March, 2002

Forty-six people braved the cold and rain to attend the March 20 SPIN meeting. The topic this month was "Six Sigma and Software Process Improvement," given by Steve Janiszewski and Ellen George of PS&J Software Six Sigma. After a brief overview of how processes are improved through the use of the Six Sigma methodology (Define-Measure- Analyze-Improve-Control), Steve and Ellen laid out a blueprint for applying Six Sigma to software development.

At the very core of a Six Sigma software effort is the treatment of project metrics. By using a variety of statistical measurements and charts (lots of charts), project managers will be able to monitor project activities and take appropriate actions to ensure the delivery high quality code in a timely manner. This metrics-based approach goes a step further than conventional CMM-based improvement methods in that it forces more fundamental changes in the activities of developers. (Specifically, it requires them to take careful measurements of the software development process.)

While acknowledging Six Sigma’s roots as an improvement vehicle for dealing with manufacturing process metrics, Janiszewski and George note that there are three basic metrics that can fully characterize the software development processes. They are:
1. The time required to perform a task;
2. The size of the work product produced;
3. The number and type of defects

If complete, consistent, and accurate data can be gathered in these three areas, then statistical analyses and process controls can be used to manage software development efforts. This section of Janiszewski and George’s presentation led to a lively exchange of what actually constitutes consistent metrics. In addition, the discussion also touched on when it is (and is not) appropriate to group metrics from many people. (The biggest hazard cited was the variance in programmer skills within any group.)

Throughout the lecture, Steve and Ellen cited examples from their experiences at Allied-Signal and Honeywell. The meeting (which can roughly be described as a "Six Sigma Primer") ran into over-time as there were numerous questions from the attendees. The lecture concluded with comments about the "do's and don'ts" of deploying a Six Sigma program.

The themes that were returned to again and again was that Six Sigma activities (most notably the collection of metrics) needs to be linked with business results, and that the people who do software development need to be intimately involved in the improvement processes. The 42-page presentation was chocked full of facts, figures, charts and graphs. It is available at www.softwaresixsigma.com. (From the main screen, click on the "References" button).

by Robert Zotti


Business Items

The NJSPIN Website is under construction. Its name will be "WWW.NJSPIN.ORG". The prototype is online and can be viewed at "http://mywebpages.comcast.net/rzotti/NJSPIN.html" . Best of all, the website is being provided free of charge, courtesy of E-Mark Online in Livingston. If anyone has any comments, contact Robert Zotti at rzotti@comcast.net.

Next month’s meeting will be held at the Johnson & Johnson building. Details will be sent out in the next e-mail to members.

SMS is offering a half-day seminar on March 21 called "Avoiding the Outsourcing Tarpits"; on April 16 there will be a half-day seminar titled "Gold Medal Requirements Management Workshop." Check the SFS website link for details.