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Model Change Effectiveness Using Bug Tracking Data

One difficulty that arises when Six Sigma is applied directly to the product development process is performing meaningful experimentation on the “process” of developing a product. Often the development cycle is long and many significant project changes occur generation to generation. This makes it hard to attribute process improvements to a specific process change. One way of overcoming this difficulty is to include the wealth of information gained from a bug tracking system in the DMAIC roadmap.

Many development teams use bug, or issue, tracking systems to record all the problems with projects. These databases allow a team to log details on unsolved problems with a design, and to archive the details and status of problems already solved. These systems can be used for software, firmware or hardware, and track issues arising in any phase of development, including verification, lab testing and system testing. At the end of a project, the bug tracking system serves as a repository of all the issues encountered and descriptions of solutions for the issues. The more detailed the information the better.

Using the historical data detailed in the bug tracking system, practitioners can perform simulated experimentation – instead of the typical direct experimentation done during DMAIC – to assess the effectiveness of proposed process improvements. Simulated experimentation may provide a quicker and more efficient method than what can be achieved through direct experimentation on the product development cycle.

Save Time with Bug Tracking System

The technique described here uses simulated experimentation to replace direct experimentation typically done during DMAIC on the process under study. The critical factors and the effectiveness of proposed process improvements are assessed using the historical data detailed in the bug tracking system. This technique of using a simulated experiment may provide a quicker and more efficient method of experimentation than what can be achieved through direct experimentation on the product development cycle.

How to Get Started

The specific steps of the simulated experiment using bug tracking system information to model process improvement effectiveness are:

  1. Identify the set of bugs to be used as the model input.
  2. Detail the proposed process changes.
  3. For each proposed process improvement, estimate its effectiveness to catch or avoid each bug.
  4. Sort the matrix and review for consistency.
  5. Calculate the average effectiveness for each proposed process change.
  6. Determine the cumulative improvement.

In general, a Six Sigma project team will use its knowledge and the details from the bug tracking system to assess the effectiveness of each proposed process change against a set of past bugs. The technique then combines the individual assessments to create a prioritized ranking of the proposed process changes. The resulting prioritized ranking of the proposed process changes can be used to assess which are the most effective, or critical, and should be implemented and addressed in the Control phase.

Identify Bugs for Model Input

The first step is to determine the set of bugs that will be used for the model input. Several factors can play into this decision. The more recent the bug data used for the model input, the better. With bug records from the recent past, there is a much better chance that people who worked are the project are still with the organization and can remember the situation to provide the effectiveness estimates.

Another factor that needs to be taken into account is how well the bug data represents the current state of the process. If the process has changed significantly since the bug data used for the model input was collected, the modeling effectiveness will be limited.

The final factor to consider is whether the model inputs represent the spectrum of possible bugs. Particular types of problems may not have occurred within the bug data used for the model input. In these cases proposed process improvements that would have been effective against the missing types of problems will not be assessed adequately.

Detail Proposed Process Changes

Practitioners should spend time generating detailed descriptions of the proposed process changes. This will help the team come to a common understanding of what the proposed process changes are, and what impacts they may actually have. These details are even more valuable when others are brought in who have worked on the bugs but have not been part of the Six Sigma project team. Because these new people lack the history of how these proposed process improvements were derived, they need more details in order to provide better estimates.

Estimate the Effectiveness of Each Improvement

Now it is important to generate the actual effectiveness estimates for each combination of each bug and each proposed process change. This is the majority of the work and should be done with as much of the team as possible to maximize the experience being factored in.

To prepare for the initial meeting, the leading practitioner should put together a blank input matrix. In this example, the project has seven proposed process changes, labeled “A” through “H,” and 20 bugs, “Bug 1” through “Bug 20.” By assessing the effectiveness of each proposed process change and bug combination, the team can estimate the overall effectiveness of the seven proposed process changes.

The process for filling in the matrix is straightforward, but completing the matrix may actually take several meetings. To be as efficient as possible, all the details for the bugs should be available to the entire team while the bugs are under discussion. If others need to be pulled in who have more experience with the particular bug under discussion, those meetings should be planned and scheduled to make efficient use of everyone’s time. Anything that can be done to get participants to review bug detail prior to the meeting will speed things along.

Once the matrix is completed, it is possible to see how viable each proposed change may be (Table 1). For example, Change A has a 50 percent probability of catching Bug 1, and a 70 percent probability of catching Bug 4, and so on.

Table 1: Completed Input Matrix
 Proposed Process Changes
BugsABCDEFG
Bug 150 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 20 percent70 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 30 percent0 percent70 percent60 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 470 percent0 percent0 percent20 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 50 percent0 percent60 percent10 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 60 percent0 percent0 percent30 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 740 percent0 percent0 percent40 percent100 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 80 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 90 percent5 percent0 percent60 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 1010 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 1120 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent0 percent40 percent0 percent
Bug 120 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent30 percent
Bug 1340 percent5 percent0 percent10 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent
Bug 140 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent50 percent0 percent
Bug 1550 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent
Bug 160 percent0 percent60 percent40 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 1790 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 180 percent0 percent80 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 1970 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 200 percent0 percent20 percent0 percent80 percent0 percent0 percent
Average22 percent4 percent18 percent36 percent15 percent7 percent20 percent

Sort Matrix and Review for Consistency

Once the matrix has been completed, the project team can review it. As a sanity check, the table can be sorted by each individual row and column and reviewed for consistency, and necessary adjustments can be made. For example, in Table 2 the matrix has been sorted by the column for Change D. The team should review the bugs listed in the sorted column, and ensure that the bugs at the top of the list are the most likely to be caught by the proposed process change and that those at the bottom of the list are the least likely to be caught by the change.

Table 2: Input Matrix Sorted By Proposed Process Change D
 Proposed Process Changes
BugsABCDEFG
Bug 1010 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 1120 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent0 percent40 percent0 percent
Bug 20 percent70 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 180 percent0 percent80 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 30 percent0 percent70 percent60 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 90 percent5 percent0 percent60 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 150 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 80 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 740 percent0 percent0 percent40 percent100 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 160 percent0 percent60 percent40 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 60 percent0 percent0 percent30 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 470 percent0 percent0 percent20 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 50 percent0 percent60 percent10 percent0 percent0 percent90 percent
Bug 1340 percent5 percent0 percent10 percent0 percent0 percent100 percent
Bug 120 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent30 percent
Bug 140 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent50 percent0 percent
Bug 1550 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent50 percent0 percent
Bug 1790 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent70 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 1970 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent0 percent
Bug 200 percent0 percent20 percent0 percent80 percent0 percent0 percent

Similarly, the team can sort the matrix by rows to see which process changes will be the most likely to detect the bug.

Calculate the Average Effectiveness of Proposed Changes

Now that all the data has been entered in the matrix and reviewed with the team, the modeled effectiveness of each of the proposed process steps can be calculated. The calculation is the average of the individual effectiveness for each of the bugs in the model for a given proposed process change. These averages are listed in the bottom row of Table 1. For example, Proposed Process Change A has a 22 percent probability of catching a bug and Proposed Process Change B only has a 4 percent probability of catching a bug, based on this model. It is important to note that the zero values are part of the average calculation.

Determine a Cumulative Improvement

The final step is to determine the cumulative effectiveness of the entire set of potential process changes in a stepwise fashion. The stepwise cumulative effectiveness is important because it can provide guidance as to which of the potential process changes should be implemented. Also, it can show the point of diminishing returns for the addition of more of the proposed changes.

Steps to determine cumulative effectiveness (Table 3):

  • Probability of catching – The first row of the data lists the individual effectiveness of each proposed process change sorted from most to least effective. These are the same numbers as the last row of the completed matrix in Table 1.
  • Probability of passing – 100 percent minus the probability of catching.
  • Cumulative probability of passing – The cumulative passing rate is calculated starting with the most effective proposed process change, which is located in the left-most column of the table. As proposed process changes are combined, the individual percentages are multiplied. For example, passing rate for change D alone is 65 percent, yet combining changes D and A results in a 50 percent (64 percent x 78 percent) passing rate. Combining changes D, A and H results in a 40 percent (64 percent x 78 percent x 80 percent) passing rate, and so on. There is an underlying assumption that the proposed process improvements are independent.
  • Cumulative probability of catching – 100 percent minus the cumulative probability of passing.
Table 3: Cumulative Improvement Calculations
 Proposed Process Changes
ProbabilitiesDAGCEFB
Probability of catching36 percent22 percent20 percent18 percent15 percent7 percent5 percent
Probability of passing64 percent78 percent80 percent82 percent85 percent93 percent95 percent
Cumulative probability of passing64 percent50 percent40 percent33 percent28 percent26 percent25 percent
Cumulative probability of catching36 percent50 percent60 percent67 percent72 percent74 percent75 percent

The cumulative and individual probability of catching bugs also can be shown graphically (Figure 1). Although the first three or four proposed process changes on the left of the graph show significant gains, after that the gains start to plateau. This data, along with other constraints such as difficulty of implementation or resource availability, can guide the decision on what improvements to implement.

Individual and Cumulative Probabilities

Individual and Cumulative Probabilities

Finding the Value in Modeling

Through this modeling method, practitioners may be able to establish proposed process change effectiveness using historical bug data and the team’s experience. The model result is a bar chart that can be used to guide the decision on what improvements to implement. This technique can be used in situations where running an actual controlled experiment on the process would be difficult.

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