The Role of Domain Knowledge and Cross-Functional Communication in Socio-Technical Coordination

Our recent ICSE paper has been accepted and I’ve made it available online here as a pre-print version: ICSE2013-DomainKnowledge-Paper38.pdf.

The paper discusses an investigation into the spread of domain knowledge, as well as specific cross-functional knowledge across two different global software teams. Essentially, there are two kinds of “structures” internally that may guide project communication. First, there’s the cross-functional communication structure, where people within the same roles are allowed to communicate but people of different roles need to communicate via certain team members (usually team leaders) to avoid misunderstandings. There’s also communication across task assignments as well.

One team had relatively experienced team members and a dense communication structure whereas the other team had inexperienced team members and a siloed communication structure. We identified that people with domain knowledge were more often involved in communication. We also identified brokers in both teams who mediated knowledge from person to person – these brokers spanned multiple application domains in our case studies. Surprisingly, team members followed the cross-functional communication structure, but they did not always follow the expected task assignments. We hope these results can help facilitate knowledge sharing and knowledge management in these types of teams.

Abstract: Software projects involve diverse roles and artifacts that have dependencies to requirements. Project team members in different roles need to coordinate but their coordination is affected by the availability of domain knowledge, which is distributed among different project members, and organizational structures that control cross-functional communication. Our study examines how information flowed between different roles in two software projects that had contrasting distributions of domain knowledge and different communication structures. Using observations, interviews, and surveys, we examined how diverse roles working on requirements and their related artifacts coordinated along task dependencies. We found that communication only partially matched task dependencies and that team members that are boundary spanners have extensive domain knowledge and hold key positions in the control structure. These findings have implications on how organizational structures interfere with task assignments and influence communication in the project, suggesting how practitioners can adjust team configuration and communication structures.

Daniela Damian, Remko Helms, Irwin Kwan, Sabrina Marczak, and Benjamin Koelewijn. “The Role of Domain Knowledge and Cross-Functional Communication in Socio-Technical Coordination”, to appear in the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), May 18-26, 2013, San Francisco, USA.

Download ICSE2013-DomainKnowledge-Paper38.pdf.


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