Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Product Quality Metrics

Intrinsic product quality is usually measured by the number of “bugs” (functional defects) in the software or by how long the software can run before encountering a “crash.” In operational definitions, the two metrics are defect density (rate) and mean time to failure (MTTF). The MTTF metric is most often used with safety-critical systems such as the airline traffic control systems, avionics, and weapons.

For instance, the U.S. government mandates that its air traffic control system cannot be unavailable for more than three seconds per year. In civilian airliners, the probability of certain catastrophic failures must be no worse than 10-9 per hour (Littlewood and Strigini, 1992). The defect density metric, in contrast, is used in many commercial software systems.

The two metrics are correlated but are different enough to merit close attention. First, one measures the time between failures, the other measures the defects relative to the software size (lines of code, function points, etc.).

Second, although it is difficult to separate defects and failures in actual measurements and data tracking, failures and defects (or faults) have different meanings. According to the IEEE/ American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard (982.2):

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