Communication and Organization in Software Development: An Empirical Study

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The empirical study described in this paper addresses the issue of communication among members of a software development organization. The independent variables are various attributes of organizational structure. The dependent variable is the effort spent on sharing information which is required by the software development process in use. The research questions upon which the study is based ask whether or not these attributes of organizational structure have an effect on the amount of communication effort expended.
In addition, there are a number of blocking variables which have been identified. These are used to account for factors other than organizational structure which may have an effect on communication effort. The study uses both quantitative and qualitative methods for data collection and analysis. These methods include participant observation, structured interviews, and graphical data presentation. The results of this study indicate that several attributes of organizational structure do affect communication effort, but not in a simple, straightforward way. In particular, the distances between communicators in the reporting structure of the organization, as well as in the physical layout of offices, affects how quickly they can share needed information, especially during meetings. These results provide a better understanding of how organizational structure helps or hinders communication in software development.

This work was supported in part IBM's Centre for Advanced Studies, and by NASA grant NSG-5123.

(Also cross-referenced as UMIACS-TR-96-23)