Soft Dev Survey Says People, Not Tools, Matter Most

The best-in-class software development projects are 3.37 times faster to market and 7.48 times cheaper than the worst, according to a new study of "the Best and Worst in Class" projects from Quantitative Software Management.

The costs and duration associated with being "best" or "worst" are dramatic: the construction and test portion (the build phase) of the project for best in class was about 3.6 months/$200,000, while the worst in class took a year and rang up $1.4 million, QSM found. The total lifecycle costs (the requirements analysis plus the build phase) are also meaningful: just above 7.5 months/$300,000 total for the best in class, the worst in class took more than 2 years at a budget-busting $2.2 million.

Four factors contributed to the results, and only one was technology-related. The rest concerned management and technology approaches. Development teams in the “best” category were able to control requirements change; employed highly skilled people with good functional knowledge of the application domain; used tooling effectively; and had project leadership.

"Controlling change is the most important element to successful development projects," says Doug Putnam, managing partner of QSM. "An inability to adroitly manage change can be the enemy of productivity and quality. Effective leadership creates a culture where change is well managed by highly skilled teams with good domain knowledge."

Although tools are always a significant factor as productivity drivers, they ranked only third as an influencing factor for the quality of the projects, according to QSM. There’s no technology substitute for training and management, the study concluded.

QSM surveyed 536 IT projects from 31 companies in 16 countries, including 16 industries and 9 sub-sectors, ranging from aerospace to financial IT. One hundred seventy-nine programming languages were represented, with Cobol, Visual Basic, Java, C/C++, Powerbuilder and J2EE the most predominant. The types of projects included ERP, e-commerce/Internet, billing, customer care, funds management, and inventory control, on mainframe and client/server platforms.

The average-sized project consisted of 30,000 new and changed source lines of code (or about 600 function points). The elapsed time of the averaged sized project was 13.5 months. Over this period of time, it was staffed at its peak by a team of 7.4 people, expending 55 person months of effort throughout the 13.5-month schedule. Best-in-class developers are 1.86 times faster to market and 2.72 times cheaper than “average” software developers, QSM said.

From a quality and reliability perspective, the mean-time-to-defect for the best and the worst projects was only modestly acceptable for both, QSM says. At initial deployment, neither the best nor worst of projects would run bug-free for longer than a day at a time. It would typically take 2 to 4 months of additional debugging for both groups to run reliably for more than 2 weeks. This includes all classes of bugs, from trivial and cosmetic defects to serious and critical defects.