The Spiral Model

The spiral model of software development and enhancement, developed by Boehm (1988), is based on experience with various refinements of the waterfall model as applied to large government software projects. Relying heavily on prototyping and risk management, it is much more flexible than the waterfall model. The most comprehensive application of the model is the development of the TRW Software Productivity System (TRW-SPS) as described by Boehm. The spiral concept and the risk management focus have gained acceptance in software engineering and project management in recent years .

Figure 2.3 shows Boehm's spiral model. The underlying concept of the model is that each portion of the product and each level of elaboration involves the same sequence of steps (cycle). Starting at the center of the spiral, one can see that each development phase (concept of operation, software requirements, product design, detailed design, and implementation) involves one cycle of the spiral. The radial dimension in Figure 2.3 represents the cumulative cost incurred in accomplishing the steps. The angular dimension represents the progress made in completing each cycle of the spiral. As indicated by the quadrants in the figure, the first step of each cycle of the spiral is to identify the objectives of the portion of the product being elaborated, the alternative means of implementation of this portion of the product, and the constraints imposed on the application of the alternatives. The next step is to evaluate the alternatives relative to the objectives and constraints, to identify the associated risks, and to resolve them. Risk analysis and the risk-driven approach, therefore, are key characteristics of the spiral model, in contrast to the document-driven approach of the waterfall model.

Figure 2.3. Spiral Model of the Software Process

From "A Spiral Model of Software Development and Enhancement," by B. W. Boehm. IEEE Computer (May): 61 “72. 1988 IEEE. Reprinted with permission.


In this risk-driven approach, prototyping is an important tool. Usually prototyping is applied to the elements of the system or the alternatives that present the higher risks. Unsatisfactory prototypes can be thrown away; when an operational prototype is in place, implementation can begin. In addition to prototyping, the spiral model uses simulations, models, and benchmarks in order to reach the best alternative. Finally, as indicated in the illustration, an important feature of the spiral model, as with other models, is that each cycle ends with a review involving the key members or organizations concerned with the product.

For software projects with incremental development or with components to be developed by separate organizations or individuals, a series of spiral cycles can be used, one for each increment or component. A third dimension could be added to Figure 2.3 to represent the model better.

Boehm (1988) provides a candid discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the spiral model. Its advantages are as follows :

  • Its range of options accommodates the good features of existing software process models, whereas its risk-driven approach avoids many of their difficulties. This is the primary advantage. Boehm also discusses the primary conditions under which this model becomes equivalent to other process models such as the waterfall model and the evolutionary prototype model.
  • It focuses early attention on options involving the reuse of existing software. These options are encouraged because early identification and evaluation of alternatives is a key step in each spiral cycle. This model accommodates preparation for life-cycle evolution, growth, and changes of the software product.
  • It provides a mechanism for incorporating software quality objectives into software product development.
  • It focuses on eliminating errors and unattractive alternatives early.
  • It does not involve separate approaches for software development and software enhancement.
  • It provides a viable framework for integrating hardware-software system development. The risk-driven approach can be applied to both hardware and software.

On the other hand, difficulties with the spiral model include the following:

  • Matching to contract software: Contract software relies heavily on control, checkpoint, and intermediate deliverables for which the waterfall model is good. The spiral model has a great deal of flexibility and freedom and is, therefore, more suitable for internal software development. The challenge is how to achieve the flexibility and freedom prescribed by the spiral model without losing accountability and control for contract software.
  • Relying on risk management expertise: The risk-driven approach is the back-bone of the model. The risk-driven specification addresses high-risk elements in great detail and leaves low-risk elements to be elaborated in later stages. However, an inexperienced team may also produce a specification just the opposite : a great deal of detail for the well-understood, low-risk elements and little elaboration of the poorly understood , high-risk elements. In such a case, the project may fail and the failure may be discovered only after major resources have been invested. Another concern is that a risk-driven specification is people dependent. In the case where a design produced by an expert is to be implemented by nonexperts, the expert must furnish additional documentation.
  • Need for further elaboration of spiral steps: The spiral model describes a flexible and dynamic process model that can be used to its fullest advantage by experienced developers. For nonexperts and especially for large-scale projects, however, the steps in the spiral must be elaborated and more specifically defined so that consistency, tracking, and control can be achieved. Such elaboration and control are especially important in the area of risk analysis and risk management.

What Is Software Quality?

Software Development Process Models

Fundamentals of Measurement Theory

Software Quality Metrics Overview

Applying the Seven Basic Quality Tools in Software Development

Defect Removal Effectiveness

The Rayleigh Model

Exponential Distribution and Reliability Growth Models

Quality Management Models

In-Process Metrics for Software Testing

Complexity Metrics and Models

Metrics and Lessons Learned for Object-Oriented Projects

Availability Metrics

Measuring and Analyzing Customer Satisfaction

Conducting In-Process Quality Assessments

Conducting Software Project Assessments

Dos and Donts of Software Process Improvement

Using Function Point Metrics to Measure Software Process Improvements

Concluding Remarks

A Project Assessment Questionnaire

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Metrics and Models in Software Quality Engineering
Metrics and Models in Software Quality Engineering (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 0201729156
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2001
Pages: 176
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