President of the American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ASTQB).
Special Issue Paper
Software disasters—understanding the past, to improve the future
Article first published online: 25 AUG 2010
Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Journal of Software: Evolution and Process
Special Issue: Software, Systems and Services Process Improvement (EuroSPI 2009)
Volume 24, Issue 5, pages 459–470, August 2012
How to Cite
McQuaid, P. A. (2012), Software disasters—understanding the past, to improve the future. J. Softw. Evol. and Proc., 24: 459–470. doi: 10.1002/smr.500
- Issue published online: 17 JUL 2012
- Article first published online: 25 AUG 2010
- Manuscript Received: 14 MAY 2010
- Manuscript Accepted: 14 MAY 2010
- software disasters;
- mars polar lander;
- patriot missile;
Over the years, there have been several major software disasters, resulting from poor software project management, poor risk assessment, and poor development and testing practices. The results of the disasters range from project delays, project cancelations, loss of millions of dollars of equipment, to human fatalities. It is important to study software disasters, to alert developers and testers to be ever vigilant, and to understand that huge catastrophes can arise from what seem like small problems. This paper examines such failures as the Mars Polar Lander, the Patriot missile, and the Therac-25 radiation deaths. The focus of the paper is on the factors that led to these problems, an analysis of the problems, and the lessons to be learned that relate to software engineering, safety engineering, government and corporate regulations, and oversight by users of the systems. A model named STAMP, Systems-Theoretic Accident Modeling and Process, will be introduced, as a model to analyze these types of accidents. This model is based on systems theory, where the focus is on systems taken as a whole, as opposed to traditional failure-event models where the parts are examined separately. It is by understanding the past, that we can improve the future. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.