Getting what you measure

  • Bouwers E
  • Visser J
  • van Deursen A
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ARE SOFTWARE METRICS helpful tools or a waste of time? For every developer who treasures these mathematical abstractions of software systems there is a developer who thinks software metrics are invented just to keep project managers busy. Software metrics can be very powerful tools that help achieve your goals but it is important to use them correctly, as they also have the power to demotivate project teams and steer development in the wrong direction. For the past 11 years, the Software Improvement Group has advised hundreds of organizations concerning software development and risk management on the basis of software metrics. We have used software metrics in more than 200 investigations in which we examined a single snapshot of a system. Additionally, we use software metrics to track the ongoing development effort of more than 400 systems. While executing these projects, we have learned some pitfalls to avoid when using software metrics in a project management setting. This article addresses the four most important of these: ˲ Metric in a bubble; ˲ Treating the metric; ˲ One-track metric; and ˲ Metrics galore. Knowing about these pitfalls will help you recognize them and, hopeful- ly, avoid them, which ultimately leads to making your project successful. As a software engineer, your knowledge of these pitfalls helps you understand why project managers want to use soft- ware metrics and helps you assist the managers when they are applying met- rics in an inefficient manner. As an outside consultant, you need to take the pitfalls into account when pre- senting advice and proposing actions. Finally, if you are doing research in the area of software metrics, knowing these pitfalls will help place your new metric in the right context when pre- senting it to practitioners. Before div- ing into the pitfalls, let’s look at why software metrics can be considered a useful tool.

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  • Eric Bouwers

  • Joost Visser

  • Arie van Deursen

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