Understanding the Sources of Variation in Software Inspections

Adam Porter, Harvey Siy, Audris Mockus, Lawrence Votta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


In a previous experiment, we determined how various changes in three structural elements of the software inspection process (team size and the number and sequencing of sessions) altered effectiveness and interval. Our results showed that such changes did not significantly influence the defect detection rate, but that certain combinations of changes dramatically increased the inspection interval. We also observed a large amount of unexplained variance in the data, indicating that other factors must be affecting inspection performance. The nature and extent of these other factors now have to be determined to ensure that they had not biased our earlier results. Also, identifying these other factors might suggest additional ways to improve the efficiency of inspections. Acting on the hypothesis that the "inputs" into the inspection process (reviewers, authors, and code units) were significant sources of variation, we modeled their effects on inspection performance. We found that they were responsible for much more variation in defect detection than was process structure. This leads us to conclude that better defect detection techniques, not better process structures, are the key to improving inspection effectiveness. The combined effects of process inputs and process structure on the inspection interval accounted for only a small percentage of the variance in inspection interval. Therefore, there must be other factors which need to be identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-79
Number of pages39
JournalACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Empirical studies
  • Experimentation
  • Software inspection
  • Software process
  • Statistical models
  • Testing and Debugging - code inspections and walk-throughs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


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