Already a Superpower?

Indian
software companies are gung-ho about their standing in the quality
software market with the new norms of the Capability Maturity Model.

In the software
industry, the ISO 9001 certification movement is giving way to assessment
on the SEI CMM (Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity
Model). The drive is towards reaching Level 4 if not Level 5 on
this scale. The stories of companies indicate that while they were
preparing to be assessed at Level 4, they were pleasantly surprised
to learn that they were indeed at Level 5.

The general
global perception about the quality of goods and services procured
from India has been uncharitable. The software industry has proved
the quality pundits wrong-about 70% of software companies assessed
at Level 4 or 5 are based in India. Have we already shown that we
are a superpower in the software sector? Largely, yes.

At least three
different assessors have been involved in the assessment of Indian
companies. There is no room to doubt the capability or integrity
of the assessors. Companies could, wherever possible, think of engaging
different individuals for consultancy in preparing for the assessment
and for the assessment itself.

A
balanced view

Mark C Paulk of the SEI recently addressed some of the skepticism
in a communication to be published in the SQA Journal. He has concluded
that the way Indian companies have leveraged the SEI CMM model to
move up the quality chain holds crucial lessons for the rest of
the world. According to him, while passing value judgements, one
should not lose sight of some special characteristics of the Indian
software industry.

The first is
the fact that in India the best brains from all engineering disciplines
flock to the IT industry. They are already equipped with the engineering
mindset. It becomes much easier to channel this inherent mindset
to develop software.

Secondly, Indian
software companies have a systematic and robust induction training
program, which prepares the professionals for a process-oriented
approach in developing software.

Thirdly, the
assessment process helps in building credibility when clients think
of an outsourcing partner. This has enabled Indian IT companies
in getting a foothold in the global market.

Fourthly, the
Indian culture instills among professionals a strong sense of customer
satisfaction.

However, Paulk
has also indicated that in some stray cases the assessment process
might have gone wrong.

What does the
assessment mean to the organization and what does it mean to the
customer? The assessment gives confidence to both parties that the
risks of project failure are minimized. In spite of a number of
tools that automate the software development life cycle phases,
a significant portion of the work is still done manually by humans
and hence remains error-prone. What is the guarantee that every
team member is faithfully following the processes? Audits and assessments
are done on a sample basis only. Is it possible to fudge the records?
Is it possible to have all processes and associated documentation
in place for the assessment and then fall back to ad hoc approaches?
Do these frameworks facilitate in internalizing the process culture
with every one concerned?

What
more needs to be done?

Quality frameworks such as the ISO 9001 or the SEI CMM model are
necessary to produce quality software but not sufficient. Clean
pipes do not necessarily deliver clean water where processes are
like clean pipes. Thus, it is essential that the practitioners of
the processes are ‘pure’ and that the environment in which they
work-senior management’s commitment to quality-does not pollute
them.

Efforts that
directly impinge on individual work culture should supplement the
quality campaigns. The PSP-TSP model proposed by Watts Humphrey
is one such
avenue. A number of published success stories of application of
PSP-TSP, even to small teams, are available.

On
the right track?

In order to certify individual professionals, one pre-requisite
is a reference body of knowledge. Being a young evolving discipline,
software engineering has been subjected to varying interpretations.
IEEE is currently involved in a project, which tries to document
what this body of knowledge should contain. This is expected to
become available by 2000. A certification process with the IEEE
baseline would emerge in the
next few years. This would solve the problem of identifying the
‘right stuff’ for quality software development.

It can be concluded
that the journey toward ultimate quality is not over. Nevertheless,
we are on the right track. The academic community can do a lot in
enabling software to be formally shown as correct in a mathematical
sense, rather than testing the product and extrapolating the quality.

R
Narayanan

Corporate Manager
Training & Education
Tata Consultancy Services

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