Code isn’t the Only Thing that Improves Through Peer Review
Test and Monitor | Posted October 17, 2013

Just as with code, peer review of other development artifacts improves quality

The complexity, quantity, and speed of software development has increased dramatically over the past few decades. There are many new and updated development processes and philosophies on the scene that try to help. Indeed, process evolution has improved many teams’ code design, development, and test work. But whether your team uses an Agile implementation like Scrum or XP, uses a waterfall methodology, or uses a hybrid approach, your team undoubtedly has a variety of documents it uses to plan, communicate, and track activities.

Why shouldn’t project artifacts beyond code also be subject to peer review and improvement? If non-code project documents were reviewed and critiqued with the same rigor as code perhaps project quality, speed to market, and customer satisfaction could improve.

As most of you know SmartBear specializes in software development and testing tools. What you may not know is that our popular code review tool Collaborator can be adopted by people on the extended team beyond those who write code. People in roles such as test, product management, and even business analysis can become more effective team members. Collaborator allows them to invite functional peers and extended team members to participate in controlled and auditable reviews of their Microsoft Word and Excel and PDF project artifacts.

Let’s look at four categories of project artifact that could benefit from peer review.

User Stories and Feature Descriptions

Whether your development process uses a list of feature descriptions, user stories, traditional Product or Market Requirements documents (PRDs or MRDs) or a combination thereof, these project artifacts need peer review. And if they are created with Microsoft Word or Excel (or in another tool that exports summaries or reports into these formats or PDF), Collaborator allows for a thorough, controlled, and auditable peer review for things such as:

  • Clarifying what a user or feature intention is
  • Increasing team cohesion by allowing wider-than-usual team insight and participation in the process
  • Uncovering problematic areas earlier by using more sets of eyes
  • Clarifying what the test parameters need to be earlier than before

Test Plans

Some teams use custom Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as an exclusive test-plan development, execution, and reporting system. Other teams use dedicated test solutions that can output reports, such as quality metrics and other worksheets and documents, as part of their process. In either case providing your testing peers and members of the wider project team an interactive and auditable way to review test plans, interim results, and final conclusions during your development process can be extraordinarily valuable.


Depending on the kind of project you are working on, a variety of reports from many sources may be a part of the planning, development, and test process. Reports may not relate directly to code, but could impact the project. For example, if the deliverable is software for industrial environmental controls, you may have reports of real-world conditions that different members of an extended team—not just programmers—need to analyze and discuss during the design phase. Or an engineer concerned with computer processor performance during certain tasks may need to examine usage reports. In either of these examples or others, being able to collectively view, comment on, and review reports in a collaborative and auditable way will improve the project.

Schedule and Cost-to-date Snapshots and Post Mortem Reviews

Examining planned schedules and budgets and comparing snapshots of planned versus actual efforts is an important part of any software methodology. By enabling functional peers and the wider team to review and comment on these artifacts collaboratively, in real-time or offline, a team can better determine if an issue is a comprehensive problem or if it is simply a temporary spike. These kinds of reviews can help address team cohesion, improve accountability, and address cost overruns more effectively. They can also reduce meeting time, as a wider team can access, review, comment, and iterate on the documents or spreadsheets more efficiently.

What other non-code document or spreadsheet artifacts are part of your development process that would benefit from peer review?

SmartBear Collaborator 8.2

SmartBear’s Collaborator already supported Microsoft Word and PDF for formal, iterative review and signoff processes. With Collaborator 8.2, Microsoft Excel support has been added so cross-functional team members can inject a highly controlled, auditable, formal peer and expert review of key artifacts used in their chosen development approach. The peer-review tasks enabled in Collaborator’s new Excel support have already been honed and proven in code review processes.

Among other things, SmartBear Collaborator 8.2 allows:

  • Multiple reviewers to see both data and formulas and make context sensitive, cell specific comments and queries and specific change suggestions.
  • Reviews to happen in real-time or asynchronously in one or more locations.
  • Comments to be attributed to specific individuals with a date and time stamp, and to be read in the order they were made.
  • You to set up a hierarchy of individuals and groups doing the reviewing.
  • A single review copy to comment on, eliminating version control issues of the spreadsheet being reviewed.
  • A re-work and re-review workflow.
  • Electronic signatures for audit and owner or manager responsibility and accountability.

SmartBear Collaborator doesn’t enforce a new, different development workflow—it just adds a formal way to create iterative and auditable peer review and approval processes within your chosen development methodology. When signed off on, artifact owners can then mirror the agreed on changes in an updated spreadsheet or document and return it to the source code control or document management systems already deployed in your organization.

Add Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and PDF file peer review to your development process

Download and try SmartBear Collaborator 8.2 as a free trial.  See how easy and flexible it can be to add document and spreadsheet peer review processes to your organization’s existing development methodology and workflow.

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