Does the level of detail of UML diagrams affect the maintainability of source code? A family of experiments
Journal article, 2016

Although the UML is considered to be the de facto standard notation with which to model software, there is still resistance to model-based development. UML modeling is perceived to be expensive and not necessarily cost-effective. It is therefore important to collect empirical evidence concerning the conditions under which the use of UML makes a practical difference. The focus of this paper is to investigate whether and how the Level of Detail (LoD) of UML diagrams impacts on the performance of maintenance tasks in a model-centric approach. A family of experiments consisting of one controlled experiment and three replications has therefore been carried out with 81 students with different abilities and levels of experience from 3 countries (The Netherlands, Spain, and Italy). The analysis of the results of the experiments indicates that there is no strong statistical evidence as to the influence of different LoDs. The analysis suggests a slight tendency toward better results when using low LoD UML diagrams, especially if used for the modification of the source code, while a high LoD would appear to be helpful in understanding the system. The participants in our study also favored low LoD diagrams because they were perceived as easier to read. Although the participants expressed a preference for low LoD diagrams, no statistically significant conclusions can be drawn from the set of experiments. One important finding attained from this family of experiments was that the participants minimized or avoided the use of UML diagrams, regardless of their LoD. This effect was probably the result of using small software systems from well-known domains as experimental materials.

Controlled experiment

software maintenance


Family of


Level of detail

Computer Science


UML diagrams


Software maintenance


Ana M. Fernández-Sáez

University of Castilla, La Mancha

Leiden University

Marcela Genero

University of Castilla, La Mancha

D. Caivano

University of Bari Aldo Moro

Michel Chaudron

University of Gothenburg

Empirical Software Engineering

1382-3256 (ISSN) 1573-7616 (eISSN)

Vol. 21 1 212-259

Subject Categories

Computer Engineering

Areas of Advance

Information and Communication Technology



More information

Latest update