Factors and Effects of Communication in Distributed Software Development

Literature Review, 2014

56 Pages

Ivaldir Honório de Farias Júnior (Author)





Research Method

The Results So Far

Analysis of Results

Proposal of Good Practices

Final Considerations

Tertiary Study Limitations




The global interaction based on the sharing of information and knowledge, and advances in communication technologies, have changed the concept of economy and society - consumers become producers, and producers become consumers of content, goods and services in a new global economic model, without restrictions or barriers, induced by a process of massive collaboration, say Tapscott and Williams in Teixeira (2012). In its turn, the “Information Society” has become a natural stage in the evolutionary and social development of people, in a world increasingly interconnected by new technologies. Manuel Castells adds to that, asserting that the web allowed interest groups and network projects to overcome time-costs problems associated to the chaotic pre-www information, as, in this basis, groups, individuals and organizations could interact significantly with what has become, literally, a wide world web of interactive and individualized communication. Thence, a new social conscience is created, which will be used by an net society, at local and global levels, crossing both communication contexts, constituting a collaborative e interactive global network. In other sense, the geographical boundaries are diluted, the world today is interconnected by the simultaneity of the new information and communication technologies.

In other sense, the literature and industrial practice reveal that the Distributed Software Development (DSD) is becoming a reality in most large organizations, in search of improvements in quality, productivity and cost reduction. However, although several (primary and secondary) studies have produced results for the communication process in DSD design, there is still a lack of a Systematic Tertiary Study to provide subsidies for further research and improvement on industrial practice. Our book aims at a conceptual approach concerning DSD design and consolidates knowledge about the communication process in DSD projects, especially the factors that influence the communication, the effects of communication in DSD projects and the relationship between factors and effects.

Erran Carmel (1999) in “Global Software Teams – Collaborating Across Borders and Time-Zones”, covers the definition of global and virtual development teams and the most essential aspects to be considered when creating a DSD workgroup. The author suggests the existence of five categories that may lead a distributed team in the decline or failure of the project. They are: inefficient communication, lack of coordination, geographic dispersion, loss of workgroup spirit and cultural differences, called centrifugal force. In this sense, we will explore the communication in DSD in our book based on systematic Literature Review.

The global software development generated a new era in software development by eliminating boundary of development team in recent decade. However, distributed software development has its own challenges and implementation of agile software development in it further brings the challenges due to their contradictory practices, concludes Bhalerao and Ingle (2009).


The term “Cybernetics” stems from the Greek “kubernetes” (steersman, that who steers, who controls, who governs), which was designed by the philosopher Plato[1]. Historically, the conceptual prelude acknowledged by the international scientific community is credited to Norbert Wiener in his “Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine”, published in 1948. However, Wiener (1984) recognizes that the word had already been used by the French physicist André-Marie Ampère (Cybernétique, in 1834), in a Science Political context. Laclau and Luhmann (2006, p.52) are categorical in asserting that Wiener’s connotation was different from Ampère’s one, because he defines cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine”. Chiavenato (2004) states that as well as an applied science, it was limited to the creation of machines of self-regulating behaviour with similar aspects to human or animal behaviour (such as a robot, a computer - which was called “electronic brain” - , and a radar, based on bats behaviour; a plane autopilot, etc). Subsequently, according to the same researcher, cybernetics applications were extended to other scientific areas, such as Engineering, Biology, Medicine, Psychology, Mathematics, Sociology and Computer Science.

At this time, Cyber Era sprang up, thus becoming the parent of cyberspace, cyberschool, cyberdemocracy, cyberpunk, cyberpolitics, cyberlaw, cybercommunication, cybersociety…, which are, in Norman Lee Johnson’s perception, prodigal elements of symbiotic intelligence, and which are also so much discussed in the literary works of Douglas Hofstadter, Peter Russell, Jean Baudrillard, Gottfried Mayer-Kress, Howard Bloom, Steven Johnson, Pierre Lévy, as Collective Intelligence (synonym for cyberculture). Nevertheless, robots, computers and their electronic components preceded modern cybernetics, and they were responsible for the evolution from mass society (industrialized and mediatised) to the network society (communitarian and globalized).

In the 60’s and 70’s, computing was developed in research universities and labs, which were a privilege for a few ones. Thus, in these research centres, some selective visionary and enthusiast programmers groups were established, such as Robert Noyce, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniack and Bill Gates, the so called Silicon Valley residents[2]. In 1960, Theodor Holm Nelson brings about the computing “eureka moment”[3] through the Project Xanadu (theoretical basis to the World Wide Web and network communication). Inspired by Memex[4], a work by scientist Vannevar Bush, in 1963 Ted established the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia”, which were published in 1965 in “Complex information processing: A file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate”. In the hypertext, he clearly paraphrases Memex ground basis in order to make up for human memory limitations through informational trails interrelated by association in words, terms, acronyms and ideas in a non-linear way. In its turn, hypermedia, as an extension of the hypertext concept, is a combination of multiple media elements (text, audio, video and image) sustained by a computational structure and mediated by synchronous and asynchronous digital communication systems. In the following years, the terms “link” and “hyperlink” emerged to refer to an electronic hypertext document or to a specific element within another different document.

In 1970, the counterculture movements interpreted hyperlink principles as a way of unite people through communication by preaching non-violence (caused by Vietnam War). At the same time, the international Oil Crisis and the Watergate scandal[5] motivated media technological development and, once again, the global communication for the exchange of information and news between geographically dispersed countries. Coincidentally, Barbosa and Canesso (2004) point out that at this time a civic motion arises aiming at the creation of network communities in North America (Teixeira, 2012).

From 1972 to 1974, some movements sprang up in Berkeley and San Francisco (California), such as “Computers for the People” and “Community Memory”[6], respectively. The latter was intended to create a network of shared information, similar to an electronic bulletin board without a central control, where people could enter information (Wiki prototype)[7] or read it in the most convenient way to each of them (Torres, 2011). To do so, they used a terminals network spread throughout the Pacific States[8], i.e. Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. This project represented the development of alternative media that could be used by the community to produce information related to their common needs and interests, i.e. an attempt to use computer communication effectiveness to serve the community (ibidem). In addition, as pointed out by Barbosa and Canesso (2004), it became a model for network communities around the world, usually established to make easier the free exchange of information, such as libraries and philanthropic entities, which exchanged information through e-mails, forum debates and texts writing (collective authorship). Cyberculture flourishes in this scenario, being its genesis influenced by the first network communication movements.

1.2 Simulacres et Simulation in Information Society

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a new sociocultural movement, originated by young professionals in big American cities and universities, reached a global dimension, and with no agency to limit that process, the different computer networks developed in the 70’s joined together, while the number of people and computers connected to the network grew very fast (Vanassi, 2007). Thirty years of continuous growth of society and collective intelligence virtualization led to the Millennial Generation (or Generation Y), going from the operating system ENQUIRE development, by Timothy John Berners-Lee, and following Ted Nelson’s Xanadu and Hypertetx principles to culminate in the World Wide Web, in 1989. Progressively, the Web evolved from a static guideline (1.0) to a collaborative one (2.0), and after that to a guideline of contents portability, information connectivity and programming languages integration (3.0). Experts already talk about an artificial intelligence Web (4.0), as foreseen by Anandarajan and Anandarajan (2010). At the same time, numerous interactive resources are developed for the Internet and media digitalization.

But such a phenomenon, as Jean Baudrillard writes in his “Simulacres et Simulation”, does not necessarily represent the techno-cultural-communicative excellence. According to this work, reality does not exist anymore, and we are now living its representation, widespread by the media and mass media in post-modern society (Revista Superinteressante, 2005). Being ironic, but well-reasoned, Baudrillard stands for the theory that we live in a time in which symbols are more important than reality itself. This phenomenon leads to the so called “simulacra” – bad reality simulations that, contradictorily, are more attractive to the audience than the imitated object itself (ibidem), what, in the words of Haesbaert (2004), causes feelings of dispossession and multiterritoriality. Baudrillard’s philosophical critique particularly falls upon the consumer society and the media overvaluation, and he also rejects the Global Village concept, which he thinks is a distant and utopian reality.

Paralelly, Mark Bauerlein goes further in his “The dumbest generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future”, by accusing the digital era of stupefying and idiotizing American young people through anomy, isolation, addiction and cognitive overload. Other authors, like Oliveira (2011), do not agree completely with Baudrillard or Bauerlein, arguing that the digital generation has its pros and cons, as well as past generations and the current generation Z (the connectivity generation). Relations between humans, work and intelligence itself depend on the constant metamorphosis of information devices of all kinds: writing, reading, watching, hearing, creating, learning are captured by a more advanced informatics, and it is no longer possible to conceive scientific research without a complex tool, that distributes old divisions between experience and theory (Lévy, 2010).

In fact, the need of new sociability behaviours promoted new ways of technological development, changing, shifting and creating unusual relations between Man and information and communication technologies (Lemos, 2003). This was exactly what happened at the turn of the 20th century to 21st century when many revolutionary network communication electronic devices were developed. As a consequence of globalization and technological growth, the subsequent multiculturalism established a new social structure, consisting of different kinds of people and corporations, guided by interactions, collaborations and knowledge exchange in the newly adult virtual universe. On this matter, Paul Virilio calls attention to the temporal dispersion and the loss of sense of reality in cyberspace, some kind of an atopy to the digital natives, deeply absorbed by a great amount of endless information. On the other hand, Howe (2009, p.10) writes that, raised on the basis of social media and always connected to the Internet, digital natives are simultaneously engaged in numerous projects; they easily and spontaneously work together with people they have never seen in their lives and, above all, they create media with the same enthusiasm that previous generations consumed them: “It is a crowdsourcing community, a crowd perfectly adapted to the future in which online communities will overcome the conventional corporations”. New technologies also help to “connect” people from different cultures outside the virtual space, what was unthinkable fifty years ago. In this giant relationships web, we mutually absorb each other’s beliefs, customs, values, laws and habits, cultural legacies perpetuated by a physical-virtual dynamics in constant metamorphosis (Teixeira, 2013).

Apart from the criticism, with no ideological idyll, we conclude that new lifestyles are permeated by a global culture that enhances new sociability ways in the contemporary world through digital technologies (“sine qua non” principle of the so called “Cyberculture”). In other words, it is a cultural virtualization of human reality as a result of the migration from physical to virtual space (mediated by the ICTs), ruled by codes, signs and particular social relationships. Forwards, arise instant ways of communication, interaction and possible quick access to information, in which we are no longer mere senders, but also producers, reproducers, co-workers and providers. New technologies also help to “connect” people from different cultures outside the virtual space, what was unthinkable fifty years ago. In this giant relationships web, we mutually absorb each other’s beliefs, customs, values, laws and habits, cultural legacies perpetuated by a physical-virtual dynamics in constant metamorphosis (ibidem).

To Sailwal (2009), contemporaneously, in global market, software companies are forced to compete with each other and must sustain their competitiveness. Software companies outsource or offshore their work leading to the formation of distributed teams to cut down development costs, availability of skilled labor force, reduce time-to-market of their products, risk sharing, etc. “Despite the fact that distributed software development offers many benefits to software companies, the developers do come across several challenges like culture difference, loss of communication richness, geographical dispersion, coordination breakdown, loss of teamness and time zone differences. Information and communication technologies can minimize these problems but managing the knowledge that exists between the team members, processes, culture, and working environment of the software company is also important”, consider the author (p.2).

1.3 Distributed Software Development: Strategies to Business

In recent years, we noticed a movement towards globalization. In particular, the Information Technology (IT) sector has become an important and stimulating sector for organizations, where it is possible to simplify production processes using some solutions in this sector, which consequently increase productivity in organizations. Therefore, this sector has just become a competitive differential among companies, in order to minimize costs and use geographically dispersed resources. This quest for increasing competitiveness has driven organizations to the investment in Distributed Software Development (DSD) (Herbsleb & Moitra, 2001) environments, where great efforts have been made towards research in this context (Prikladnicki, Damian & Audy, 2008).

DSD has been stimulated worldwide and an increasingly significant number of organizations have distributed their processes around the world (Herbsleb, 2007; Carmel, 2005) due to the particularities that differentiate it from traditional development. According to Betz and Makio (2007), about 40% of the distributed projects fail because of their complexity and greater challenges, which make project management more difficult, thus being necessary to use methods, processes and tools which are more suitable for the software engineering distributed context (Binder, 2007; Komi—Sirvio & Tihnen, 2005; Pichler, 2007).

DSD is characterized by physical distance and/or different time-zone among those involved (client, user and team) in the process of software development (Audy & Prikladnicki, 2007). This physical and temporal separation entails some advantages, but it also brings some challenges related to communication, coordination and cooperation in carrying out tasks such as: distance levels between the members, cultural and time-zone differences, lack of standardization processes, tools and infrastructure incompatibility. Among these challenges is worth noting the communication, which is present throughout the life cycle of a software project and permeates all aspects of a project manager’s work. Its importance is expressed on the estimate that up to 90% of the time spent in the effort of project management in general is somehow devoted to communications (Mulcahy, 2005; PMI, 2008).

With geographically distributed teams, face-to-face communication turns out to be less frequent and has therefore less impact on projects. Temporal dispersion, especially because of time-zone difference, affects activities such as elicitation, requirement negotiation and changes in scope. Additionally, DSD is also influenced by the cultural differences of the people involved in it, since the project is based on the good relationships established among them.

In this context, understanding the aspects addressed by this communication process in distributed environments becomes an important role for the success of these projects. In his study, Silva (2007) reports that the lack of communication has a great impact on the success/failure of a particular project.

However, although several studies (Silva et al., 2007; Prikladnicki, 2003; Trindade; Meira, Lemos, 2008; Farias Júnior, 2008; Da Silva, Prikladnicki, Franca, Monteiro, Costa & Rocha, 2010) have produced important results in understanding communication process in distributed environments, gaps regarding the consolidation of literature still exist. Therefore this study grounds rely on a better understanding of the influence of communication process, as well as, the possible effects of this influence in DSD projects. At the same time, it aims at consolidating this understanding so that it can be used by researchers and professionals.

In this context, the purpose of this research is to investigate and consolidate knowledge about the communication process in DSD projects, especially the factors that influence the communication, the effects of communication in DSD projects and the relationship between factors and effects. This research is guided by three main research questions:

(Q1) Which factors influence the communication process in Distributed Software Development Projects?

(Q2) Which are the effects identified in the communication process in Distributed Software Development Projects?

(Q3) Which factors identified in Q1 are related to the effects of the communication process identified in Q2 in Distributed Software Development Projects?

The rest of the study is organized as follows: Section 2 describes the research method used in this tertiary study; Section 3 presents a detailed description of the results; Section 4 includes a discussion of the results and their implications; finally, Section 5 presents the conclusions, as well as the threats to the validation of and guidance for further studies.


[1] Etymologically, the term dates back to VI century B.C., when, according to the Greek mythology, Theseus travelled to Crete on a boat steered by two steersmen (Chiavenato, 2004). To glorify this successful trip, Theseus organized a party to the “cybernetics”, the pilots of the sea. Later, Plato (427-347 B.C.) used the word “Kybernytiky” in his dialogues “Alcibiades” and “Gorgias”, meaning “the art of piloting a ship”, in “Clitophon”, meaning “the art of leading men” and in “The Republic”, meaning “the art of ruling, in general” (ibidem). Following Plato’s rhetoric, Ampère gives to this ancient word a socio-political meaning (control, government, leading). For decades, these meanings kept a considerable influence in different areas of knowledge, such as mathematics, physics, electronics, medicine, psychology, chemistry, mechanics and computer science (especially, if related to artificial intelligence).

[2] The Valley is situated in California (USA), which is home to many of the world’s largest technology corporations and manufacturers, since the 50’s.

[3] Famous term used to refer to an important finding or an accomplishment of great relevance. The credits for the origin of the word are attributed to the Greek philosopher Archimedes.

[4] In 1945, Bush published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine the paper “As We May Think”, in which he wrote about a machine (Memex - Memory Extension) that would have the task of helping human memory to store knowledge. He suggested a structure to organize contents in a non-hierarchical way and of non-linear access based on a mechanic device for individual use, to save texts, registers, communications and books, in order to make the search for information easier and more flexible (Gosciola, 2003).

[5] A political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 70’s and which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

[6] It was brought into existence, under Project One, by Efrem Lipkin, Szpakowski Mark and Lee Felsenstein, in San Francisco in 1973.

[7] It allows Internet users to create and edit text on a specific Web page using any Web browser.

[8] North American States which are bounded by the Pacific Ocean on the West.

Excerpt out of 56 pages


Factors and Effects of Communication in Distributed Software Development
Federal Rural University of Pernambuco  (Statistics and Informatics Department)
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ISBN (Book)
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factors, effects, communication, distributed, software, development
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Ivaldir Honório de Farias Júnior (Author)Alinne Corrêa dos Santos (Author)Marcelo Mendonça Teixeira (Author)Tiago Alessandro Espínola Ferreira (Author), 2014, Factors and Effects of Communication in Distributed Software Development, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/266728


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