Social Security Administration:

Software Development Process Improvements Started But Work Remains

AIMD-98-39: Published: Jan 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1998.

Additional Materials:


David L. McClure
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) software development process improvement efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) SSA has initiated a number of actions to improve its software development capability; (2) among other things, it has: (a) launched a formal software process improvement program and initiated pilot projects to test improved software development processes; (b) acquired the assistance of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) to help it assess the strengths and weaknesses in its current software development processes and to assist in implementing the improvement program; and (c) established a management steering committee and a software engineering process group within the Office of Systems to oversee software process improvement activities; (3) these are positive steps that should help position SSA to improve its software development capability; (4) although these initiatives are under way, SSA has not yet established key elements of its software process improvement program that are needed to measure the progress and success of its improvement efforts; (5) in particular, SSA has not yet defined specific, measurable goals for its software process improvement program or established the baseline data that it will use to assess its progress in achieving these goals; and (6) without this essential information, SSA cannot be assured of the extent to which its improvement efforts will result in the consistent and cost-effective production of high-quality products.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA agreed with this recommendation, and established a Software Measurement Team to work closely with its Software Process Improvement Team to ensure that proper measures and goals are put into place for its software process improvement effort. In July 1998, SSA completed a plan that delineates the types of baseline data that it will collect and the methodology and timeframes for collecting the baseline data. SSA also began to implement its software process improvement measurement plan. In 2000, SSA reported that it had defined 16 software measurement goals in the areas of predictability, productivity, and quality for its software process improvement initiative. In addition, it implemented a system in July 2001, to store data on measurable goals. However, as a result of an evaluation requested by the new Deputy Commissioner for Systems, SSA has determined that it needs to reevaluate its goals. Although SSA does not currently have plans to monitor and measure its progress in attaining the initial goals, SSA is in the process of reassessing the 16 measurable goals to determine whether or not new goals are needed.

    Recommendation: To strengthen SSA's software process improvement program, as part of its recently initiated pilot projects, the Commissioner of Social Security should direct the Deputy Commissioner for Systems to develop and implement plans that explicitly articulate SSA's strategy and time frames for: (1) developing baseline data; (2) identifying specific, measurable goals for its improvement initiative; and (3) monitoring and measuring progress in achieving these goals.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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