The ISO approach to software life cycle data

'Documentation' is an issue that is difficult and important, but at the same time rather unexciting. Software developers and users often complain about the lack of documentation, but w hen it is available it often remains unread. There could be some justification for this reluctance to read documentation as it might well not be up-to-date.

One way to look at a software development project is as an information system in its own right. The project is made up of activities, each of which needs to pass information to and from other activities. As with any conventional information system, there needs to be a common database that can be updated and accessed as required. A key factor in the relative success and failure of the project is clearly going to be the effectiveness of this information system.

However, inappropriate documentation can actually be an obstacle to effective working. ISO 12207 focuses attention on the characteristics of good documentation by firstly defining the purpose of good software life cycle data. This data:

• records information about software products',

• helps make the product usable and maintainable;

• defines processes;

• communicates information;

• records history;

We have chosen to use the term documentation" partly to make indexing easier. Documentation' could imply paper-based information but. of course, in practice, it could be held in an electronic form.

IEEE stands f<x the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers', the prestigious US-based organization that has played a key role in setting standards.

• provides evidence.

T he standard lists the characteristics of good documentation as being:

• consistent - that is. there are no contradictions within it:

• traceable - the components from which it is derived are easily identifiable;

• presentable - this means that it is easy to access and view

The standard recognizes the following generic types of data held by a project:

• requirements - what the system is expected to do;

• design - including details of its structure:

• testing - including test strategy and criteria, test cases and results;

• configuration;

• user - including user manuals;

• quality - including quality plans and procedures.

The ISO 12207 standard does not specify precise formats for this documentation but the Ilililí, for example, has produced a cross-reference indicating the relevant llilili standards for each type of document.

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