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A Theory of Shared Understanding for Software Organizations

Effective coordination and communication are essential to the success of software organizations, but their study to date has been impaired by theoretical confusion and fragmentation. I articulate a theory that argues that the members of software organizations face a constant struggle to share and negotiate an understanding of their goals, plans, status, and context. This struggle lies at the heart of their coordination and communication problems. The theory proposes an analysis of organizational strategies based on four attributes of interaction that foster the development of shared understanding: synchrony, proximity, proportionality, and maturity. Organizations that have values, structures, and practices which facilitate these qualities find it easier to coordinate and communicate effectively.

This argument has serious implications for traditional concepts in our literature. Project lifecycle processes and documentation are poor substitutes for informal but unscalable coordination and communication mechanisms. Practices and tools are valuable to the extent that they enable the development of shared understanding across our criteria. Co-location and group cohesion take advantage of the four criteria and therefore have direct advantages for software teams. Finally, growth is detrimental to the effectiveness of the organization because it hinders the use of small-scale mechanisms and it leads to an undesirable formalization.

The theory is supported with empirical evidence collected from five case studies of a wide variety of software organizations, and it has explanatory and predictive power. The thesis links this theory to other current research efforts and shows that it complements and enhances them by providing a more solid theoretical foundation and by reclaiming the relevance of synchronous, proximate, proportionate, and mature interactions in software organizations.
Date15 February 2011
CreatorsAranda Garcia, Jorge
ContributorsEasterbrook, Steve
Source SetsLibrary and Archives Canada ETDs Repository / Centre d'archives des thèses électroniques de Bibliothèque et Archives Canada
Detected LanguageEnglish

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