Journal article Open Access

Quality attribute trade-offs in the embedded systems industry: an exploratory case study

Darius Sas; Paris Avgeriou

The embedded systems domain has grown exponentially over the past years. The industry is forced by the market to rapidly improve and release new products to beat the competition. Frenetic development rhythms thus shape this domain and give rise to several new challenges for software design and development. One of them is dealing with trade-offs between run-time and design-time quality attributes. To study practices, processes and tools concerning the management of run-time and design-time quality attributes as well as the trade-offs among them from the perspective of embedded systems software engineers. An exploratory case study with two qualitative data collection steps, namely interviews and a focus group, involving six different companies from the embedded systems domain with a total of twenty participants. The interviewed subjects showed a preference for run-time over design-time qualities. Trade-offs between design-time and run-time qualities are very common, but they are often implicit, due to the lack of adequate monitoring tools and practices. Practitioners prefer to deal with trade-offs in the most lightweight way possible, by applying ad-hoc practices, thus avoiding any overhead incurred. Finally, practitioners have elaborated on how they envision the ideal tool support for dealing with trade-offs. Although it is notoriously difficult to deal with trade-offs, constantly monitoring the quality attributes of interest with automated tools is key in making explicit and prudent trade-offs and mitigating the risk of incurring technical debt.

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