The hidden experts in software-engineering communication (NIER track)

This article isn’t a new publication but I thought I’d provide some information about it here. I did this work by analyzing email communication between team members within a large, multinational organization: almost 5000 emails in all, sent all across the organization.

We found that many email discussions involved people who were included in the discussion thread only after the first email was sent! This was surprising because I thought, initially, that if you emailed people about a topic you’d put all of them in the To/CC of the first message. Instead, in this organization, in 57% of the threads someone added a new recipient to the To/CC list as the thread went on.

In addition, I examined the messages and identified four main situations why emergence occurred:

  • Crisis: There was a big crisis situation, and the message was being passed to as many people as possible so that someone, anyone, might have information that will help.
  • Explicit requests: In the discussion, there was a specific request that a person who was not initially included in the message be involved or undergo a task. This is quite common for expertise-seeking; some people would realise that they couldn’t solve a problem and CC a third-party for help.
  • Announcements: Announcements were large-scale announcements of some sort, and had to reach large numbers of people.
  • Following-up: After a particular event, a message would be sent following up on the event. If there were people involved in the event who were not initially invited, they were included on follow-up emails.

There were a number of takeaways that affect my email habits even now – I try to ensure that people are CCed right from the start, and if someone asks me to recommend someone they should talk to, rather than simply telling them that they should speak with Person X, I actually CC Person X as part of my reply.

ACM DL Author-ize serviceThe hidden experts in software-engineering communication (NIER track)

Irwin Kwan, Daniela Damian
ICSE ’11 Proceedings of the 33rd International Conference on Software Engineering, 2011

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