Architecture-Centric Project Estimation


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Virginia Tech


In recent years studies have been conducted which suggest that taking an architecture first approach to managing large software projects can reduce a significant amount of the uncertainty present in project estimates. As the project progresses, more concrete information is known about the planned system and less risk is present. However, the rate at which risk is alleviated varies across the life-cycle. Research suggests that there exists a significant drop off in risk when the architecture is developed. Software risk assessment techniques have been developed which attempt to quantify the amount of risk that varying uncertainties convey to a software project. These techniques can be applied to architecture specific issues to show that in many cases, conducting an architecture centric approach to development will remove more risk than the cost of developing the architecture. By committing to developing the architecture prior to the formal estimation process, specific risks can be more tightly bounded, or even removed from the project.

The premise presented here is that through the process of architecture-centric management, it is possible to remove substantial risk from the project. This decrease in risk exceeds that at other phases of the life-cycle, especially in comparison of the effort involved. Notably, at architecture, a sufficient amount knowledge is gained by which effort estimations may be tightly bounded, yet the project is early enough in the life-cycle for proper planning and scheduling. Thus, risk is mitigated through the increase in knowledge and the ability to maintain options at an early point. Further, architecture development and evaluation has been shown to incorporate quality factors normally insufficiently considered in the system design.

The approach taken here is to consider specific knowledge gained through the architecting process and how this is reflected in parametric effort estimation models. This added knowledge is directly reflected in risk reduction. Drawing on experience of architecture researchers as well as project managers employing this approach, this thesis considers what benefits to the software development process are gained by taking this approach. Noting a strong reluctance of owners to incorporate solid software engineering practices, the thesis concludes with an outline for an experiment which goes about proving the reduction in risk at architecture exceeds the cost of that development.



risk analysis, software engineering, estimation, software architecture