Making Peer Reviews Work for You

Technical peer reviews are a powerful quality tool, but they’re a bit tricky. Here are 8 critical success factors and some traps to avoid.

Karl Wiegers
Analyst’s corner
Published in
8 min readNov 14, 2019

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I’ve been a fan of software peer reviews and inspections for more than 30 years. I’ve seen the benefits, and I’ve learned something from every review I’ve been in. Peer reviews are a vital component of a software development culture that is focused on quality.

Simply asking a colleague to look over something you’ve created is a great start. Establishing a peer review program and weaving reviews into the cultural fabric of an organization takes time, though. A new review process is fragile, being easily disrupted by unpleasant experiences (“my reviewers treated me like an idiot”) or ineffective results (“we wasted all that time and didn’t find a single major bug”).

Peer reviews are tricky, as they involve technical, social, and cultural dimensions. This article describes eight factors that can make a review program work and points out several traps to avoid.

Critical Success Factors

The people involved and their attitude toward quality are the greatest contributors to a review program’s success. The first critical factor is for your team members to prefer to have peers, rather than customers, find defects. Your “customers” include anyone whose work is based on your deliverable, such as a tester who will develop system tests from a requirements specification.

Practitioners must appreciate the many benefits that peer reviews can provide, including early defect removal, reduced late-stage rework, document quality assessment, cross-training, and process improvements for defect prevention. Once your team members understand cost-of-quality and return-on-investment concepts, they can overcome barriers such as the perception that adding reviews to the project schedule delays delivery.

Even motivated team members will struggle to perform reviews if you don’t obtain management commitment. Commitment isn’t simply a matter of giving permission or saying “Everybody do reviews.” You don’t need permission! Management commitment includes establishing policies and goals; providing resources…

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Karl Wiegers
Analyst’s corner

Author of 14 books, mostly on software. PhD in organic chemistry. Guitars, wine, and military history fill the voids. karlwiegers.com and processimpact.com