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Chapter: Software Architectures : Quality Attribute Workshop

Case Study on Software Quality Usability

Company A is a software development company consisting of several subsidiaries. Company A is used to conducting regular usability surveys about their products already on the market.



Company A is a software development company consisting of several subsidiaries. Company A is used to conducting regular usability surveys about their products already on the market. Recently, the company decided to initiate a software quality improvement programme. Usability was identified as an aspect of software quality that the company was already doing, but which could be done better, and more rigorously.


The objectives Company A had in their usability project were the following:


1.     Gain knowledge about newer techniques regarding 'user centered design' and evaluation of software regarding ease of use.

2.     Evaluate their already existing method on effectiveness and correctness


3.     Improvement of their existing methods by combining the best of two methods


4.     Embedding the methods in the software development process.


The trial application is a complex document management package for the technical engineering environment, which is being sold world-wide. Company A sells the software using a distributor and dealer channel, causing a distance between the developers and the end-users. Because of this, the ease of use when leaving the factory is very important. The software is being developed at several different geographical locations. This results in a complex process, in which communication, version management, strict procedures, and long distance project management are essential.


The embedding of user centered design, and the evaluation of the software in so-called usability tests into this process asks for increased flexibility, stricter management and much more communication. This was therefore the challenge.


The software package is very complex, and therefore very difficult for non-experienced users to fully understand, and apply in their process. The software is market leader in the market Company A is selling the software. At the same time the market has matured during the last three years, forcing Company A to pay more attention to the user friendliness, and end user acceptance of the software.

The project was divided in different parts to work towards an integration of the Music techniques in the development process of Company A.


Usability requirement analysis


This task evaluated the existing problems of the software using the SUMI questionnaire as a 'big bang' event and generated the work plan for improvements to solve these problems.


Training course


The training course was meant to teach the developers the way of user centered design and evaluation of the software and to show how the methods introduced related to the current evaluation methods used by the company. Heuristic analysis and co-evaluation were used.


Usability test on prototype


This test evaluated the results of the applied improvements to the software, and the evaluation method improvements were applied during this test. Principally, the method of performance analysis using video capture was used, but SUMI was also used to quantify the gains.


The results were the following:


The software development process improvement program that was taking place at Company A was sped up enormously.


The trial application was improved enormously regarding subjective usability (SUMI, before - after effect).


The development team was taught to use basic usability techniques and tools, and the methodology was embedded in the company software development process.


The consultants of Company A services are using the knowledge about the Company A usability program to offer their clients the tools and methods to evaluate the implementations they buy.


A hitherto-undiscovered type of application was discovered during the course of Context of Use analysis. This has since been designed from the beginning using user-centered design techniques and is now selling as an adjunct to Company A product range.


The benefits for the organization are enormous. The result of the project is that all people are aware of usability, know what the word means, and also work according to that. This means that the attitude of the developers, product marketers, and sales people has been changed, which is the most important benefit for Company A.


The benefits for the market arise because users are getting more and more mature, and do not accept bad software anymore. The developers of software in this market, which used to be highly technically specialized, are herefore forced to create better software, more generally usable. This was the first reason why our company started a software quality improvement program. Usability methods took our software quality improvement programme a quantum leap into the future.


The company knew it had a software quality problem in the making, maybe not just now, but a few years down the road. In addition, multi-site development, entered into for economic reasons, placed even greater stress on the software lifecycle to produce quality results. Using the User-Centered Design approach, the company was able to set a discipline on the development lifecycle and the design teams were able to check the quality status of the work at well-defined stages. This became a crucial aspect of the way the company dealt with the 'quality problem.'


Although Company A was keen to get more experience in user centered design, they needed a focus. They were attracted to us because of our multi-national reputation. The hard data that SUMI gave us about their chosen product was just the right thing for that purpose, and it gave a meaning to the training workshops. Designers knew what they needed to beat. The Context of Use analysis, first carried out as a training exercise, suddenly revealed the need for a new product to go with the rest of the product line. After this, we had a high standing all the way with the company.

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