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 Managing Quality in Software projects | PM Tools - PM Tools

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Managing Quality in Software projects

 

Introduction

The term quality means different things to different people at different circumstances. We can define quality as the ability of a product or service to exceed the expectations of the recipient e.g. a quality service in reference to using a bus, train, plane or ferry could mean that a customer may have traveled “free of charge”, was treated warmly by the crew or driver, was given some goodies (free mineral water or sweets et al), the seats were comfy, the journey took the shortest duration, the music abode was soft or the favourite artiste was featured etc. More so, with quality product- the product was cheap, the size was appropriate, right colour, flavour , state-of-the- art etc.

  Stakeholder Analysis

An important component in addressing quality is the stakeholder factor. A stakeholder is somebody or an entity that will be affected or benefit directly or indirectly from a given project. In this case we deliberately use the word project and system intermittently to refer to the outcome or deliverable. In looking at a typical payroll project, the following are some of the key stakeholders i.e. employees, end-users, customers, government, management, shareholders, suppliers, banks, statutory agencies etc. Each of the above stakeholders would have their own definitions or interpretation of quality software.

 

 End-users- The software is easy to use or learn

Management- The cost was affordable and that they can make swift decisions

 Suppliers- The software will guarantee them of future business

 Customers- The customers are being served by a motivated staff

 Shareholders- The get more dividends or profits

 Revenue authority-  Income tax collection is enhanced without tax-evasion and dues are collected on time

Social Security- Social security fund is collected and that they get the levies/dues on time

Hospital insurance fund- insurance fund is collected and that they get the levies/dues on time

Government- The system provides the vital statistics to the bureau of statistics

 Banks- The system can be interfaced to the banks software for easy salary disbursements

 From the above table, the payroll project will qualify to be classified as quality for as long as the expectations of all the stakeholders are exceeded. Failure to meet any of the expectations will warrant the project to be categorized as a failure.  Proper consultation should be done to identity all the respective stakeholders within a given project thereinafter referred to as stakeholder analysis.

 Management

Management is the act of getting things done by other people. For this to be realized- there has to be plans in place to facilitate monitoring so as to control any unaccepted occurrences to necessitate the appropriate decisions to be made, which can then be communicated or delegated to the people in the right time. This is a science as well as an art in that bringing together teams, involves ability for one to provide leadership and the necessary skills to motivate the same people in forming the teams, handling the storming sessions, norming the situations before they can start performing. The employment of known theories such Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Hertzberg theory can indeed be useful.

 Quality software

Developing quality software involves a number of intertwined components e.g. the user application of structured methodologies, training, testing, reviews, walkthroughs or inspections. It should be clear at this juncture, to distinguish between excellence and conformance with regard to the software exceeding the expectation of the end-users. A customer may approach the sales person with the intention of purchasing a small cheap car, whose maintenance is affordable and whose spare parts are readily available -these descriptions fit a Morris mini. The sales person can go out of his/her way to source for a Rolls Royce or Hummer  which by all standards are  excellent products but do not conform to the customer specific needs because in the fast place the customer may not be able to afford them. The Morris mini conforms to the required needs though not quite an excellent product. From the perspective of an end-user, software is quality may mean that the software has a context sensitive help, short-cut keys available, easy to learn, the dialogue screen resembles the common Microsoft platform they have used before, it is free of errors, it meets ALL the requirements of the user and has a user-seductive interface etc.

 Standards

A standard provides a benchmark or mark of quality that has been accepted locally or internationally. For example the software product may to tuned to conform to the international standards organization (ISO) hence be branded as being ISO certified with regard to ISO 9000, 9001,9002,9003 etc. The standards may be in regard to a particular industry leader (de facto) or just a consortium of industry players (de jure) stipulating them and thereby enforceable in law.

 Structured methodologies

A structured methodology is a systematic, step-by-step approach (methods) that we can employ in defining a problem and working towards its resolution. They provide the best practices, by enumerating the use of checklists, accepted and defined stages of development (analysis and design etc), outcomes and milestones known in advance and prescribe certain tools and techniques e.g. system development life cycle (SDLC).

 There are a thousand and one methodologies that can be used e. Rapid applications development (RAD, Structured Systems Analysis and Design Method (SSADM), Yourdon Systems Method (YSM), Structured Analysis and Design of Information Systems (STRADIS), Jackson Systems Development (JSD), soft systems Methodology (SSM). The following are the advantages of using such methodologies

 

Tools and techniques

To development quality software besides the choosing of the appropriate highway (methodology), the vehicle will be a critical factor (some vehicles can manoeuver difficult terrain. Some of the vehicles (tools) that can be employed in system development,  while the technique is in the use of the highest gears and the turbo charge as much as possible (techniques) such as prototyping. Prototyping is the use of a basic model (prototype) to capture the basic user requirements and the subsequent refining by the developers having a heavy user involvement. This is appropriate in environments where the users cannot explicitly give their requirements.

 Other tools involve the computer aided software tools (CASE tools) and Fourth generation languages (4GL) where the documentation is to the require standards, consistent and adheres to the recommended protocols. Computer aided software engineering (CASE) is a composition of software programs that that enhance the work of the analysts and programmers in documentation and testing of the suite of programs Fourth generation language also referred to as non-procedural languages contain features that speed up the software development process by enabling the use to use components whose properties can be modified to fit the intended purpose. The user is able to have a feel of how the final system will look like.

 Structured walkthroughs can be employed at various stages e.g. analysis walkthrough, design walkthrough, testing walkthrough etc. A structured walkthrough is formal meeting that draws all the relevant stakeholders to participates through the process – overcoming the numerous problems users have especially when they feel- alienated in the development process culminating in stiff user resistance. It comprises of the chairperson, end-user representatives, presenter, scribe and reviewers.

 Certain diagrams and illustrations can enhance communication among the parties to enhance understanding such as flow charts, decision tables, decision trees, entity relationship diagram and structured english(pseudo code) et al.

 Quality Control and Quality Assurance

To come up with quality software certain checkpoints have to be embedded within the process e.g. testing the individual software components (program testing, integration and system testing and ensures that the users are adequately trained on the software before its rolled out – these are collectively referred as quality control measures.

 In essence quality control in production would entail the checking the quality at each and every process from the start to the end. Quality control is necessary in identifying the cracks in the software so as to avoid putting up walls which can really be expensive. We can give the end-user the assurance by carrying out a software test in their presence in what is referred to as Quality Assurance test (QAT) or User acceptance test (UAT).

 Software Testing

The testing of the software should be structured in such a way that it will focus on the various aspects e.g. testing the individual units (program testing), checking the interconnection or interface of components (integration testing), checking the way the various interdependent components are working together to accomplish the desired overall systems objectives and carrying out the test in the presence of the end-users (User acceptance testing).

 

In carrying out the testing in the presence of the user various sub-tests can be performed such as

-         stress testing

-         functionality testing

-         load testing

-         environmental testing

-         volume testing

-         usability testing

-         data integrity testing

 

The idea is to ensure all possible flaws (errors/bugs) are identified and corrected. In actual fact every software is bound to have errors, only that circumstances have not been ripe for you to discover them. That’s why even the best of software, from time to time will release service packs to correct and address certain pertinent issues raised by the end-users over its lifecycle.

 

End-user training

The training of the end-users should take into account the current level of competence of the user and duties that the staff executes on a daily basis. We ought to discourage whole sale training where everybody is trained on everything. There has to a distinction between those who require basic, intermediate and advanced training. The timings should be favourable- the business of training people at midnight and lunchtime, after-office hours  or weekends should discouraged. Instead of skilling the users we may end up killing the users.

  Post-implementation review

Once the software has been implemented, a team can be constituted to assess the performance of the system periodically owing to the dynamic nature in the business environments it is applied. The process of evaluating the product can incorporate end-users, management, reviewers, other stakeholders or agencies to capture their feelings or frustrations of the software users ultimately pave way to system maintenance to correct, polish or enhance certain features is called the post-implementation review(PIR)  team.

 

Conclusion

Managing quality in software projects is a process that requires a sober mind and approach in incorporating and consulting the various stakeholders, the use of appropriate methodologies, and the execution of certain activities making reference to best practices or benchmark within the software industry at the local or international level.

 

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