QUATIC 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, September 6-9, 2016
Implementing Process Improvement
in Very Small Enterprises with ISO/IEC 29110
A Multiple Case Study Analysis
Claude Y. Laporte
Department of Software and IT Engineering
École de technologie supérieure
Rory V. O’Connor
School of Computing
Dublin City University
Abstract— This paper outlines the details of nine case studies
involving the pilot usage of the new ISO/IEC 29110 Lifecycle
Profiles for Very Small Entities standards and guides, which
were specifically designed to address the standardization needs of
Very Small Entities. The purpose of this paper is to disseminate
the early success stories from pilot trials of this new and
emerging standard. The lessons learnt from these case studies
should assist the adoption of this new standard in an industrial
Keywords—ISO Standards, ISO/IEC 29110, VSE
In terms of software development, small and very small
companies typically have the challenge of handling multiple
small-scale, fast-moving projects, which allow little room for
heavy-weight management processes, but still requiring an
efficient and straightforward monitoring process . Moreover,
due to the small number of people involved in the project and
the organization, most of the management processes are
performed through an informal way  and less documented
. Furthermore there is an acknowledged lack of adoption of
standards in small and very small companies (for example see
studies such as ) as the perception is that they have been
developed for large software companies and not with the small
organisation in mind . The perception of heavyweight
processes, especially in terms of documentation, cost and
nonalignment with current development process, are among the
reasons why many companies do not plan to adopt a lifecycle
standard in the short to medium term .
Industry recognizes the value of Very Small Entities
(VSEs), i.e., enterprises, organizations (e.g. government
agencies and non-profit organizations), departments or projects
with up to 25 people, in contributing valuable products and
services. A large majority of enterprises worldwide are VSEs.
The term VSE has been defined as being “an enterprise,
organization, department or project having up to 25 people”
. Accordingly, the new standard ISO/IEC 29110 “Lifecycle
profiles for Very Small Entities” is aimed at meeting the
specific needs of VSEs . The overall objective of this new
standard is to assist and encourage very small software
organization in assessing and improving their software process.
The approach  used to develop ISO/IEC 29110 started with
the pre-existing international standards, such as the systems
and software life cycle standards ISO/IEC/IEEE 15288 and
ISO/IEC/IEEE 12207 and the documentation standard
The ISO/IEC working group behind the creation of this
ISO/IEC 29110 is encouraging the use of pilot projects as a
mean to accelerate the adoption of the standard by VSEs [10,
11]. To date a series of individual pilot projects (such as [12,
13]) have been completed in several countries, however this
paper brings together a series of 9 case studies of ISO/IEC
29110 implementations in a Canadian context in a more
comprehensive case study setting.
II. THE ISO/IEC 29110 STANDARD
A. Background history of ISO/IEC 29110
The overall approach  followed by the ISO/IEC JTC1
SC7 working group 24 mandated to develop the new set of
standards and guides for VSEs.
The basic requirements of a software development process
are that it should fit the needs of the project and aid project
success [15, 16]. And this need should be informed by the
situational context where in the project must operate and
therefore, the most suitable software development process is
contingent on the context [17, 18]. The core situational
characteristic  of the entities targeted by ISO 29110 (ISO
29110 hereon) is size.
At the core the Basic Profile of this standard is a
Management and Engineering Guide, officially know as
ISO/IEC TR 29110-5-1-2 , which focuses on Project
Management and Software Implementation as illustrated in
Figure 1. The purpose of the Basic Profile is to define Software
Implementation (SI) and Project Management (PM) processes
from a subset of ISO/IEC/IEEE 12207 and artefacts from
ISO/IEC/IEEE 15289 appropriate for VSEs. The main reason
to include project management is that the core business of
VSEs is software development and their financial success
depends on successful project completion within schedule and
on budget, as well as on making a profit.
QUATIC 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, September 6-9, 2016
As illustrated in figure 1, the customer’s statement of work
(SOW) is used to initiate the PM process. The project plan will
be used to guide the execution of the software requirements
analysis, software architectural and detailed design, software
construction, and software integration and test, and product
delivery activities. Verification, validation, and test tasks are
included in the SI process.
Fig. 1. ISO 29110 Basic profile processes and activities
The PM process closure activity will deliver the Software
Configuration (i.e. a set of software products such as
documentation and code) and will obtain the customer’s
acceptance to formalize the end of the project.
B. Deployment Assistance
A novel approach taken to assist VSEs with the deployment
of ISO 29110 and to provide guidance on the actual
implementation of the Management and Engineering Guides in
VSEs, a series of Deployment Packages (DPs) have been
developed to define guidelines and explain in more detail the
processes defined in the ISO 29110 profiles . The elements
of a typical DP are: description of processes, activities, tasks,
steps, roles, products, templates, checklists, examples,
references and mapping to standards and models, and a list of
tools. The mappings show that a deployment package has
explicit links to standards, such as ISO/IEC/IEEE 12207, or
models, such as the CMMI® for Development (CMMI-DEV).
Hence by implementing a DP, a VSE can see its concrete step
to achieve or demonstrate coverage .
DPs were designed such that a VSE can implement its
content, without having to implement the complete ISO/IEC
29110 framework, i.e. of all the management and engineering
activities, at the same time. A set of nine DPs have been
developed in English, translated in Czech and Spanish, to date
and are freely available from .
III. IMPLEMENTATION CASE STUDIES
In this section we will present a brief review of 9 case
studies of ISO 29110 implementations in a Canadian context.
The purpose of these case studies was to disseminate the early
success stories from pilot trials of this new and emerging
standard. The lessons learnt from these case studies should
assist the adoption of this new standard in an industrial setting.
A. Case 1: An IT Start-up
An implementation project has been conducted in an IT
start-up VSE by a team of two developers . Their web
application allows users to collaborate, share and plan their
trips simply and accessible to all. The use of the Basic profile
of ISO 29110 has guided the start-up to develop an application
of high quality while using proven practices of ISO 29110. The
total effort of this project was nearly 1000 hours expending
only 13 percent of the total project effort on rework (i.e.,
wasted effort). The two members of the team were assigned
roles and activities of ISO 29110.
This project has demonstrated that, by using ISO 29110, it
was possible to properly plan the project and develop the
software product using proven software practices documented
in standards as well as not interfering with the creativity during
the development of their web site. People who think that
standards are a burden, an unnecessary overhead and a threat to
creativity should look at this start-up project and revisit their
B. Case 2: A Canadian/Tunisian IT start-up
Metam is a company founded in 2013 by a software
engineering graduate student of ÉTS . The company has
one site in Canada and one site in Tunisia. Its business domains
are software development services, web solutions, mobile
applications as well as consulting services to implement ERP
solutions. The Basic profile of ISO 29110 was used as the
framework for the company’s software processes. It was also
used as a foundation to start the implementation of CMMI-
DEV level 2 practices since it is requested by some military
contracts. In 2016, the VSE had 20 employees (18 employees
working in Tunisia). The VSE is planning to conduct an
independent ISO 29110 audit in 2016.
C. Case 3: A large IT consulting firm
A department of 9 people, of a large consulting firm of
about 1,000 employees with 7 offices in Canada and one office
in France, implemented the Basic profile. The company
specializes in the design, implementation, integration, and
support of management and accounting solutions, and in the
development of e-business operations. Once a decision has
been made to implement the Basic profile in a division, an
informal assessment of the practices in used against the Basic
profile was performed.
The division decided to focus its efforts in the software
implementation process the Basic profile of ISO 29110. On a
part-time basis, a few employees developed and implemented a
series of templates and tools using mainly Jira and Sharepoint.
It took about 180 hours of effort, on a part-time basis, over a
period of 8 months to develop and deploy the updated
processes. The new tasks have been implemented gradually
over a period of 3 months. Since January 2015, all employees
of the division must use the updated processes. The division is
also looking to obtain an ISO 29110 certification.
D. Case 4: A large Canadian financial institution
The Cash Management IT department, of a large Canadian
financial institution, is responsible for the development and
maintenance of software tools used by traders. The software
Evalu atio n
QUATIC 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, September 6-9, 2016
team is composed of 6 people. Each year, the division is faced
with an increase in the numbers of requests to add, correct or
modify features related to supported applications. Before the
implementation of the ISO 29110-agile process, customers had
a series of complaints. In response to this problem, their
software process was evaluated by comparing the activities of
the maintenance process to those of the software Basic profile
of the ISO 29110. Some shortcomings were found in the
project management process and in the software
The new agile process, using the Basic profile of the ISO
29110, has been tested on three pilot projects. In this
organisation, an incident is classified as minor or major using a
set of criteria such as the number of impacted systems, the
severity, number of customers impacted and criticality of the
The new ISO 29110-agile process has been tested on three
pilot projects. The new process helped to significantly reduce
the number of major incidents caused by changes to the tools
of the traders. In this financial organisation, an incident is
classified as minor or major using a set of criteria such as the
number of impacted systems, the severity, number of
customers impacted and criticality of the impact. The criticality
is evaluated on a 1 (low impact) to 5 (high impact) scale .
Figure 2 illustrates the decrease in the numbers of systems
impacted as well as in the total criticality level.
Fig. 2. Reduction of the number of monthly incidents (Translated from
The users of the new process are delighted with the new
agile planning and control approach, which allows them to
better manage their priorities and to always know the status of
their requests. The maintenance team was also very pleased to
see an improvement in the quality of the change requests,
resulting in a noticeable decrease in the number of defects in
the software tools handed to traders.
E. Case 5: A division of a large Engineering Enterprise
A Canadian division of a large American engineering
company, the Transmission & Distribution of electricity
division, has implemented a program to define and implement
project management processes for their small-scale and
medium-scale projects . The division, composed of about
15 project managers, already had a robust and proven process
to manage their large-scale projects. The objectives of this
process improvement project were to reduce cost overruns and
project delays, standardize practices to facilitate the integration
of new managers, increase the level of customer satisfaction
and to reduce risk-related planning deviations.
Pilot projects have been conducted to test the project
management processes and associated support tools (e.g.
templates, checklists). The pilot projects consisted of running
three different projects where project managers implemented
the process and the associated tools. Managers then evaluated
the proposed processes, identified problems and potential
improvements. The lessons learned sessions conducted at the
end of the pilot projects have identified minor adjustments to
the processes and tools.
The engineering enterprise estimated that, over a three-year
timeframe, savings of about 780,000$ CAD would be realized
due to the implementation of project management processes
using the ISO 29110. The engineering firm is planning to
document and implement their systems engineering (SE)
processes with ISO 29110.
F. Case 6: An Automotive Enterprise
TM4 is a Canadian company of 140 people (14 software
engineers), designs and sells electric powertrain systems in the
automotive field. Their products are embedded software that
controls the operation of engines in real time and software that
controls the interactions between the components of a vehicle.
ISO 29110 was used in this effort to improve its processes.
A coverage analysis was conducted to establish the difference
between the practices in place and those proposed by the ISO
29110. A pilot project has been successfully completed in May
2015. New projects use the ISO 29110-based processes.
An economic impact assessment of the implementation of
ISO 298110 was conducted using the methodology developed
by ISO .
G. Case 7: A large electricity provider
The IT division of a large Canadian electricity provider
already has implemented process areas of the CMMI-DEV. A
small department within the IT division, the Mobility and
Georeferenced Solutions department, is composed of 6
developers and 3 analysts, an architect and a manager. Typical
projects of the department are requests from internal customers
to improve a few applications. Due to the increased area of
mobility, the small department was required to develop
applications more quickly, and with very different
technologies. Increasingly, the department had to develop
proof of concepts. The problem was that the deliverables
requested by the current methodology for typical projects of the
IT division were too numerous, the level of documentation
required was not suitable for small projects and small teams.
A project was launched within the small department to
tailor ISO 29110 to their needs and adapted to a Scrum
approach. A pilot project, involving the creation of a web
application for property management, has been conducted. This
application greatly facilitated geographic data consultation.
The use of ISO 29110 gave the team short and long-term
benefits. The use of proven practices quickly improved the
QUATIC 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, September 6-9, 2016
quality and quantity of the software application developed. By
centralizing the data of geographical maps, their customers no
longer have to update them. In addition, geographical
information is more uniform across the enterprise. The ISO
29110 pilot project allowed the small department of 11 people
to shine within the IT division, as it became a model for future
small IT projects. About 9.6% of the 1,500-hour project has
been expended on rework. For a large IT division, of close to
2000 people, the benefits of the ISO 29110 implementation are
always welcomed for a public utility provider.
H. Case 8: A medical R&D VSE
A project has been conducted to develop and implement a
quality management system for a medical R&D company of 15
employees. The VSE manufactures a family of neuronavigation
products which are used in over 400 laboratories around the
world in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, rehabilitation
research and veterinary sciences. This project improved the
business processes and implemented a quality management
system in accordance with the ISO 13485 medical standard.
This project used the ISO 29110 systems engineering Basic
profile to facilitate the implementation of ISO 13485. ISO
29110 has guided the VSE in the development of tools, guides
and templates. During this project, totalling more than 1,000
hours of effort, the implementation of the quality system was
planned; processes, guides and templates were defined in
collaboration with key resources of the company. A pilot
project was conducted to validate the adequacy of the
established process. The use of ISO 29110 systems engineering
Basic profile facilitated the implementation and the adaptation
of a standard such as ISO 13485 for a VSE.
I. Case 9: A young transportation company
This project was created to define and implement project
management and SE processes at CSinTrans Inc. (CSiT), a
Canadian company, created in 2011 . The company
specializes in the integration of interactive systems,
communication and security in the field of public transport
such as trains, subways and buses and railway stations, and
stations bus stops. ISO 29110 standards and guides for SE have
been used as the main reference for the development of the
processes . Systems, in the context of ISO 29110, are
typically composed of hardware and software components.
ISO 29110 standard has helped raise the maturity of the
young organization by implementing proven practices and
developing uniform work products. ISO 29110 was a good
starting point to align processes with selected level 2 and 3
practices of the CMMI model. Table 1 illustrates the percent of
coverage of CSiT’ processes to CMMI-DEV.
TABLE I. COVERAGE OF CSIT PROCESSES TO CMMI-DEV
CMMI Level 2 Process Areas Percentage of Coverage
Configuration Management 50-70%
Measure and Analysis 20-40%
Project Monitoring and Control 70-90%
Project Planning 70-90%
Process and Product Quality Assurance 45-65%
Requirements Management 90-100%
Supplier Agreement Management 70-90%
Compliance with the ISO standard allowed CSiT to be
recognized as producing quality products. ISO 29110 has also
helped in developing lightweight processes allowing the VSE
to remain flexible as well as its ability to react quickly to its
Recently, the processes of CSiT, based on the Basic Profile
of the ISO 29110, have been successfully audited by a third-
party audit composed of 2 independent auditors. One member
of the audit team was a SE domain expert. In 2016, CSiT had
J. Additional case studies
Table II lists organizations involved in additional
completed ISO 29110 implementation activities in Canada.
TABLE II. ADDITIONAL CANADIAN PROJECTS
organization Project Description
An enterprise specialized
in industrial process
A department of 13 employees
ISO 29110 Entry profile was used to
assess practices in use
The management of requirements
was the focus of the project
An IT start-up involved in
the development of web
A start-up of 4 employees
Documentation of the software
development process using the Basic
rofile of ISO 29110
A large civil engineering
and construction firm.
A department of 15 people
responsible for the development and
maintenance of software for the
other units of the company.
After an analysis of current practices
using the Entry profile of ISO
29110, the firm implemented a
change request management process
IV. LESSONS LEARNED AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A few lessons have been learned as a result of the
implementation of ISO 29110 in VSEs.
A one-person VSE can learn from ISO 29110 to better
organize work and produce quality software. But, it would be
a bit premature to implement both processes of ISO 29110. It
would be better to implement first the Software
Implementation process of the Entry profile.
Many VSEs have never collected process or product
measures. The ISO 29110 management and engineering
guides of the Entry and Basic profiles list the tasks associated
to the collection and use of measures (e.g. resource, cost,
time). Unfortunately, the Entry and Basic profile guides do not
provide information about how to collect and analyze
The Entry and Basic profiles present a project management
process and development process using a waterfall lifecycle
notation. A few VSEs that were using agile approaches
complained about the notation used. The new ISO 29110
guides indicate that they do not require the waterfall lifecycle,
leaving VSEs to use the lifecycle that best suits their needs.
QUATIC 2016, Lisbon, Portugal, September 6-9, 2016
The addition of an annex in the guides describing agile
approaches should facilitate its implementation.
For VSEs that are developing systems, i.e. where hardware
components must be purchased and integrated, the SE Basic
profile does not provide an acquisition process. Such a process
is included in the Intermediate and Advanced profiles. This
deficiency has been reported to the ISO WG24. The second
edition of the SE Basic profile will correct this deficiency.
Most young VSEs are usually staffed with competent
technical people. Unfortunately, technical people are usually
not well trained in the management of projects. As illustrated
in one case, a VSE may start the implementation of ISO 29110
by first deploying the project management process. Since all
tasks are targeted at the project manager, developers could
keep doing their technical tasks without having to do the
management tasks of ISO 29110.
VSEs are often intimidated by the list of work products of
the management and engineering guides. A VSE may select to
combine work products (e.g. verification results and validation
results) in one document.
For many VSEs, it could be difficult to transition from an
environment where processes are often improvised and not
documented, to an environment where activities, tasks, roles
and content of work products are defined. Sometime,
employees do not understand the need to work according to
the company's process, thinking that it may burdening their
tasks and slowdown their projects. Without a strong leadership
and commitment of management, the transition will not
happen by itself.
The implementation of ISO 29110 on an ongoing project
may create confusion amongst developers and managers.
Since a majority of projects conducted by VSEs are not very
long, a better approach would be to let a project reach
completion. Only new projects will be using ISO 29110.
Before implementing ISO 29110 in a project, a VSE
should adapt the terminology (e.g. work product, role) of the
selected management and engineering guide to fit to the
terminology currently used by the VSE.
The pilot case studies presented in this paper have
demonstrated that by using ISO 29110, it was possible to
properly plan and execute projects and develop products or
conduct projects using proven system or software engineering
practices, thus proving wrong the perception that a process
standard interfere with the creativity of software developers.
The relationship between the success of a software company
and the software process it utilized has been investigated [31,
32] showing the need for all organizations, not just VSEs to
pay attention to software process practices such as ISO
Work currently underway on audit and assessment
mechanisms for ISO 29110, a clear niche market need is
emerging which may force the process assessment community
to change their views on how process assessments are carried
out for VSEs. It is clear that the process assessment community
will have to rethink process assessment, new methods and
ideas for assessing processes in VSEs.
In 2009, it was proposed by the project editor of ISO 29110
to establish an informal interest group about education. Its
main objective is to develop a set of courses for software
undergraduate and graduate students such that students learn
about the ISO standards for VSEs before they graduate.
One way to develop standards professionals is by having
professional graduate students involved in the application and
improvement of international standards. At the École de
technologie supérieure, a 10,000-student engineering school of
Montréal, International Software Engineering Standards are
introduced and used in Software Quality Assurance and
Software Process Improvement courses and industrial projects
conducted by graduate professional software engineering and
IT students .
The role of education is a significant issue in ensuring that
the next generation of software project managers and software
process engineers are both familiar with the benefits of
standards, specifically in VSEs and the role of ISO 29110 in
particular. Such education programmes may assist with
addressing the perceived issues with standards adoption and the
lack of managerial commitment in adopting VSE standards. In
2016, over 15 countries are teaching ISO 29110. As an
example, ISO 29110 is taught in 10 universities of Thailand as
well as in undergraduate and graduates courses in Canada.
As ISO 29110 is an emerging standard there is much work
yet to be completed . The main remaining work item is to
finalize the development of the remaining two software profiles
of the Generic Profile Group: (a) Intermediate - targeted at
VSEs involved in the management of more than one project in
parallel with more than one work team (should be published by
ISO in 2016) and (b) Advanced - targeted at VSEs which want
to sustain and grow as an independent competitive system
and/or software development business. Once these software
profiles are ready, WG24 will develop matching SE profiles for
Similar to the existing set of software ISO 29110 TRs, the
systems engineering Management and Engineering Guides are
also available at no cost by ISO in English and French. A set of
systems engineering DPs and its application in a low-cost
autonomous rover has started . In addition, Japanese,
Portuguese, Spanish and Check ISO 29110 documents are
available on Internet. A German version of the Basic profile
will be published by DIN next year.
The following Web site provides more information, as well
as articles by WG24 members and deployment packages for
software and systems engineering:
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