You Have to Admit That It Hurts

Opinion: Development managers concede that they measure code quality too little, too late.

When 216 Java development managers were asked this summer about their biggest frustrations in deploying high-quality code, 40 percent of them admitted that they dont even measure code quality in more than half of their projects; in the projects where code quality is being measured, the same group estimated that almost a third of those monitoring efforts dont begin until the project is more than half complete. Those were the findings that really jumped out at me in a report produced by the Princeton, N.J., research firm Clear Horizons and released last week by the study sponsor, the Enerjy Software division of Teamstudio Inc., in Beverly, Mass.

I spoke with Enerjy CEO Nigel Cheshire at this years JavaOne conference and again following the release, early this month, of his companys code quality management suite Enerjy CQ2. Cheshire pulls no punches when talking about the difficulty of getting good measurement tools introduced into working development organizations: "Our whole philosophy--borne out by experience--is ZIP, Zero Impact on Process. The only way you can be successful with tools is to minimize their impact on their process day to day," he told me during our JavaOne conversation in June. In practical terms, he continued, that means a combination of process automation, overall code quality elevation, and improvement of individual developer performance through measurement and feedback.

When Cheshire looked at the tools available to development managers, he told me, he was struck by the degree to which they were really just project management tools rather than development management tools. I hadnt thought about the difference before, but hes right: Many tools will let you track the progress of a project by tasks and milestones, just as I used to track the progress of equipment fabrication and installation at the Exxon Chemical plant in Baton Rouge, but thats hardly the same thing as documenting the performance of each developers code as it makes its way through an automated suite of unit tests. The latter, of course, is the kind of thing that can pinpoint the sources of delay in a coding project, where the difference between an outstanding developer and a marginal contributor is more than double the difference between mediocrity and excellence in most other crafts.

Better tools and better measurements, leading to better processes, are crucial to the reproducibility and profitability of the growing services sector in IT--a goal thats being addressed by the Technology Professional Services Association, formed last month and hitting its stride with this weeks Webcast announcement of The Service 50: the most influential solution providers. I cant tell you wholl be at the head of the list, but the Top 10 firms (in alphabetical order) will be Accenture, Affiliated Computer Services, Cisco, Computer Sciences Corp., EDS, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Unisys and Xerox. The full Top 50 rankings will be announced on Thursday beginning at 2 p.m. EDT.

Tell me what you measure, and whose solutions you find serviceable, at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com

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