The Role of Site Visits in Software Engineering Teams

A large number of Software Engineering teams are virtual, which are characterised by various types of distances such geographical, culture, temporal, and knowledge. Such distances can cause a number of small and big challenges that lead sub-optimal development teams or event project failures. Software engineering researchers and practitioners have been researching and debating the cost and benefits of site visits for enabling software development teams to spend time together in order to get to know each other professionally and personally. It is argued that such visits result in establishing and growing trust that is important for successful teams. However, software development managers always find it hard to make a strong enough case for investing such visits. We have carried out a longitudinal case study focused on the socio-ethnical dynamics and potential benefits of site visits in terms of enhanced trust and cooperation among team members who came from entirely different regions, culture, region, and socio-economic background. Our study has found very useful insights for software development managers and researchers. We are sharing the details of our study through the pre-print copy of our paper, whose abstract is provided here.

Context: Face-to-Face (F2F) interaction is a strong means to foster social relationships and effective knowledge sharing within a team. However, communication in Global Software Development (GSD) teams is usually restricted to computer- mediated conversation that is perceived to be less effective and interpersonal. Temporary collocation of dispersed members of a software development team is a well-known practice in GSD. Despite broad realization of the benefits of visits, there is lack of empirical evidence that explores how temporary F2F interactions are organized in practice and how they can impact knowledge sharing between sites.

Objective: This study aimed at empirically investigating activities that take place during temporary collocation of dispersed members and analyzing the outcomes of the visit for supporting and improving knowledge sharing.

Method: We report a longitudinal case study of a GSD team distributed between Denmark and Pakistan. We have explored a particular visit organized for a group of offshore team members visiting onshore site for two weeks. Our findings are based on a systematic and rigorous analysis of the calendar entries of the visitors during the studied visit, several observations of a selected set of the team members’ activities during the visit and 13 semi-structured interviews.

Results: Looking through the lens of knowledge-based theory of the firm, we have found that social and professional activities organized during the visit, facilitated knowledge sharing between team members from both sites. The findings are expected to contribute to building a common knowledge and understanding about the role and usefulness of the site visits for supporting and improving knowledge sharing in GSD teams by establishing and sustaining social and professional ties.