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Why are the Japanese so much better?

January 10, 2008 01:25:49 +0200 (EET)

Ever since we first started getting customers in Japan a few years ago, I've been consistently impressed by their professionalism, attitude and achievements. Juha-Pekka recently sent me a fascinating paper* comparing the productivity of developers across the world. The study covered over 100 projects in a variety of domains, with a balanced spread across Japan, the United States, India, and Europe. The most eye-opening result was a comparison of the output per developer per month (in KLOC units of source code), and of the defect rate in the year following release of the project (in defects/KLOC):

Japan: 0.469 : 0.02, Europe 0.436 : 0.225, US 0.270 : 0.400, India 0.209 : 0.263

The myriad factors affecting individual projects mean the actual figures aren't really that important or trustworthy. Even so, the massive difference between Japan and the rest of the world is worth thinking about. Interestingly, the biggest difference in development practices between the regions was how many projects created "detailed designs": 85% in Japan, but only 32% in the US. In India, the figure was 100%, as might be expected if these were outsourced projects.

Some code generation was used in around 50% of projects in all regions, with Japan actually using it least (41%). Given the survey took place in 2001-2002, presumably the majority of generation was from fixed language tools and wizards, where the developer is expected to edit the results. It would be fun to see how DSM projects would look on the graph: obviously several times greater in terms of output, but would American DSM users be able to match Japanese hand-coders' defect rates? 20 times higher quality is a pretty tall order, even for DSM!

* Michael Cusumano, Alan MacCormack, Chris F. Kemerer, and William Crandall: Software Development Worldwide: The State of the Practice, IEEE Software Nov/Dec 2003.