Using Quality Audits to Improve the 2007 Economic Census. Deborah Stempowski, U. S. Census Bureau 1 David Chapman, U.S.

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1 Proceedings of Q2008 European Conference on Quality in Official Statistics Using Quality Audits to Improve the 2007 Economic Census Deborah Stempowski, U. S. Census Bureau 1 David Chapman, U.S. Census Bureau This report is released to inform parties of ongoing work and to encourage discussion of the work in progress. Any views expressed on statistical, methodological or operational issues are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the U.S. Census Bureau. 1 Deborah Stempowski, U. S. Census Bureau, 4600 Silver Hill Road, Room 8K125, Washington, D.C , USA

2 1. Introduction The U.S. Census Bureau is the largest statistical agency in the United States federal government. It serves as the leading source of quality data about the nation s people and economy. The Census Bureau achieves that mission by producing high quality, relevant statistical information as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget s (OMB) guidelines for quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information. These standards and guidelines provide assurance that Federal statistical organizations design surveys and studies to produce reliable data, as efficiently as possible, use methods that are documented, and present results in a manner that makes the data as accessible and useful as possible. OMB issued these guidelines as part of the implementation plan for the Information Quality Act. 2. U.S Census Bureau The Census Bureau is organized into three major subject matter areas: (1) the Decennial Census Directorate, responsible for the 10 year population counts, (2) the Economic Programs Directorate, responsible for the measures of the U.S economy and (3) the Demographic Directorate, responsible for Census Bureau programs on the U. S. population and its characteristics, income and poverty, and housing. There are also various specialized staffs across the Census Bureau devoted to different aspects of data collection, processing, data dissemination, methodology, and statistical research as well as corporate services such information technology infrastructure and administrative support services including human resources, acquisition, budget, and communications. The Census Bureau also has a corporate quality program that leads the development and implementation of quality principles, standards, and guidelines for all Census Bureau programs. 3. The Economic Programs Directorate The Census Bureau s Economic Programs Directorate is responsible for statistical programs that measure and profile businesses and government organizations in the United States. Its activities are wide reaching and include (1) the conduct of an Economic Census and a Census of Governments every five years; (2) the conduct of over 100 current surveys taken monthly, quarterly, and annually, including twelve principle economic indicators for the U.S economy; (3) the compilation of administrative records from other government agencies; and (4) the conduct of numerous research and technical studies. In addition to these activities, the Economic Directorate also conducts a large number of reimbursable studies and joint projects for other U.S federal agencies that leverage the Directorate s processing infrastructure and core competencies. In order to manage the vast variety of programs that the Economic Directorate undertakes, there are nine organizations that bring specific competencies and expertise to each program. The five subject matter expert divisions specialize in various aspects and industries of the economy and work in tandem with the Economic Planning and Coordination Division (EPCD), the Economic Statistical Methods and Programming Division (ESMPD), the Office of Statistical Methods and Research for Economic Programs (OSREP), and the Center for Economic Studies (CES) in order to collect, process, and disseminate data. 2

3 In a constantly changing and increasing complex economy, the Economic Programs Directorate has positioned itself to respond to these changes while providing the most efficient use of its resources and expertise. These challenges include: Measuring a constantly changing economy Improving respondent cooperation and maintaining high quality data Improving programs in the face of constrained resources Attracting, developing, and retaining a skilled workforce Protecting data and maintaining data security The Census Bureau must address these challenges successfully in order to further the mission, strategic goals and objectives of the U. S. Department of Commerce (DOC), its parent organization. In order to meet that need, the Directorate has two strategic goals directly related to improving the quality of its programs. One goal is to Increase the quality of economic statistics by improving the relevance, accuracy, and timeliness. The other goal is to Operate more efficiently. These goals are supported by multiple objectives that include focusing on building and maintaining a strong quality management program, one based on sound project management practices as well as proven business practices. The economic census serves as the cornerstone of the programs conducted by the Economic Programs Directorate. It is a complete eon of some 25 million business establishments in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Island Areas that include the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. Title 13, United States Code, Section 131 directs the U.S. Census Bureau to take an economic census every 5 years, covering years ending in 2 and 7. Further, the United States Congress appropriates funds for this purpose as part of the U.S. Census Bureau s budget. Among its most important roles is serving as the basis for the Business Register (BR), the complete listing of all business establishments in the United States. The BR serves as the mailing list for the economic census as well as the sampling frame for the economic surveys the directorate conducts. Thus, the quality of all economic area programs begins with the quality of each economic census. 4. The Economic Census The economic census covers a broad range of activities, including all activities needed to plan and conduct the program. These activities include the following: 1. Planning, managing, and administering the program including the application of specific project management methods and tools to the program. 2. Determining the content of data products and the collections upon which they are based. 3. Promoting high response rates and early reporting through our Customer Relationship Management Program. 4. Developing systems, tools, methods, and procedures for instrument design, data collection and capture, workflow, microdata editing/cleaning, management information systems, data access, problem resolution, tabulation, macrodata analysis and quality review, disclosure avoidance, data product preparation, final data product review/approval, quality 3

4 assurance, dissemination, and other processes needed to conduct an effective economic census. 5. Instituting Software Quality Assurance mechanisms for monitoring and enforcing process adherence to applicable procedures and standards. 6. Ensuring compliance with information technology security. 7. Implementing guidelines for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of economic census statistical information. 8. Carrying out production activities for census data collection, processing, analysis, product preparation, and dissemination. 9. Closing out the program, evaluating performance, and documenting lessons learned. In order to accomplish a successful economic census, it is necessary to master this wide variety of activities that involve statistical processes, project management practices and as well as software development methods. 5. Quality Management and the Role of Quality Audits The quality management plan for the 2007 Economic Census defines the scope and organization of the quality management effort for the 2007 Economic Census. Our objective is to evaluate the quality of the processes used and the products produced by the 2007 Economic Census. The plan is based on the principle that quality must be built in to each product. This approach meets the two primary goals of the 2007 Economic Census quality management process: (1) Ensure adherence to the project management process, and (2) Ensure economic census products and processes adhere to Census Bureau and OBM statistical standards. The remainder of this paper focuses on project management standards, more specifically software project management. The project management processes established for the economic census are based on existing best practices and standards that are used in both the Census Bureau as well as industry. Using these processes helps ensure that our products are on time, within budget and cover the agreed upon scope. Economic census projects are of two distinctly different types: software projects and non-software projects. Software projects include major activities such as data entry, editing, tabulation, and publication. Non-software projects include activities such as mail-out and respondent contact. This paper deals exclusively with quality management for software projects. Non-software projects represent only a small portion of economic census projects. Only a small portion of these projects were considered in-scope to the quality management program. Currently we are in the early phases of the quality audits for non-software projects and thus we have no results or experiences to report at this time. Software development projects present a special challenge to project managers and thus there is a unique set of software development project management methodologies that are considered best practices. We incorporated those practices for major efforts in the economic census. For the 2007 Economic Census, we hoped to achieve our objectives by improving our software development and the supporting 4

5 project management by implementing for the first time Software Quality Assurance (SQA). In order to effectively implement and monitor the use of project management and software development methodologies, a separate and distinct process was set up to handle the quality audits of economic census projects. There are several key components of this strategy including: 1. Separate Staff Devoted to Quality Audits (QA): Two separate staffs had responsibilities for the quality audits. One staff in the Information Technology (IT) organization was responsible for software projects. A second staff in the planning and coordination organization was responsible for non-software projects. Although the staffs operated independently; they exchanged information and coordinated their activities to avoid duplication of efforts for the staff doing the audit and the organizations being audited. 2. Independently Supervised: Staff conducting audits of both the software and non-software projects were independent of the production process. The staff and their first and second level supervisors had no responsibilities for production Economic Census activities. This provided both an objective review of management products produced as well as activities performed. 3. Feedback from QA Staff to Manager: Results of the audits of specific products or activities were documented and reviewed. Once completed, the initial results were given to production supervisor and staff for comment. All comments and suggestions are considered and review. 4. Privacy of Audit Process: Results of the audit process are considered private. Detail results are known only to the audit staff, production staff, and senior executives with direct responsibility. Audit results are disseminated to other managers, statisticians/ and programmers working on the economic census through high level summaries and lessons learned. 6. Software Quality Assurance (SQA) Approach and Plan 6.1 Background As we reflected on the challenges and successes of the 2002 Economic Census, we discovered that many resources were spent building software that collected, processed, and disseminated the data. We believed that building better quality software through a defined and repeatable software development methodology supported by our project management tools and processes would save resources by getting things right the first time instead of reworking them time and time again. That would allow us to expend those resources on more value added activities such as data analysis and review as well as process improvement efforts. In order to facilitate the implementation of this recommendation, we developed the Minimum Process for Software Development (Attachment A). This is a complete methodology based on software development best practices and the roles in our organization. To provide objective feedback on the implementation and compliance on this process, we developed a Software Quality Assurance (SQA) process. Its purpose is to provide confidence in software quality by fostering discipline in the 5

6 development process. To that end, an independent SQA Staff in ESMPD evaluates project work products and processes to determine their compliance with applicable standards and specified procedures. The SQA Staff provides both management and affected project personnel results of evaluations. The SQA Plan defines project-level work products and processes that would be subject to periodic evaluation and tracking by the ESMPD SQA Staff. More specifically, the SQA Staff performs the following functions in connection with this Plan: Evaluations of project work products and processes identified in the Plan. Documentation of results and status of SQA activities. Communication with project management, affected project staff, and project SQA liaisons. Reporting of noncompliance issues to division management as appropriate. Tracking of noncompliance issues to closure. We chose to pilot this SQA effort on all macro processing and dissemination software projects for the 2007 Economic Census. The reasoning behind that decision was two-fold: (1) The other phases of the economic census had already started and it was too late to implement a major change in how they approach their work and (2) The lessons learned were very thorough for this phase from the 2002 Economic Census and we wanted to apply them for our 2007 Economic Census cycle. These eleven technology projects are commonly referred to as phase 3 of the economic census and include all systems necessary to tabulate the data, perform macro level data analysis, apply disclosure avoidance techniques, and prepare the data for dissemination. Although this plan applies to all phase 3 teams, details specific to each project are defined separately in the SQA Details List. The plan serves to simplify and standardize the SQA process by providing a generic form that phase 3 projects can customize with project-specific information. The SQA Details List is included as an attachment to the Software Project Plan for each project. 6.2 SQA Roles and Responsibilities We defined and documented the roles and responsibilities of the team involved in the SQA process for each project. The SQA staff required independent and timely access to work products and project staff in order to carry out its evaluations. At a minimum, each project had to assign the following roles: Key People Sponsor Independent QA Expert Role/Responsibility Has overall responsibility for quality of the software engineering process. Periodically reviews the SQA activities and results. Resolves contention between SQA and the project. Evaluates the SQA process and work products. Provides feedback to the SQA manager and the Sponsor. 6

7 Key People Software Quality Assurance Staff Project Manager Implementation Manager Test Manager Change Control Coordinator Programmer/Developer Role/Responsibility Prepare and execute SQA plans, attend project meetings as appropriate, conduct evaluations, report results, provide periodic SQA status reports. With the project team, establishes appropriate project policies, standards and procedures beyond those required by the Post Collection Software Development Process. Addresses noncompliance issues that SQA identifies. Makes staff and work products available to SQA for evaluations. Addresses technical solution noncompliance issues that SQA identifies. Makes staff and work products available to SQA for evaluations. Addresses verification and validation non-compliance issues that SQA identifies. Makes staff and work products available to SQA for evaluations. Addresses configuration management noncompliance issues that SQA identifies. Provides work products for SQA evaluations, participates in interviews conducted by SQA. 6.3 Evaluation of Work Products Work product evaluations are detailed examinations of a project s written artifacts to verify completeness, internal consistency, proper formatting, and adherence to project and organization standards. The SQA Staff evaluates work products in accordance with their procedures based on the Minimum Process for Software Development and requirements documented in the SQA Plan. Their focus is on direct artifacts as evidence of a practice being implemented. At a minimum, the following work products will be evaluated for all phase 3 software projects: Description of Direct Artifact Evaluated Minimum 1. Project Registration/Application Security Required 2. Project Plan or Software Development Plan Required 3. Project Schedule Required 4. Software Configuration Management (SCM) Plan Required 5. Interactive System Performance Requirements Where Applicable 6. Interactive System Performance Test Plan Where Applicable 7. Entity Relationship Diagram(s) Where Applicable 8. Subsystem Software Architectural Framework Required 7

8 Description of Direct Artifact Evaluated Minimum 9. Subsystem Integration Test Plan Required 10. Specifications Required 11. Unit Test Plans Required 12. Interactive System Instructions and Training Where Applicable 13. Batch System Operations Manual Where Applicable 14. Project Schedule Progress Reports to Management Required 15. Lessons Learned Required 16. Scorecards Required 17. Change Requests Required 6.4 Evaluation of Processes and Activities Evaluations of processes and activities are reviews that are intended to ensure that (1) project activities are planned, (2) project plans and procedures are being followed, and that (3) key processes adhere to applicable policies, standards, and procedures. The SQA Staff evaluates the processes and activities in accordance with their procedures based on the Minimum Process for Software Development and requirements documented in the SQA Plan as well. Their focus is on observation of processes in practice that would indicate practice implementation. At a minimum, the following processes and activities will be evaluated for all phase 3 software projects: Description of Process Evaluated Minimum 1. Requirements Elicitation Process (New Projects) Where Applicable 2. Requirements Walkthrough (New Projects) Where Applicable 3. Design Walkthroughs Required 4. Code Inspection Required 5. Unit Testing Required 6. Integration Testing Required 7. Project Status Meetings Required 8. Configuration Management (including Scorecard and Change Requests and Version Control for Code) Required 9. Software Quality Assurance Required 6.5 SQA Reporting The status of SQA activities is communicated to management and the project team through project status reports and briefings. The SQA Staff does this periodically to 8

9 inform project and senior management as to (1) process status, (2) evaluation results, (3) process/work-product non-compliance and (4) resource needs (staff, training, tools). SQA Evaluation Reports are used to communicate the findings of SQA evaluations (also called SQA audits) to management and the project team. The SQA Staff prepares an Evaluation Report after each work product evaluation and process/activity evaluation. Project coordinators are provided an opportunity to respond to the initial evaluation report with clarifications and explanations concerning identified issues/deviations prior to issuance of the final report. Final evaluation reports are presented to project management and other affected project personnel during the briefings, prior to their official release. During SQA evaluations, the SQA Staff may identify noncompliance issues in project processes and/or work products. A noncompliance issue results from any process or product that does not adhere to applicable policies, standards or project plans. The SQA Staff tracks all noncompliance issues to closure, working with the project team, the project manager and the project sponsors. 7. Current Status As of today, all phase 3 systems are in the final stages of development and testing. Several of the project teams have made preliminary deliveries of systems into production. All final production system deliveries are expected to be complete by October 31, 2008, on schedule, within budget and meeting planned system scope. For SQA activities, all eleven project teams have been through the first three rounds of SQA auditing. These rounds cover project planning, requirements, design, software coding and selected testing approaches. During these initial rounds, there were no compliance issues identified. The fourth round of audits is scheduled to be completed in during fall 2008 and will cover the additional software coding and testing phases as well as some ongoing project management activities. 8. Lessons Learned As we have implemented our plans to improve the overall quality of the economic census, we have learned many lessons that will help us improve our next efforts. First and foremost, we have learned that quality management must be a continuous process with quality management techniques practiced for all projects and all processes before, during and after the Economic Census. It is very challenging to start up new processes related to quality, these processes should become part of how we do our work. More specifically, we identified several other lessons related to our SQA efforts: 1. Clear, specific standards are essential and should be developed early on in the project lifecycle by a cross functional team. This will ensure that projects start off on the right path from the beginning and that the standards encompass the needs of everyone involved. The development of these standards should be the first process in planning the 2012 Economic Census. 9

10 2. An independent review and reporting of adherence to standards is valuable but checking for document or process presence is not enough. Document and process quality should also be reviewed to ensure that when project teams are using the standards, they are doing it effectively and as intended. 3. In order to more effectively use SQA resources where weaknesses exist, senior management should consider sampling projects for SQA audits once all projects in a given area have had several rounds of successful reports. This would allow SQA audits to continue for projects experiencing challenges adhering to standards while lessening the burden when projects have been successful working with the standards. 4. Planning and training for project management should include quality assurance staff at all stages. The development of project management requirements should have representatives from the quality management staff as part of the team. 5. Quality Management should focus on the positive aspects of increasing efficiency and quality and not the punitive aspects. Any failure to adhere to standards should be viewed as a teaching opportunity to improve skills. 9. Next Steps In general terms, there is still a significant amount of work left to be done on the 2007 Economic Census. Some quality activities, such as the audits for non-software projects, have yet to be started. Even with those circumstances, some of the next steps are already apparent. Our goal is to prepare for the 2012 Economic Census and truly integrate quality management into our overall program management approach for the economic census. We need to finalize the development of the processes that will be used as well as the project management of those processes. Based on lessons learned from our processes in 2007, we can develop and implement an improved software development methodology as well as an improved SQA audit approach. For all phase 3 projects, the final rounds of SQA will be complete by the end of Lessons learned sessions will be conducted and improvements will be recommended for the software development methodology that will be used for the 2012 Economic Census. 10. Conclusion Although we have not completed all activities for the 2007 Economic Census, nor the applicable SQA processes, improving the quality management approach has proved valuable to all of the stakeholders of the program. Repeatable and predictable work processes have allowed us to minimize the special exceptions in our work and reduce the amount of time and resources spent on rework for corrections. Applying these approaches more corporately will make management of the program less challenging due to familiar processes built on our success in implementing them on phase 3 of the economic census. 10

11 References Buczinski, C. and Walsh, J. (2006), Software Quality Assurance Plan for the 2007 Economic Census Macro Team, unpublished report, Washington, D.C., USA: United States Census Bureau. Walker, E. (2005), 2007 Economic Census Program Plan, unpublished report, Washington, D.C., USA: United States Census Bureau. Winters, F. and Chapman, D. (2006), 2007 Economic Census Program Quality Management Plan, unpublished report, Washington, D.C., USA: United States Census Bureau. 11

12 Minimum Process David H. Hiller 4/17/2006 Plan Requirements Detailed Designs High Level Design Code Test (New Projects) Software Project Charter * (New Projects) Requirements Elicitation 'Specs' Software Architectural Framework [Programs of a System] Code 'Spec' Tests Project Registration/ Application Security * (Interactive System Performance Requirements) 'Spec' Walkthroughs Software Architectural Frameworks [Modules of a Program] Compile Builds Short or Long Project Plan * (Interactive System Performance Test Plan) High Level Design Walkthroughs Personal Code Review System Test Project Team Meetings (Entity Relationship Diagram for new databases) EPCD (SSSD/MCD/CSD) * Template is available online, see Hummingbird #3316 Code Inspection (Interactive System Performance Test) Project Schedule Reviews and Progress Reports Requirements Walkthrough ESMPD Programming Standards and Templates Smoke Test [On Production] Process elements in parenthesis () are conditional Master Schedule Reviews Scorecard * EPCD/ESMPD Process elements in quotes ' ' are non-specific Version Control (Interactive System Instructions and Training) Census Planning Meetings Change Requests * Lessons Learned * 'Test Plan' (Batch System Operations Manual) 12

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