A controlled experiment in assessing and estimating software maintenance tasks
Context: Software maintenance is an important software engineering activity that has been reported to account for the majority of the software total cost. Thus, understanding the factors that influence the cost of software maintenance tasks helps maintainers to make informed decisions about their work. Objective: This paper describes a controlled experiment of student programmers performing maintenance tasks on a C++ program. The objective of the study is to assess the maintenance size, effort, and effort distributions of three different maintenance types and to describe estimation models to predict the programmer's effort spent on maintenance tasks. Method: Twenty-three graduate students and a senior majoring in computer science participated in the experiment. Each student was asked to perform maintenance tasks required for one of the three task groups. The impact of different LOC metrics on maintenance effort was also evaluated by fitting the data collected into four estimation models. Results: The results indicate that corrective maintenance is much less productive than enhancive and reductive maintenance and program comprehension activities require as much as 50% of the total effort in corrective maintenance. Moreover, the best software effort model can estimate the time of 79% of the programmers with the error of or less than 30%. Conclusion: Our study suggests that the LOC added, modified, and deleted metrics are good predictors for estimating the cost of software maintenance. Effort estimation models for maintenance work may use the LOC added, modified, deleted metrics as the independent parameters instead of the simple sum of the three. Another implication is that reducing business rules of the software requires a sizable proportion of the software maintenance effort. Finally, the differences in effort distribution among the maintenance types suggest that assigning maintenance tasks properly is important to effectively and efficiently utilize human resources.