How can software development teams assess and mitigate risks to effective knowledge sharing?

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From healthcare to automotive to animation design, software continues to transform how businesses work and how people relate to technology. And to drive innovation in new systems, software organisations themselves constantly invest in better communication and knowledge sharing efforts.

But according to a new study co-authored by Shahla Ghobadi, Lecturer in Information Systems, several barriers may pose risks to effective knowledge sharing in the industry.

As she explains: “Agile practices are set to improve communication and knowledge sharing in software contexts. However, implementing agile practices may pose unintended risks to knowledge sharing. For example, over-communication between the team and customers exposes software teams to the risk of losing agility, while customers may generate major reworks for software teams and make it difficult to commit enough time to knowledge sharing at later stages of development.”

A model for assessing and mitigating knowledge sharing risks in agile software development, published in the Information Systems Journal, observed the knowledge sharing practices of two high performing and two low performing agile projects across two software companies.

Adds Shahla: “We found high-performing projects, more than the low-performing ones, tended to address risks more effectively by taking bolder initiatives and applying more resolution actions relative to existing risks.

“We complemented empirical observations with the agile literature and insights from risk management research. As a result, we developed an-easy-to use model with heuristics to assess risks to effective knowledge sharing, to identify and prioritize resolution actions to mitigate them, and to articulate an overall resolution strategy plan.”

Shahla says the study surprisingly found no comprehensive approach on how agile development teams can manage effective communication.

“This is perhaps due to existing views in industry that link formalised management approaches to going against the agile philosophy of ‘people over processes’ and to stifling the positive benefits of risk taking behaviours. But more recently both industry and research have highlighted the importance of seeking a balanced view in which the strengths of both agile and plan-driven approaches are leveraged. This really shaped our focus. We used a risk management approach which is a well-respected plan-driven approach in software development.”

Shahla says their model is readily understandable by practitioners and provides useful guidance in the management of knowledge sharing practices in agile development.

For instance, a project manager using the model at a software company said it created a shared vision of priorities across the team and that the risk management process had a different style that helped reduce work stress.

The paper was co-authored by Shahla with Lars Mathiassen from Georgia State University.

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