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An experimental comparison of the maintainability of object-oriented and structured design documents

: Briand, L.C.; Bunse, C.; Daly, J.; Differding, C.


Empirical Software Engineering 2 (1997), Nr.3, S.291-312
ISSN: 1382-3256
Fraunhofer IESE ()
experiment; maintainability; object-oriented design; structured design

Several important questions still need to be answered regarding the maintainability of object-oriented design documents. This paper focuses on the following issues: are object-oriented design documents easier to understand and modify than structured design documents? Do they need to comply with quality guidelines such as the ones provided by Coad and Yourdon? What is the impact of such quality standards on the understandability and modifiability of design documents? Answers can be based on informed opinion or empirical evidence. Since software technology investments are substantial and contradictory opinions exist regarding design strategies, performing empirical studies on these topics is a relevant research activity. This paper presents a controlled experiment performed with computer science students as subjects. Results strongly suggest that quality guidelines based on Coad and Yourdon principles have a beneficial effect on the maintainability of object-oriented design documents. Ho wever, there is no strong evidence regarding the alleged higher maintainability of object-oriented design documents over structured design documents. Furthermore, results suggest that object-oriented design documents are more sensitive to poor design practices, in part because their cognitive complexity becomes increasingly unmanageable. However, because our ability to generalise these results is limited, they should be considered as preliminary, i.e., it is very likely that they can only be generalised to programmers with little object-oriented training and programming experience. Such programmers can, however, be commonly found on maintenance projects. As well as additional research, external replications of this study are required to confirm the results and achieve confidence in these findings.