AuthorsE. Arisholm and D. I. K. Sjøberg
TitleA Controlled Experiment With Professionals to Evaluate the Effect of a Delegated Versus Centralized Control Style on the Maintainability of Object-Oriented Software
Publication TypeTechnical reports
Year of Publication2003
PublisherSimula Research Laboratory

One fundamental question in object-oriented design is how to design maintainable software. According to expert opinion, a delegated control style, typically a result of responsibility-driven design, represents object-oriented design at its best, whereas a centralized control style is reminiscent of a procedural solution, or a “bad” object-oriented design. This paper presents a controlled experiment that investigates these claims empirically. A total of 99 junior, intermediate and senior professional consultants from several international consultancy companies were hired for one day to take part in the experiment. To compare differences between (categories of) professionals and students, 59 students also participated. The subjects used professional Java tools to perform several change tasks on two alternative Java designs having a centralized and delegated control style, respectively. The results show that the most skilled developers, in particular the senior consultants, require less time to maintain software with a delegated control style than with a centralized control style. However, more novice developers, in particular the undergraduate students and junior consultants, have serious problems understanding a delegated control style, and perform far better with a centralized control style. Thus, the maintainability of object-oriented software depends to a large extent on the skill of the developers who are going to maintain it. The results may have serious implications for object-oriented development in an industrial context: having senior consultants design object-oriented systems that eventually will be maintained by juniors may be unwise, since the cognitive complexity of such “expert” designs might be unmanageable for less skilled maintainers.

Citation KeySE.7.Arisholm.2003.b