymond. “A guide to the CMM: Understanding the Capability Maturity Model for software” Process Transition International, Incorporated, June 1998.
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