Acquiring and sharing tacit knowledge in software development teams: An empirical study
Ryan, Sharon M. and O'Connor, Rory (2013) Acquiring and sharing tacit knowledge in software development teams: An empirical study. Information and Software Technology, 55 (9). pp. 1614-1624. ISSN 0950-5849
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Context: Sharing expert knowledge is a key process in developing software products. Since expert knowledge is mostly tacit, the acquisition and sharing of tacit knowledge along with the development of a transactive memory system (TMS) are significant factors in effective software teams.
Objective: We seek to enhance our understanding human factors in the software development process and provide support for the agile approach, particularly in its advocacy of social interaction, by answering two questions: How do software development teams acquire and share tacit knowledge? What roles do tacit knowledge and transactive memory play in successful team performance? Method: A theoretical model describing the process for acquiring and sharing tacit knowledge and development of a TMS through social interaction is presented and a second predictive model addresses the two research questions above. The elements of the predictive model and other demographic variables were incorporated into a larger online survey for software development teams, completed by 46 software SMEs, consisting of 181 individual team members.
Results: Our results show that team tacit knowledge is acquired and shared directly through good quality social interactions and through the development of a TMS with quality of social interaction playing a greater role than transactive memory. Both TMS and team tacit knowledge predict effectiveness but not efficiency in software teams.
Conclusion: It is concluded that TMS and team tacit knowledge can differentiate between low- and high-performing teams in terms of effectiveness, where more effective teams have a competitive advantage in developing new products and bringing them to market. As face-to-face social interaction is key, collocated, functionally rich, domain expert teams are advocated rather than distributed teams, though arguably the team manager may be in a separate geographic location provided that there is frequent communication and effective use of issue tracking tools as in agile teams.
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