Software Project Survival Guide

This material is Copyright © 1997-1998 by Steven C. McConnell. All Rights Reserved.

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Survival Crib Notes

This book’s key guidelines are presented in combination with key guidelines from one of the world’s most effective software development organizations. The end of the chapter provides pointers to additional reading and other resources.

This chapter summarizes the elements needed for software project success. It distills the main messages of this book into a few pages.

The first section overviews the approach used by one of NASA’s software development organizations. The second describes resources you should consider adding to your personal software survival kit.

NASA’s Success Checklist

The Software Engineering Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has been on the cutting edge of software development practices for almost 20 years. The Software Engineering Laboratory (SEL) is one of the most competent, most successful software development organizations in the world. In 1994, in recognition of the extraordinary productivity and software quality it has achieved, the SEL became the first organization to win the IEEE’s award for software process achievement.

If you think that NASA’s software needs to be ultra-reliable and their lessons don’t apply to your organization, think again. The SEL has achieved productivity comparable to the average MIS or IT system, at the same time achieving quality levels that are at least 10 to 20 times better. To put it a little differently, the average MIS shop would need about 14 calendar months and 110 staff-months to deliver a 100,000 line-of-code MIS system, and it would typically contain about 850 defects when delivered. The NASA SEL would deliver a system of that size with about the same amount of time and effort, but it would contain only about 50 defects.

The SEL’s Recommended Approach to Software Development crystallizes the lessons the SEL has learned over 20 years into a set of 9 Dos and 8 Don’ts for software project success, which are presented here.

NASA SEL’s Dos for Software Success

Here are nine elements of a successful project.