How can organizations enhance the development and maintenance of the quality of their software? By adopting a robust quality control (QC) process, if you were to go by the 2018 State of Code Review report. The survey of 1,100 IT professionals and business executives carried out by U.S. software tool development firm SmartBear found respondents citing code review as the number one way to enhance programming quality.
So, how can you improve your QC processes and adopt next-generation review tools to make sure the code meets the specified requirements? Here are six best practices you should embrace:
1. Understand what is being reviewed
If you can’t make out changes in a line of code, you won’t be able to positively review the same. After reading a commit message, if you are unable to figure out the code modification, then ask for the message to be revised. You must communicate to the developers that such messages should clearly outline the reason for code changes, as well as the manner in which they effected the modifications. For that to happen, you should contextualize each software solution against the given business backdrop. So, if a new procurement management application is being developed, you should figure out how it will help the company improve coordination with suppliers, foster better transparency, etc. Similarly, you must reach out to your colleagues in sales, finance and other key functions to understand their priorities and requirements, and explore how your team can help them. Gaining these insights will immensely help you build mutual trust with senior stakeholders throughout the organization, and simplify and explain complex technical concepts to them.
2. Check code around 4 key aspects
Once you have understood the scope of review, you should assess the code around four major dimensions. First, check its functional attribute, i.e. does it do what it is intended to do? Second, is the code in alignment with the overall software architecture? Here, you need to analyze if the code is necessary in the first place, and whether it can be improved with abstractions and reuse of other code.Third, scrutinize the programming module for syntax, in terms of it meeting the defined formatting, indentation, parsing and whitespace standards. Finally, you should check the style for ease of comprehension, conformance to native programming, etc.
3. Leverage automated review tools
While the first two above aspects of the code review process do require human oversight, the remaining ones can be automated with tools that can flag issues related to style and formatting. Doing so will free up your valuable time, letting you brainstorm on how to make the code error-free, understandable and maintainable.
Using dedicated, collaborative code review tools will also help you establish a systematic method for fixing bugs found during review. You can harness such tools to log defects, discuss the same with the developers, and sign off on the revised code.
4. Time-box your reviews
One of the most important tenets of effective project execution is prudent time management. Reviewing code at a rate faster than 500 lines of code (LOC) per hour results in a significant decline in defect density, research published by SmartBear shows.Since the human mind can only productively process so much information at a time, you should avoid marathon sessions, and instead review in multiple, lightweight rounds. Setting aside dedicated time slots for inspection, and limiting LOC reviewed per hour, will enable you to be a more effective reviewer.
5. Define and track metrics
For the code review to yield the desired results, you should also define a set of tangible metrics that will allow you to gauge how effective peer assessment is. For instance, the team could agree on metrics such as “the number of support calls reduced” and “the percentage of bugs introduced by development”. You should then assign quantitative targets for each of these metrics to track and review whether the code review exercise is getting more efficient or not.
6. Adopt checklists
No matter how good you are in your code review, chances are you might, at times, forget to validate the code for some parameters. That’s where checklists can be handy, in helping you and your colleagues do QC against a defined list of criteria. This will ensure consistency in code review, with everyone scrutinizing the code for frequently made errors.
Code review will yield the desired results if the exercise is collaborative, and assumes the best intentions of each stakeholder involved. Developers and reviewers need to actively work together to churn out software that delivers on its mandate, and helps the organization achieve its business objectives. Adopting robust processes, using checklists, managing time intelligently, and leveraging automation can go a long way in helping you gain a competitive edge.