Draft of my thesis abstract

I begun writing my thesis, which means I’m finally at the last stretch of my PhD; if all goes well I will be submitting the thesis to my committee in May. I thought I should share the current version of my abstract here –but please note that it can still change quite a bit. I’d love to get your thoughts on it:

A Theory of Shared Understanding for Software Organizations

Although we have known since the early days of our field that effective team coordination and communication are essential to the success of software projects, research in the area has been traditionally scarce, fragmented, and lacking in theoretical foundations. In recent years, however, there have been more efforts to advance our understanding of the problem and they are increasingly sophisticated, coalescing around a few theoretical stances, assumptions, and constructs.

According to a promising but still underdeveloped paradigm, software teams face a constant struggle to share and negotiate an understanding about their status, information, goals, and plans. This thesis articulates a theory based on this paradigm, explores it in depth, and argues that an emphasis on the development of shared understanding is more than a convenient way to characterize team dynamics: it addresses the fundamental elements of our coordination and communication problems and it revisits our processes, practices, and tools with a fresh and useful perspective. The resulting theory presents processes and documentation as poor substitutes for simpler, cheaper, and more informal but less scalable coordination and communication mechanisms; it values practices and tools to the extent that they foster common ground and group cohesion; and it challenges the desirability of organizational growth, since the ability to maintain a shared understanding and cohesion in an organization decreases as the organization itself grows.

The theory is developed and supported with empirical evidence collected from five case studies of a wide variety of software organizations. The thesis links this theory to other current research efforts and shows that the Shared Understanding theory complements and enhances them by providing a more solid theoretical foundation and by reclaiming the relevance of rich and informal interactions in software development teams.

About Jorge Aranda

I'm currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the SEGAL and CHISEL labs in the Department of Computer Science of the University of Victoria.
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7 Responses to Draft of my thesis abstract

  1. Christoph says:

    Excellent work! You’re a few steps ahead of me🙂

    Based on my studies so far, I absolutely agree with putting an emphasis on the development of shared understanding. I guess it depends somewhat on the various roles of developers though, i.e. not everybody needs to “understand” the same things? Or are you focusing on the things that they all need to share?

    I’m also wondering why “simpler, cheaper, and more informal” coordination and communication mechanisms would be “less scalable”?

    I wish you all the best with the final stretch!

    • Jorge says:

      Thanks Christoph!

      My replies — yes, not everyone needs to understand the same things. They only need to have a shared understanding of their shared situations.

      As for your other question, I’ll answer with an example: one of the simple, cheap, and informal mechanisms is to have everyone share the same workspace (the same room, basically). But with teams larger than a dozen or so people you’ll need to split up…

  2. Christoph says:

    Thanks for the clarification! Trapped in my own thought world of Web 2.0 mechanisms, I had translated “informal” into tool features such as wikis and tags. I obviously agree with the single room argument.

    This is exciting work! I’d love to read chapters as they come out over the next months…

  3. Neil says:

    I have to say I’m curious how you will incorporate your papers into this framework.

    • Jorge says:

      Yeah, well, it wasn’t easy😛

      But seriously, the argument really stands based on the small companies study and my most recent (unpublished) study. The other three (Microsoft, IBM, and scientific groups) are only relevant to specific parts of the argument.

  4. steve Waweru says:

    Well done Jorge,

    Just strecth it to the end, you are almost there,

    I consider your research to be a big step forward for small software houses mostly when it comes to quality,

    thanks steve.

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