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«Software Fault Reporting Processes in Business-Critical Systems Jon Arvid Børretzen Doctoral Thesis Submitted for the partial fulfilment of the ...»

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3. Research design As this study is based on qualitative methods, we had not initially made any rigorous research questions before initializing the study, just an interview guide. As the interview guide was prepared, though, we could put the different questions into related groups that would help answer some common questions. Interviews were carried out based on the interview guide, and the transcribed interview responses were coded and analyzed using the Grounded Theory method.

3.1 Research Questions This investigation is based on the results we got from a previous study on fault reports.

The main research questions for this study derived from the researchers’ viewpoint after

the quantitative study are the following:

Firstly, we wished to hear if the experience of the practitioners involved in the projects we had analyzed was similar to the analysis results we had found in previous studies.

RQ1: How can the large number of faults originating in early development phases which was found in the quantitative study be explained?

Secondly, we wanted to draw on their experience to hear if they thought a fault (type) classification scheme could be helpful towards improving their development processes.

RQ2: Can the introduction of a fault classification scheme like ODC be useful to improve development processes?

We also wanted to hear their opinions on increasing effort in data collection and fault report analysis in order to improve their software development processes.

RQ3: Do they see feedback from fault report analysis as a useful software process improvement tool?

Lastly, we wanted to ask them where they thought that there was most potential of improvement in their fault management system, to elicit areas that they felt were lacking in their current fault reporting process.

RQ4: Do they see any potential improvement areas in their fault management system?

We designed a semi-structured interview using an interview guide containing seven topics and incorporating 32 questions.

3.2 Research Procedure We started by defining our research goals and questions, by drawing on the conclusions from our previous quantitative study in the organization. We proceeded to design the interview guide, with adjustment of research questions accordingly. Figure 1 shows the main structure of our research procedure.

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Interviews The data from which we wanted answering our research questions were collected through expert interviews. The interviews were conducted by the author, a PhD-student, using an interview guide and a digital voice recorder. The interviews were subsequently transcribed and coded by the same person.

When selecting the interviewees, we wanted to have individuals who had been actively involved in some of the five projects we had studied in this organization before and who also had hands-on experience from dealing with fault management in these projects. From these criteria, we contacted project managers and test managers from the five projects we had studied in conjunction with our contact person in the organization.

The outcome was interviews with three persons from projects we had studied, in addition to one other person who had worked in a similar project.

The interviews were conducted as open-ended, but structured interviews. The same questions were asked in every interview, but the interviewees were given a lot of room to talk about what they felt was important within the topic of the question.

Interview data analysis Each question in the interview guide was related to one or more research questions, and the different responses for each question were compared to extract answers related to the research question. Grouping the answers related to each research question, we could extract information helping to answer our four research questions. Following this, the answers to each question were coded according to Grounded Theory in order to be able to separate different views on the questions. In line with using the constant comparison method, we coded each answer into groups. The codes were postformed, i.e. constructed as a part of the coding process, since the interviews were open and we had not made any expectations of how the interviewees would answer. After one round of coding had been performed, we went through the data once more in order to make sure that the responses grouped together actually said the same things. As Seaman (1999) states, the work of finding patterns and trends is largely creative, but as most of the responses in the interviews were rather direct, drawing general conclusions from interview responses was not difficult.

Workshops In addition, we later received feedback about the topic at 7hand through discussions and comments during two workshops that were held in the organization in conjunction with the fault report study and interviews. The participants of these workshops had the same job description and responsibilities as the participants in the interviews, and all of them worked on similar business-critical application development projects. These comments and discussions were not formally recorded by voice recorder, but notes were taken as the workshop endured. This information was used to clarify and support the findings in the interviews.

3.3 Research Execution

The organization under study is a large Norwegian software development organization that develops and maintains applications in several business-critical domains. The interviewees had worked in projects which had been developed for external customers.

The software systems developed in these projects are all on-line systems of a businesscritical nature, and they have all been put into full or partial production. The organization used a commercially available and common fault management tool, Mercury Quality Center, and had developed a fault report template that were used in all projects, with minor amendments as needed by the projects.

Interviews were conducted with four representatives from the organization from which we had studied five development projects with respect to fault reports (Børretzen and Dyre-Hansen, 2007). Two of the interviewees had worked as test managers in the projects we had studied, and one interviewee had worked as a test manager in another, but similar project in the organization. One interviewee had been the project manager for one of the studied projects.

Prior to the interview, the interviewees had been given information about our fault report study and our intentions with the interview. On the day of the interview, we had a presentation about the findings in our study and our interpretations of these results.

There were four separate interviews, one with each interviewee, held at two separate locations. The duration of the interviews was from 40 to 55 minutes. The interviews were subsequently transcribed, coded and analyzed using the constant comparison method (Seaman, 1999), and following the grounded theory method as described in (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). The interview guide consisted of 32 questions from seven categories as shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Interview categories Interviewee background Results of the previous study of the same organization The organization’s own measurements and analysis on faults The existing quality system and fault management system used in the organization Fault reporting and fault categorization Feedback on fault reporting to developers Attitude to process changes and quality improvement initiatives in the organization In addition to the interviews comes feedback that we got from participants during two workshops on fault reporting and fault categorization that we had organized.

The workshop participants were all test managers from the same organization where we had conducted the fault report study. The three test managers that had been interviewed also participated in these workshops. As the discussions and feedback from these workshops were very fruitful, we decided to include some of this elicited information in this study, to augment the knowledge we got from the interviews. The workshops also worked to confirm much of what had been talked about in the interviews.

4. Results This section presents the findings in our study, together with the augmenting feedback we received from the workshop we arranged with the organization.

4.1 Interview response The following presents a summary of how the interviewees responded to the interview questions related to each research question. This is based on the coded interview answers, and using the grounded theory method we can formulate some general findings for each of the research questions we had defined.

RQ1: How can the large number of faults originating in early process phases which was found in the quantitative study be explained?

In answering RQ1, there was consensus that work processes in early stages of development, i.e. specification and design, should be improved. Many of the faults were caused by poor specifications or design, or difficult access to specifications and design.

Lack of information forwarded from analysts and designers to the developers was often cited as a cause of faults. Especially for more complex systems there was a need for more effort in early development phases. Poor guidelines for developers were also mentioned as a probable cause for the high number of faults related to specification and design. The interviewees agreed that the general results from the study of the five projects also were relevant for their individual projects. The findings in our previous qualitative fault analysis work supported the suspicion of the interviewees, that the work processes in early development were not optimal and that introducing fault analysis that could help pinpoint fault origins would be very useful.

RQ2: Can the introduction of a fault classification scheme like ODC be useful to improve development processes?

When answering questions related to RQ2, the response was that introducing a fault categorization scheme like ODC would be a good idea, given that the introduction of a new scheme was performed in steps and with the cooperation of everyone involved.

They felt that by introducing a reporting scheme like this, it would be easier to document how development processes needed improvement, since the different fault types are quite distinct and descriptive. They were not particularly pleased with their current fault categorization scheme, which was not very detailed except for faults related to test environment. Introducing a new scheme was seen as an easy technical task, as they used a very flexible fault management system.

RQ3: Do they see feedback from fault report analysis as a useful process improvement tool?

In answers to questions on RQ3, there was a strong agreement that fault management could and should include steps to improve process and product quality. There had been spread attempts at fault analysis in the organization, but they didn’t believe the correct metrics had been used to exploit it fully. Using fault report analysis more actively, with more descriptive fault reports was seen as a very useful tool, but they also warned that the concept would have to be introduced to the developers who were going to use and be affected by this in the right manner, especially since more detailed fault reporting could lay developers more open to “blame” for faults that had been introduced in development.

RQ4: Do they see any potential improvement areas in their fault management system?

The response to the questions related to RQ4 indicated that information flow could be improved between testers discovering faults and developers who were fixing faults.

Although all respondents initially said they were pleased with the fault reporting scheme in terms of what information was entered into it, they had some comments on expansion of the current scheme. The potential improvements that were mentioned were better registration of effort (hours) used in fault discovery and correction tasks, and better registration of fault location on component or code level.

4.2 Feedback and experience from workshops

In addition to the response and results we got from the interviews, we also would like to include some of the information and feedback we received on this topic when we arranged a workshop on the topics of fault reporting and fault categorization for representatives of the studied organization. These representatives were only shown the results from our quantitative study, not any information from the interviews, although some of the participants in the workshop had also been involved in the interview sessions.

Related to RQ1, on the large number of faults related to early process phases, the general reaction was again that in their experience, a documented development process was lacking, and there were clear indications that improving specification and design processes and work would be a positive move. The major complaints were that design phases were too hasty, there were not enough reviews and documentation was not good enough. Discussions around topics for RQ2 told us that most of the people at the workshop could see the need for better fault classification. Still, several people were skeptical of introducing an all new fault taxonomy without involving the people who were going to actually use it for classifying faults found. On the topic of feedback from fault report analysis as a process improvement tool (RQ3), the general consensus was that it could be very useful, and that the completed quantitative study performed showed that it had been useful already. As for potential improvement of their fault management system (RQ4), they seemed to agree that the actual system in use was sufficient, but that the information put into the system should be improved.

5. Discussion This chapter first discusses some issues concerning the results in view of our research questions, the study’s validity, and relevance for the company.

In RQ1, we wished to hear if the experience of the practitioners involved in the projects we had analyzed, was similar to the analysis results we had found in previous studies.

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