What is Formal review?

Formal reviews follow a formal process. It is well structured and regulated.
A formal review process consists of six main steps:

  1. Planning
  2. Kick-off
  3. Preparation
  4. Review meeting
  5. Rework
  6. Follow-up

1. Planning: The first phase of the formal review is the Planning phase. In this phase thereview process begins with a request for review by the author to the moderator (or inspection leader). A moderator has to take care of the scheduling like date, time, place and invitation of the review. For the formal reviews the moderator performs the entry check and also defines the formal exit criteria. The entry check is done to ensure that the reviewer’s time is not wasted on a document that is not ready for review. After doing the entry check if the document is found to have very little defects then it’s ready to go for the reviews. So, the entry criteria are to check that whether the document is ready to enter the formal review process or not. Hence the entry criteria for any document to go for the reviews are:

      • The documents should not reveal a large number of major defects.
      • The documents to be reviewed should be with line numbers.
      • The documents should be cleaned up by running any automated checks that apply.
      • The author should feel confident about the quality of the document so that he can join the review team with that document.

Once, the document clear the entry check the moderator and author decides that which part of the document is to be reviewed. Since the human mind can understand only a limited set of pages at one time so in a review the maximum size is between 10 and 20 pages. Hence checking the documents improves the moderator ability to lead the meeting because it ensures the better understanding.

2. Kick-off:  This kick-off meeting is an optional step in a review procedure. The goal of this step is to give a short introduction on the objectives of the review and the documents to everyone in the meeting. The relationships between the document under review and the other documents are also explained, especially if the numbers of related documents are high. At customer sites, we have measured results up to 70% more major defects found per page as a result of performing a kick-off, [van Veenendaal and van der Zwan, 2000].

3. Preparation: In this step the reviewers review the document individually using the related documents, procedures, rules and checklists provided. Each participant while reviewing individually identifies the defects, questions and comments according to their understanding of the document and role. After that all issues are recorded using a logging form. The success factor for a thorough preparation is the number of pages checked per hour. This is called the checking rate. Usually the checking rate is in the range of 5 to 10 pages per hour.

4. Review meeting: The review meeting consists of three phases:

  • Logging phase: In this phase the issues and the defects that have been identified during the preparation step are logged page by page. The logging is basically done by the author or by a scribe. Scribe is a separate person to do the logging and is especially useful for the formal review types such as an inspection. Every defects and it’s severity should be logged in any of the three severity classes given below:
    — Critical:
    The defects will cause downstream damage.
    Major: The defects could cause a downstream damage.
    Minor: The defects are highly unlikely to cause the downstream damage.

During the logging phase the moderator focuses on logging as many defects as possible within a certain time frame and tries to keep a good logging rate (number of defects logged per minute). In formal review meeting the good logging rate should be between one and two defects logged per minute.

  • Discussion phase: If any issue needs discussion then the item is logged and then handled in the discussion phase. As chairman of the discussion meeting, the moderator takes care of the people issues and prevents discussion from getting too personal and calls for a break to cool down the heated discussion. The outcome of the discussions is documented for the future reference.
  • Decision phase: At the end of the meeting a decision on the document under review has to be made by the participants, sometimes based on formal exit criteria. Exit criteria are the average number of critical and/or major defects found per page (for example no more than three critical/major defects per page). If the number of defects found per page is more than a certain level then the document must be reviewed again, after it has been reworked.

5. Rework: In this step if the number of defects found per page exceeds the certain level then the document has to be reworked. Not every defect that is found leads to rework. It is the author’s responsibility to judge whether the defect has to be fixed. If nothing can be done about an issue then at least it should be indicated that the author has considered the issue.

6. Follow-up: In this step the moderator check to make sure that the author has taken action on all known defects. If it is decided that all participants will check the updated documents then the moderator takes care of the distribution and collects the feedback. It is the responsibility of the moderator to ensure that the information is correct and stored for future analysis.