SERT Research Sub-projects

SP1: Augmented Automated Testing: leveraging human-machine symbiosis for high-level test automation

This project aims to address questions associated with QA efficiency and research an approach that combines human best practices, advances in system intelligence, and state-of-art human-machine interaction into augmented automated testing. The keyword augmentation regards change, enhancement and evolution of tests, tools and test data visualization to aid either the human to understand test automation output, or the machine by prompting the human to steer automation. This will serve the purpose of maximizing the utilization of human cognitive ability during exploration- and exploitation-based testing, whilst enabling the machine to more effectively automate repetitive SUT regression testing through prompted input from the human, what we refer to as Human-Machine symbiosis. This is an extension of concepts that have only partially been evaluated in for instance search-based software engineering research [102]. The ultimate goal of the sub-project are semi-automated, trustworthy, easy-to-use, graphical systems that enable human-machine symbiosis where the human feeds the systems with knowledge that allows the test systems to give better support to the human operator, which gives the test systems improved input from the human in iterations.

To initialize this sub-project, a longitudinal collaborative study with several industry partners will be performed utilizing an augmented automated testing (AAT) tool – EyeScout . This tool represents a suitable platform on which research can be performed to help answer several of the sub-project’s main research questions. The tool combines image-recognition based software testing, also known as Visual GUI Testing [96], [103] with dynamic modelling, based on recorded user interaction at the GUI level to support user guidance and automated, user-emulated, regression testing of functionalities as well as non-functional attributes. 

In summary, this project will focus on the development and evaluation of a new test approach (AAT) that can leverage new and advanced automated technologies in addition to cognitive exploration to make testing more accurate, efficient and effective and thus support the market’s needs for faster delivery and higher quality software.

SP2: Heterogeneous multi-source requirements engineering

In traditional software engineering, business analysts identify user or market needs (intelligence), synthesize a set of features and functions that satisfy those needs as a requirements specification (design), and prioritize and package these requirements based on business strategies and constraints (choice). This process is highly inefficient as it funnels a small amount of information on the users’ needs from a limited set of users (selected by business analysts) through a limited capacity process, resulting from mostly manual effort constrained by increased time pressure [104]. Companies are currently exposed to large amounts of information and data originating from business intelligence, product usage data, reviews and other forms of feedback, e.g. by utilizing the requirements acquired from Crowd-based engineering principles [105]. The amount of data and its heterogeneous, multi-sourced nature challenges requirements identification and concretization and creates demands for revisiting software design and development activities. A growing trend is also that substantial amount of this data is generated by machine-learning components integrated into software products that are self-adaptive (e.g. systems with deep learning algorithms). This means that these software products not only continuously provide data about the changing environment, but also self-adapt and change their behaviour based on contextual fluctuations (so called non-deterministic behaviour). However, albeit providing many substantial benefits, this machine learning trend greatly contributes to overloaded requirements management [106] and presents a need for the inception, realization and evolution phases of software systems development to be supported by efficient data acquisition and analysis approaches to enable decision-centric processes [32]. In such a process, each process phase becomes data-intensive and can be seen as a three-step process that consists of: i). data collection and problem formulation (intelligence); ii) development of alternatives (design); and iii) evaluation of alternatives (choice) [107]. For example, data-intensive requirements inception involves: identifying relevant data sources, filtering relevant information from non-relevant (early requirements triage [108], and identifying requirement abstractions or features [109]. Data-intensive requirements evolution involves semi-automated analysis of product usage data and user feedback [105], aggregating and prioritizing these opinions and presenting them for decision-makers who decide what to focus on as well as what features and non-functional aspects constitute value and what type of value [110].

SP3: Value-Oriented Strategy to Detect and Minimize Waste.

Software development organizations are working under continous time pressure and strict deadlines [9] that sometimes force them to make ineffective use of resources, generating waste or overhead. 

Waste is in this context defined as activities that consume time, money or space without producing any type of relevant customer value, as opposed to overhead which is in this context defined as the efforts put on activities that can be avoided by improving the way of performing them. However, for software development organizations the separation between waste and overhead is less obvious, and its detection and management is challenging [67]. For example, there exist activities that do not directly produce business value, such as architectural improvements to ensure flexibility and maintainability [67]. Another example of overhead is extensive intra and inter-team communication. The difficulty is that overhead can often be mistaken for waste, and when removed introduces even more waste e.g. misunderstandings in development teams due to lack of communication resulting in the actual introduction of waste [118].

During product inception, the time pressure restricts the ability to analyze potential requirements and to study the short term (e.g., customer fit), and long term (e.g., internal-business and architecture) consequences of including these requirements into a product. This can lead to investments in requirements analysis, prototyping and even customer tests for features that would not be a part of a product [66]. Even if included into the next release of a product, these features are often realized under time-pressure that forces a barely good-enough design during the realization stage, introducing new forms of waste, like Techincal Debt. Technical Debt is defined as a metaphor to explain the long-term consequences that sub-optimal design decisions have on the long term in software projects [119].

During the evolution stage, sub-optimal decisions cause test case prioritization issues, sub-optimal test coverage and code erosion that might propagate to testing artefacts [120]. The consequences are severe and include: lower efficiency of requirements processing and decision making, code and architectural erosion, or sub-optimal usage of testing resources. 

Similarly, the misalignment between requirements engineering and testing activities introduces several types of waste both in agile and in plan-driven projects [81] during realization and evolution stages.

Therefore, there is a need to identify and characterize various types of waste and overhead during product inception, realization and evolution, and their relationship with the ability of organizations to create business and customer value. This sub-projects advocates introducing a value-driven holistic approach to waste and overhead identification and mitigation. This sub-project is going to integrate and extend previous research efforts that, although substantial, are mostly focusing only on isolated stages of the development process or only isolated artifacts. 


SP4: Cognitive software engineering development models

Software engineering development models, i.e., processes, practices, and principles, are often considered in terms of what actions should be performed on what artefacts and by what part of the development organisation. For example, processes can be thought of as transforming input products to output products through the consumption of further products (such as guidelines), to advance towards a goal [123]. However, when the software artefacts are very large and complex, and actions need to be performed in parallel and span multiple parts of the organisation or even multiple organisations, rigid or badly designed development models can become an obstacle due to inefficient utilisation of organisational capabilities and mismatches between individual understanding and model assumptions. Furthermore, many development models do not consider motivational and other human factors that influence model understanding and enactment. Badly designed or enacted models may impede performance by, e.g., causing unnecessary cognitive load or disrupting communication.

Research on process modelling has demonstrated some of the cognitive mechanisms that are active when humans create and understand processes, and that influence process model quality [124]. It is not yet known how similar mechanisms may influence enactment of processes and other development models, but the relationship between the software development process and motivation has been documented [125].

This sub-project investigates new forms of software engineering development models which fit the characteristics of humans by considering human strengths and limitations. It also advances development models that include automation as an active component, freeing human resources to focus on creative rather than repetitive tasks. Such models are referred to here as cognitive software engineering development models. The models assume an organisational structure with loose coordination, emphasise overcoming cognitive limitations of humans both through characteristics of the models themselves as well as through automation, allow more effective use of human resources, are designed to be motivational, and emphasise product value as a basis for decision-making. The models can differ in level of detail and can range from micro-models intended for individuals, to overarching, cross-organisational development frameworks.

Lean and agile as well as Open Source approaches to software development include several elements related to human factors, and form the starting point for this sub-project. However, there is a need to advance the state of the art beyond these approaches to enable increased performance and competitiveness in software organisations. This sub-project provides base technological research to the other sub-projects in this profile regarding human aspects of development model design, enactment, and execution on the individual, team, as well as organisational levels.

SP5: Study and Improve LeaGile handling of organizational and team interfaces.

Many software organisations strive to increase competitiveness by increasing their ability to flexibly adapt to changing market conditions. Agile and lean software development strives to enable such flexibility, but a fundamental challenge of agile and lean organizations developing software-intensive products is that the concept of close team collaboration and joint ownership of a product has issues with scaling [19], [126]. In a company developing a large software-intensive product or service it is impossible to put all stakeholders into one team. The way in which the teams are arranged is a crucial success factor for the organisation and its products. Thus, interfaces are created even between agile teams that require coordination [19] . In addition to making the development organisation agile, a further challenge is to consider and design the delivery of the product at an early stage. DevOps addresses this challenge by extending the cross-functionality of teams to include operations, creating additional needs for interfaces between teams and organisational functions, and their counterparts in the software and the technical deployment environment. Moreover, this team structure and the cross-team interfaces need to be aligned with the software architecture, following the socio-technical congruence principle (e.g., [[50], [79], [127]), to enhance the ability of the organization to create value while minimizing waste and overhead [79]. Failing in creation and coordination of the teams, in terms of experience and cross-functionality, might lead to the introduction of waste and overhead, e.g., in the form of effort spent by teams developing software that must be re-written by more senior developers and architects, or duplication of functionality between teams. 

This sub-project addresses the challenge of designing organisational and team interfaces, and designing matching technical structures in the actual software architectures, in the context of rapid, data- and value-focused software engineering.  In an attempt to take agile and its refinements like DevOps and SAFE to the next level this project saims more explicitly looking at issues of coordination interfaces, utilizing the lean concepts of Value creation and Waste removal.


SP6: Verification of Software Requirements in Dynamic, Complex and Regulated Markets

New and evolving legislations and regulations are growing concerns in companies developing software intensive systems due to the costs associated with making their products compliant [128]. Regulatory requirements as well as most requirements specifications in industry are written, to a large extent, in natural language [129]. One potential reason for this is that natural language (NL) specifications are easy to comprehend without training (except in the particular domain), and therefore immediately accessible by any stakeholder. At the same time, NL is also inherently imprecise and ambiguous, which causes impediments especially in verifying software compliance [nekvi2015].

In regulated markets, compliance and the ability to adapt to changes in a flexible manner is key to remain competitive and sometimes even required to be allowed to participate in the market [zeni2015]. However, compliance analysis and adoption is still primarily performed with practices that lack scalability and little automated support exists to acquire, analyse and prioritize information required to achieve compliance with legislations and regulations [130], [131]. 

 This project aims to address the concerns with the verification of requirements in regulated markets by identifying practices, processes and tools that combine computational intelligence with human expertise for the elicitation, analysis or adoption of regulatory or legislative requirements. The project will therefore operate in an industrial context together with key stakeholders to provide guidance to the ecosystem consisting of customers, developers and legislators to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of software compliance.
The solutions developed in this project needs to cater to the particular challenges of the involved partner companies. We envision therefore three research tracks that address software compliance at different product life-cycle phases and technical abstraction levels.
Research Track 1 focuses on pro-actively supporting legislators to formulate regulations that can be transformed into implementable requirements usable to identify acceptance criteria against which product compliance can be verified. We aim to reuse, adapt and improve solutions from earlier research on requirements quality assurance [89], [132], [133] and automated text-mining [115]. In addition, we aim to investigate which cognitive processes, such as information processing, memory, pattern recognition, attention, reasoning, problem solving and association are involved in assessing particular quality aspects of requirements specifications written in natural language. These relationships are, to the best of our knowledge, currently not well understood but would help in designing human-machine interactions mechanisms that can be used to support quality assurance activities. 
Research Track 2 focuses on supporting change management (identification of deltas, conflicts and incompleteness) of requirements, implementation and tests when regulation or legislation changes. We can here build on existing experience with Natural Language Processing techniques [5] and solutions developed for traceability recovery [134] and impact analysis [135], [136]. Empirically evaluating and improving these approaches in production settings would provide valuable input to the state-of-art and potentially inspire the development of radically new solutions. 
Research Track 3 focuses on investigating the possibility of reusing test reports at varying abstraction levels (unit, integration, system, acceptance) as proxies for compliance analysis of the implemented system. Re-purposing test reports by automatically extracting information to show compliance (for specific parts of the solution, but also of emergent properties) would to some extent remove the need to develop dedicated models for compliance verification (e.g. as in [137]) at an additional cost.

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