Peer Reviews are not gates!

Peer Reviews are not gates!

In software development, peer reviews are a tool to build in quality. But, they are rarely used, or when used, rarely used properly. Peer reviews are a review of a work product by peers or colleagues to remove defects. Often the concept of peer reviews is transformed by dropping the word peer and using the review meeting to judge whether a project or deliverable is fit to move forward (typically to “save time’). When peer reviews become gate or sign-off reviews, both the goal and who participates in the event change.

The goal of peer reviews as stated by Luc Bourgault, Director Shared Development Services at Wolters Kluwer, is “to be sure of the quality of a work product.” Therefore, making changes to the peer review process that make attaining that goal harder are problematic. The goal of a gate or sign-off review is control oriented. Luigi Buglione, IFPUG Board Liaison and Measurement & Process Improvement Specialist at Engineering Ingegneria Informatica SpA, stated that the goal of a gate and sign-off reviews are to act a “controls before passing to the next stage.” Peer reviews and phase gate or sign-off reviews have very different goals.

The definition of the words peer and colleague are imprecise which means that the exact composition of participants of a peer review can often be debated. For example, Jeff Dalton, President of Broadsword most recently interviewed on SPaMCAST 366, stated: “any time you get relevant stakeholders together to review a design/architecture/plan/test plan/code/et al, it’s a peer review.” The term stakeholders, in this case, means participants that facilitate error finding rather than error hiding. For example, if we were reviewing a piece of code a programmer, tester or business analyst on the same would probably be relevant stakeholders to participate in the review rather someone that had never seen code before. The relevant stakeholders are those that create an environment where it is safe to find and remove errors from the work product BEFORE they go any further. Talmon Ben-Cnaan, Quality Manager at AMDOCS, stated that peer reviews are done by “a person or a group of people in the same occupation or profession.” Non-peer participants, such as customers, managers, high-visibility stakeholders and executives, who are required for sign-off or gate reviews typically do not create an environment for finding and removing errors. As one anonymous Quality Manager put it, “there are often political overtones which may prevent earnest feedback from being presented.” Simply put, when people believe they are being judged or that errors will be held against them, they will tend to try to hide those errors.

Peer reviews and sign-off or gate reviews are are not the same thing. Combining the two types of reviews will not yield the defect removal benefits of a peer review, and often lead to teams having to test out defects later or customers being asked to find defects that could have been avoided in production.