Human and Program Factors Affecting the Maintenance of Programs with Deployed Design Patterns

Abstract: Context: Practitioners may use design patterns to organize program code. Various empirical studies have investigated the effects of pattern deployment and work experience on the effectiveness and efficiency of program maintenance. However, results from these studies are not all consistent. Moreover, these studies have not considered some interesting factors, such as a maintainer’s prior exposure to the program under maintenance.
Objective: This paper aims at identifying what factors may contribute to the productivity of maintainers in the context of making correct software changes when they work on programs with deployed design patterns.
Method: We performed an empirical study involving 118 human subjects with three change tasks on a medium-sized program to explore the possible effects of a suite of six human and program factors on the productivity of maintainers, measured by the time taken to produce a correctly revised program in a course-based setting. The factors we studied include the deployment of design patterns and the presence of pattern-unaware solutions, as well as the maintainer’s prior exposure to design patterns, the subject program and the programming language, and prior work experience.
Results: Among the factors under examination, we find that the deployment of design patterns, prior exposure to the program and the presence of pattern-unaware solutions are strongly correlated with the time taken to correctly complete maintenance tasks. We also report some interesting observations from the experiment.
Conclusion: A new factor, namely, the presence of pattern-unaware solutions, contributes to the efficient completion of maintenance tasks of programs with deployed design patterns. Moreover, a list of the factors ranked according to their degree of correlation with the time to correctly complete change tasks could be of useful reference by project managers when allocating tasks to their maintainers with various backgrounds.
 
Grants:CityU 7008039, GRF 111410, GRF 123207
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