Companies talk software standards to improve efficiency

Managing software development processes was the focus of a seminar held Tuesday, as Canadian-based software companies gathered in a Toronto hotel to compare notes on ways to identify and implement development processes and methodologies.

“It’s a deep topic, and one that many organizations wrestle with,” said Omid Hodaie, CEO at Toronto-based Osellus Inc., a software automation company that hosted the event. “There is a general acceptance of the notion of the importance of processes and methodology.”

The seminar was a way for Canadian-based software development companies to explore the variety of processes available and be in a better position to choose methods of development that suit their own companies, he added.

Most of the standards, models and frameworks within the software development market were created to address problems with performance and credibility when software companies are developing software.

After adopting certain frameworks into their day-to-day operations, not only do companies get faster, more productive and better quality software, but they also increase the credibility of their products while implementing best practices within their organizations, said David Constant, a partner with Process Inc. and a speaker at the seminar.

Some of the methodologies and software development processes discussed during the one-day event include the Capability Maturity Model (CMM),the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Product Suite and ISO/IEC 9000-3, as well as the Agile Software Process, the Rational Unified Process and Six Sigma.

Doug Thompson, director of development at Toronto-based Tucows, an Internet service provisioner, said that although his company already has its own methods for developing software, the company is ready to improve its development process by taking the next step – implementing the CMM, he said.

CMM is a model that is used for judging the maturity of the software processes of an organization and for identifying key practices that are required to increase the maturity of those processes.

“Our process is not written, but it’s understood by everyone in the organization,” Thompson said.

Thompson said Tucows is embarking on a huge project in the near future and, as a result, is considering deploying a new platform. Having CMM in place would benefit the company.

“We need a commitment to process management,” he said. “We’re inefficient. It takes longer than it should [to develop software]…we don’t always learn from our previous projects as much as we could.”

The company hasn’t been assessed for CMM status yet, but by implementing CMM, Tucows – similar to many other software development companies that attended the seminar – is looking to bring more efficiency, predictability and product quality back into its businesses.

Dave Zubrow, team leader for the software engineering measurement and analysis initiative within the Software Engineering Institute, discussed the CMMI framework with a focus on the role of measurement.

“It’s a fundamental principle to integrate measurement into the process,” he said. “CMMI integrates multiple disciplines into one process improvement framework that eliminates inconsistencies and reduces duplication.”

As companies move up the maturity levels within CMMI, they become more predictable – something that companies should strive for, he explained.

CMMI builds on and extends the best practices of CMM, Zubrow explained, with the main focus on getting the discipline in place and measuring the success along the way. He reminded seminar attendees that it was a framework and not a methodology.

“What is important is that you get started and this gives you guidance,” he said. In the end though, whatever framework a company decides to follow, the company shouldn’t become a slave for the framework, Zubrow said.

“If you misuse the framework and woe comes to you, it’s not the framework’s fault,” he said.

For Denise Haney, director of the project management office at Solcorp, adopting the CMMI framework came as a recommendation from a senior manager at her office.

She said Solcorp is looking to implement CMMI but wanted to start with a CMMI assessment.

“We are trying to see where we’re at and then decide if it’s something that we want to move forward with,” Haney said.

She said the seminar provided her with a good overview of what CMMI is and how to implement it. Having support from Solcorp’s senior management – something that Zubrow said was essential – and the potential cost associated with the framework, are two main issues that Haney said she needed to communicate to her company.

She also said customer demand could be another impetus for having a CMMI framework.

“We haven’t seen it so much yet, but I think that it’s one of those things that our clients are going to start asking for,” she explained.

Over on the ISO standard side, Victoria Hailey, president of the Victoria Hailey Group Corp. and an ISO contractor, said having ISO standards are a good option for global companies.

“There are different standards across the world and they are all saying ‘mine’s the best’,” Hailey said, explaining that it can get rather costly for companies to be assessed on the various standards in place. “Standards are only valuable if everybody recognizes them and adopts them.”

Since ISO is a worldwide organization, and has a high level purpose, “everyone can do what they need to do and still contribute their own common understanding,” she said.

For companies that deal globally, the ISO standard is a good way to demonstrate that one software company talks the same language and has the same level of quality as another one. She also explained that the ISO standard can be used in conjunction with many of the other methodologies and frameworks discussed during the day.

For Haney, no decisions have been made, but after watching Solcorp grow for more than 20 years, she said she can see the company experience more growth from having a few of the standards or methodologies in place.

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