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SmartAdvice: How To Turn The Budget Process Into A Value-Add

Here are some tips to make the annual budget process pay off year-round, The Advisory Council says. Also, a practical approach to quantifying software quality and tips on how to deal with a letter requesting you preserve information for a criminal investigation.

Topic B: How can I set up practical and measurable software-quality goals that will help guide my strategic planning?

Our advice: There's a lot of confusion about what constitutes quality software. I've seen definitions that embrace everything from "standards-compliant production" to "reliability," "usability" and various other "-ilities" (e.g., testability and modifiability). The problem with these definitions is that you can't go to your manager and say you need to invest $X million to increase a bunch of "-ilities," hence the need to quantify quality.

Assuming the purpose of quality in software is to satisfy customers (internal or external), then in re-formulating your definition of quality--what may be called "real quality"--consider the factors that contribute to customer satisfaction. Real quality may thus be defined in terms of the following five factors, weighted appropriately for your business:

  1. Accuracy of the original market and product-requirements analysis can be measured by the match between actual customer demand for the product and the software's predicted demand, given the same functionality and features.

  2. Utility of the product's functionality and performance is measured by how well those factors meet users' requirements in their specific business situation.

  3. Time-to-market and cost must be soon enough to keep customers interested, not allowing competitors to increase their market share. At the same time, the product must be affordable, and hence marketable.

  4. Pure quality (the absence of software defects) must be reflected in a product of sufficient quality to maintain customers' loyalty and enthusiasm.

  5. Attractiveness of implementation for intended users.

These five factors might then be valued as follows:

  1. Accuracy of market forecasts and value of concept formulation -- 30%

  2. Utility of product's functionality and performance -- 25%

  3. Time to market and cost -- 20%

  4. Pure quality -- 15%

  5. Attractive implementation -- 10%

When software is evaluated in terms of the above on a scale of 1 to 5 for each, where 1 reflects poor and 5 excellent quality, you can calculate its real quality index (RQI). RQI is the ratio:

RQI = P / Pmax

Where P is the specific-to-project sum of weighted factors, and Pmax = 5 is the possible maximum sum of weighted factors.

Let's consider an example to see how RQI works. A commercial software product is being developed that market research reports has:

  1. An average concept (i.e., a rating of 3), giving (3x0.3) or 0.9 points.

  2. All the requirements are met, giving (5x0.25) = 1.25 points;

  3. The product is affordable and delivered on time, giving (5x0.2) = 1.0 point;

  4. 'Pure' quality is average, giving (3x0.15) = 0.45 points; and

  5. Implementation is fair, giving (2x0.1) or 0.2 points.

In sum, therefore, this project rates 3.8 points of 5.0 possible for an RQI of 76%.

Is this approach practical? Quite. First, it's a good tool with which to compare products and projects from both the producers' and customers' points of view. Second, it locates responsibility and accountability for the quality of a product where it belongs. Third, it quantifies quality by rating the software in numerical terms.

-- Vladimir Tsivkin

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