How to Evaluate Software Quality from the Outside In

Editorial note: I originally wrote this post for the Stackify blog.  You can check out the original here, at their site.  While you’re there, take a look at Prefix and Retrace, for all of your prod support needs.

In a sense, application code serves as the great organizational equalizer.  Large or small, complex or simple, enterprise or startup, all organizations with in-house software wrangle with similar issues.  Oh, don’t misunderstand.  I realize that some shops write web apps, others mobile apps, and still others hodgepodge line of business software.  But when you peel away domain, interaction, and delivery mechanism, software is, well, software.

And so I find myself having similar conversations with a wide variety of people, in a wide variety of organizations.  I should probably explain just a bit about myself.  I work as an independent IT management consultant.  But these days, I have a very specific specialty.  Companies call me to do custom static analysis on their codebases or application portfolios, and then to present the findings to leadership as the basis for important strategic decisions.

As a simple example, imagine a CIO contemplating the fate of a 10 year old Java codebase.  She might call me and ask, “should I evolve this to meet our upcoming needs, or would starting from scratch prove more cost effective in the long run.”  I would then do an assessment where I treated the code as data and quantified things like dependence on outdated libraries (as an over-simplified example).  From there, I’d present a quantitatively-driven recommendation.

So you can probably imagine how I might call code a great equalizer.  It may do different things, but it has common structural, underpinnings that I can quantify.  When I show up, it also has another commonality.  Something about it prompts the business to feel dissatisfied.  I only get calls when the business has experienced bad outcomes as measured by software quality from the outside in.

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