Contact Us
Meeting Cancellation Policy

Established September, 1992

Newsletter of the Boston SPIN

Issue 4, April/May 1995

Return to Newsletter Index



MAY 22-25 (Mon-Thu)

PROCESS AT WORK, the 1995 SEPG Conference, Boston Sheraton -- SEI annual conference for software process improvement -- Tutorials, sessions -- (412) 268-6467, 7388

JUN 13 (second Tue), 7-9 pm

Monthly BCS/SQG (Software Quality Group) meeting -- "Practical Overview of ISO 9000", conducted by Joe Campagna -- BCS office, Waltham
Info: Adam Sacks,
617-951-6057 (w),
617-648-3643 (h)

JUN 20 (third Tue), 6:30-8:30 pm

Monthly SPIN meeting
GTE Building 5,
77 A St, Needham


BCS/SQG Saturday PDS series conducted by Johanna Rothman continues
Info: Adam Sacks,
617-951-6057 (w)
Registration ($195/$244)

MAY 20

"A Pragmatic Approach to Software Quality"

JUN 17

"High Tech Project Leadership"

We have 2 separate email lists: one for this newsletter and one containing LOTS of announcements that we receive from process organizations and forward out.

To add yourself to the announcements list send email to Charlie Ryan

Back to top


This issue of In the SPIN reflects the fact that the lives of most of the regular contributors have been extra full recently. For some, supporting the upcoming SEPG Conference is the obvious distraction. For others it is a spate of work and family demands (not to mention the start of the yard season). The SPIN Doctor and other familiar "faces" are expected to be back in the next issue.

The BOSTON SPIN WEB HOME PAGE team expects to install very soon, reports Rachel Silber.

Jim Holloway has joined the Newsletter team. His contact information is in the Masthead.

SPIN members have been invited to place themselves on the mailing list for a quarterly newsletter put out by Complexity Management of Somerville. Send your name and USmail address to them at 34 Teele Ave., Somerville MA 02144-1212.

PROGRAMS "R" YOU -- Your input is critical to our putting on good programs. Our Program Committee welcomes your suggestions and your offers to present. Please contact Ken Oasis at (617) 734-1017

THANK YOU to Digital Equipment Corporation for granting permission to reuse the SPIN meeting reports that Ed Maher writes each month, and to Ed for creating open versions (deDECalated). We continue to catch up with Ed who started doing these last fall.

Back to top


Cutting to the Chase for Software Process Improvement

Some Promising Newsgroups, FTPs, and WebPages

The information superhighway seems to go almost nowhere. Just as there is little on television to compete with a mediocre book, there is little on the network of direct professional value. True, you may once have received an expert's answer to your question on a newsgroup, but only after ten imposters had muddied the waters.

Nevertheless, as you drive past the multiplying billboards and calumnious pickets, you'll see unmarked exits to major libraries. There are many "pointers" and bibliographies on the network. Also, authors of textbooks offer errata for their books or source code examples from their books. The major avenues of access are usenet newsgroups, ftp sites, and World Wide Web hypertext pages.

usenet Newsgroups

To read newsgroups, you need a newsreader.

There are few newsgroups covering software engineering. Because the field is not of broad interest (although it should be), the newsgroups there are rarely attract advertisers and flamers. The daily traffic alerts you to what interests others like you, but the most useful thing about a newsgroup is its FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions list). FAQ's, intended to reduce the traffic of simple questions by answering them in advance about once a month, are often permanently stored at the ftp site under the directory pub/usenet/news.answers. A FAQ will often contain a bibliography, which, while not of the quality of the bibliography in a good textbook, may list that textbook with recommendations from readers.

  • newsgroup:

    The FAQ is at: pub/usenet/news.answers/software-eng/part0...part4

    This FAQ lists books as well as many CASE vendors, which often have "web" (WWW) sites.

  • newsgroup: (I couldn't find the FAQ).
  • newsgroup:

    The FAQ's are at: pub/usenet/news.answers/sw-config-mgmt/ the files cm-tools, faq, prob-mgt-tools.

  • comp.specification.z The Z "Zed" or sometimes "Zet"

    Z is a formal specification notation, using first-order predicate calculus and set theory. I copied the FAQ directly from the newsgroup, but it can be found at the World Wide Web page:


ftp Sites

File Transfer Protocol is a government standard. "ftp" is an account on a computer system. You log on to the ftp account of a remote system from an *ix system with the "ftp" utility, giving the remote system Internet address as an argument.

I've already mentioned, which among other things contains most FAQs. Other ftp sites are mentioned in the FAQs listed above.

Back to top

World Wide Web

To access the WWW, you need a browser such as lynx. Many of the vendors in the software-eng FAQ have home pages on the WWW.

Here are some others:

  • The Software Engineering Institute is at:
  • The configuration management FAQ is at:
  • (Software Engineering Lab) with a document order form.
  • with a wide variety of links.
  • Capers Jones' company Software Productivity Research:
  • formal methods:

If you can cruise past the tourist traps and the speed traps,you can find some interesting museums and libraries on theInformation Superhighway. Happy trails!

Thomas E. Janzen, a developer of scientific data acquisition
systems, can be contacted at

Back to top


November 1994 Meeting Report
by Ed Maher, courtesy of Digital Equipment Corporation




Jack Arabian (consultant), John Nemeczky (consultant), Natalie Lisoski (Telco), Johanna Rothman (consultant)


This month's topic was a panel discussion with four different speakers; two of them were process consultants and two of them presented their first-hand experience with some process improvement activity. This report is taken strictly from my notes; it is intended to be an accurate representation of what was presented, but given that all the speakers were rushed, it is possible that I missed (or misunderstood) something.{My comments or editorial are offset by these curly brackets.}

Since there was such a diverse collection of experiences presented,it is difficult to summarize. The only real theme was that process improvement can succeed, but that it takes sustained commitment and that you need to carefully plan your process improvement activities.

They also were in agreement on the importance of assessing where you are and of setting realistic and measurable goals.


Speaker #1

First up was Jack Arabian (consultant) presenting "Speed Benchmarking." This is a process whereby you partner with companies that are "best in class" in a process that you want to improve. By working with them, you are able to see first-hand how they work and what the benefits are. This allows you to avoid some of the start-up problems that are common with any process improvement program and provide you with real-life information to help you sell the new process within your organization. He stated that a new process that would normally take a year to get going, can be in place in about four months using speed benchmarking.

He made a point of saying that when identifying "best in class," it is important to look at them from a business perspective as well as from a technical perspective.

Someone asked what the motivation would be for a company that had a "best in class" process in place to partner with a company that needs help. His reply was that the best-in-class company may be able to benefit from some other aspect of your process, and that since the initiator of the benchmarking proposal pays for the activity, it doesn't cost the other company anything (other than time.)

Speaker #2

John Nemeczky (a consultant) presented "Real World Process Improvement for Small Organizations". He identified some key areas that should be addressed when starting up a process improvement program. They looked to be similar to the CMM Level 2 key process areas with two exceptions; metrics support was included and requirements management was omitted.

In terms of metrics, he emphasized that you need to be careful when starting out; make sure that whatever metrics you choose to collect are understandable, useful, and are accepted by the organization.

{I have to believe that he encourages addressing requirements, and that I missed it or that he embeds it in one of the other key areas.}

He provided three issues with any process improvement program that often are neglected when planning but that should be anticipated and addressed;

  • the cost of training,
  • the cost of having separate organizations involved in any process,
  • the need for tailoring guidelines for policies and procedures.

He went on to quickly go through three successful case studies based on his company's work. One that I found interesting involved an organization experiencing a problem with configuration management which the company didn't understand since they had a nice new CM tool. It turned out that the tool was much more than they needed, making it difficult to use for the basics -- so people were either not using it at all or not using it properly. (His solution was to disable the advanced features and then bring them back as needed or based on demand.)

{I found this interesting because it shows how you can waste your process improvement effort on things that aren't addressing your problems. In this example, it ended up doing more harm than good.}

Back to top

Speaker #3

Natalie Lisoski from Telco talked about her experience with implementing a significant process improvement initiative. Telco produces telecommunications software and wanted to get a proprietary certification that would allow them to sell into certain markets. (Because the certification is proprietary, she couldn't divulge the name of the certificate program.)

It was a stringent certification program, generally taking about two years to get certified, and they "require" that you be a CMM Level 3 to begin the certification process and that you be a Level 4 in order to get the certificate. She went on to say that the ceritifier did not stick to the letter of the law on this requirement.

The (certification) program had a foundation within the CMM; they augmented the levels with additional key process areas -- mostly focused on support, customer interaction, and continuous improvement. Telco needed a strong internal audit system to get and sustain the certificate. It took them about three years to get it and they are now going for ISO 9000 registration.

She felt that Telco accomplished their goal by way of:

  • focusing the organization
  • assessing where they are
  • clearly defining their goals
  • involving everyone
  • producing simple documented procedures
  • piloting all proposed changes

She was very candid about the problems that are still in place.

She was very positive about what had been accomplished; ticking off a long list of positive accomplishments including:

  • defined process,
  • improved communication,
  • improved product quality,
  • ability to accurately monitor progress,
  • increased appreciation of the benefit of continuous process improvement,
  • a general acceptance of process by the engineering community.

Speaker #4

Johanna Rothman (consultant) was speaking about her experiences as a QA Manager at a software company that seemed to have a lot of familiar-sounding challenges (hard schedules, insufficient resources, no defined process, and frequently changing requirements).

She described the steps they followed to get their process under control;

  • changing to concurrent engineering so that work can go on in parallel and communication can be improved
  • focusing on Project Leadership including the selection of project leaders based as much on organization skills as on technical knowledge
  • establishment of DRI's
  • attention to automation in the test environments
  • use of Code and Unit Test reviews
  • use of templates

I will not go into detail about all that she said. She did give emphasis to two of these things;

  • The value of code and unit test reviews; they were initially mandated and now it has come full circle to the point where management at one point tried to bring in a schedule by cutting back on these reviews -- and the developers pushed back. It was also interesting that they combined code and unit test reviews into one activity, so that as you are reviewing the code, you are also thinking about how it will be tested.
  • The improved productivity brought on by the use of templates for any paperwork brought on by the process changes. She felt that it was much easier for people to modify supplied templates than to start out with a blank sheet of paper.

The one area that they worked on without success was metrics. They continue to use problem report metrics, and they have just begun work with complexity analysis and test coverage.

Some random observations:

  • Jack pointed out how important it is to know what it is that you can control and to not expend effort on things that you can't control.
  • More than one speaker mentioned the importance of requirements management and how engineering resources frequently end up wasted on "bells and whistles" that the customer doesn't care about.
  • Someone asked the panel how best to address the problem of changing requirements:
  • John said that it is important to have a formal requirements management process with some traceability to customers.
  • Jack stated that you need to get on with your work -- if new requirements come in late, keep doing what you are doing and get the new stuff into the next release.
  • Johanna stressed the importance of having a solid customer involvement program (that isn't just reading problem reports from 30 Field Test Sites).
  • Someone from the audience suggested that if you only do one thing, it should be to force the person responsible for defining requirements to read engineering's interpretation of them prior to beginning work.

Back to top

"Software Process: Improvement and Practice"

  • Pilot Issue: Spring 1995 * (complimentary copy info at end)
  • Editors in Chief: DeWayne Perry (AT&T Bell Labs), Wilhelm Schaeffer (Universitaet Paderborn)
  • Board:
    • Colin Tully (UK) (Chair)
    • Robert Balzer
    • Barry Boehm,
    • Jean-Claude Derniame (France)
    • Christer Fernstroem (France),
    • Dennis Frailey
    • Alfonso Fuggetta (Italy)
    • Carlo Ghezzi (Italy),
    • Watts Humphrey
    • Takuya Katayama (Japan)
    • Barbara Kitchenham (UK),
    • Guenter Koch (Spain)
    • Manny Lehman (UK)
    • Leon Osterweil
    • Mark Paulk
    • Maria Penedo
    • H. Dieter Rombach (Germany)
    • Alexander Wolf

Forthcoming and Typical Contents

  • Two Case Studies in Modeling Real Corporate Processes (N. Barghouti)
  • Process Composition: An Approach to Modeling Quality Management Frameworks (K. Inoue)
  • The Evolution of the SEI's Capability Maturity Model for Software (Mark Paulk)
  • SPICE: A Framework for Software Process Assessment (Terrence P. Rout)
  • Return on Investment from Process Improvement as Measured by US Industry (Judith G. Brodman and Donna Johnson)
  • Towards a Software Process Research Agenda (Robert Balzer)
  • Software Process Improvement by Business Process Orientation (Volker Gruhn and Stefan Wolf)
  • Workshop Reports
  • Book Reviews

"Software Process: Improvement and Practice" is published jointly by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Gauthier-Villars. A Pilot Issue will be published in Spring '95. To order your complimentary copy, send your name and address to:

marked "pilot issue request"

Back to top

conducted by Judi Brodman

THE SPIN DOCTOR is busy helping with SEPG/95 this month.

Send your comments and questions to "Dear SPIN Doctor" at or directly to the editor. Sign them or use a "pen-name" -- I respect your confidentiality!!

Back to top

Term of the Month: INTERIM PROFILE

A CMM-based appraisal method that evolved out of customer requests for a less expensive, alternate appraisal method to be used during the interim between more extensive process assessments.

Back to top


The Boston SPIN is a forum for the free and open exchange of software process improvement experiences and ideas. Meetings are usually held on third Tuesdays, September to June.

We thank our sponsors, GTE and Raytheon. We also thank U/Mass at Lowell for hosting our WEB page, and Digital Equipment Corporation for Ed Maher's SPIN Meeting Reports.

For information about SPINs in general, including ***HOW TO START A SPIN***, contact: DAWNA BAIRD of SEI, (412) 268-5539,

Boston SPIN welcomes volunteers and sponsors.

For more information about our programs and events contact:
Technical Assessments, Inc.
ESC/ENS (Bldg 1704)
5 Eglin St
Hanscom AFB MA 01731-2116
(617) 377-8324; FAX (617) 377-8325;

IN THE SPIN is published monthly or bimopnthly September to June. Letters, notices (including job postings), and contributed articles are welcomed. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of anyone besides their authors. We do not publish advertisements or job searches, but we will gladly publish job postings.

IN THE SPIN is available only by email. TO SUBSCRIBE send email address to

SEND letters-to-editor, notices, job postings, calendar entries, quips, quotes, anecdotes, articles, offers, and general correspondence to Sallie Satterthwaite, (508) 369-2365, If possible, please format input as Courier text with explicit line breaks and a maximum line length of 65 characters. Send SPIN Doctor questions to the address given in the SPIN Doctor column.


Return to Newsletter Index

Back to top