SSG joins the elite group of software developers

The Air Force Standard Systems Group the Defense Department's largest central development activity late last month joined an elite group of software organizations after successfully completing an exhaustive six-year effort to improve the management of its development processes.

The Headquarters Standard Systems Group based at Maxwell Air Force Base Gunter Annex Ala. supports more than 130 standardized computer systems for the Air Force accounting for more than $14 billion in contracts.

According to an outside team of engineers that recently evaluated the organization's software development practices SSG has institutionalized key management processes that improve its chances of successfully undertaking and completing large software projects.

The engineering team appraised SSG as a Level 3 organization based on the five-level Capability Maturity Model a standard for assessing software organizations created by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and widely used in the public and private sectors. Level 1 indicates a chaotic development environment while Level 5 is marked by an environment that continuously improves.

Level 3 means the organization should be able to carry its basic process management structure to any number of new areas said E. Patrick Hanavan Jr. who leads the evaluating team and is the president and chief executive officer of PATH Computer Systems Inc. San Antonio which specializes in software process improvement activities.

Level 3 "is an indication the organization has the ability to take on new workload " he said. "An organization at a lower level can continue to do things they have always done but a Level 3 can take on new things."According to SEI data only 7 percent of military and civilian agencies have reached Level 3 maturity Hanavan said.

In November 1994 SSG obtained Level 2 which most organizations set as their initial target. Level 2 focuses on establishing repeatable procedures for managing software projects. Level 3 focuses on documenting software engineering practices and putting them in place across the entire organization.Capt. Keith R. Boadway chief of the systems engineering process group at the HQ SSG described it as a matter of capturing processes and management oversight and making it part of "our day-to-day culture."Graduating from Level 2 to Level 3 "was a very significant effort primarily because we are such a large organization " Boadway said. "It's a huge undertaking to change the culture and to make that consistent across the entire organization."

SSG employs 1 900 military and civilian personnel plus 800 contractors. Its 130-plus programs cover a dozen different functional areas including command and control air traffic control finance and accounting and office automation.

The successful appraisal as a Level 3 organization is a milestone for SSG "but really the process improvement has been in place all along " Boadway said. The organization definitely sees a difference in management practices from even just a year ago he said.

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