Software Engineering-Technical Metrics for Software


Akey element of any engineering process is measurement. We use measures to better understand the attributes of the models that we create and to assess the quality of the engineered products or systems that we build. But unlike other engineering disciplines, software engineering is not grounded in the basic quantitative laws of physics. Absolute measures, such as voltage, mass, velocity, or temperature, are uncommon in the software world. Instead, we attempt to derive a set of indirect measures that lead to metrics that provide an indication of the quality of some representation of software. Because software measures and metrics are not absolute, they are open to debate. Fenton addresses this issue when he states:

Measurement is the process by which numbers or symbols are assigned to the attributes of entities in the real world in such a way as to define them according to clearly defined rules. . . . In the physical sciences, medicine, economics, and more recently the social sciences, we are now able to measure attributes that we previously thought to be unmeasurable. . . . Of course, such measurements are not as refined as many measurements in the physical sciences . . ., but they exist [and important decisions are made based on them]. We feel that the obligation to attempt to “measure the unmeasurable” in order to improve our understanding of particular entities is as powerful in software engineering as in any discipline.

But some members of the software community continue to argue that software is unmeasurable or that attempts at measurement should be postponed until we better understand software and the attributes that should be used to describe it. This is a mistake.

Although technical metrics for computer software are not absolute, they provide us with a systematic way to assess quality based on a set of clearly defined rules. They also provide the software engineer with on-the-spot, rather than after-the-fact insight. This enables the engineer to discover and correct potential problems before they become catastrophic defects.
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