Software Process Improvements in a Small Organisation: an Ethnography

Sebastian Stein


Software process improvements are required to increase the productivity of software companies. Generally, it is the aim to increase the quality of the produced software and to keep budget and time. Quality models for software process improvements were developed in context of large organisations and multi-national companies. In this study I investigated how software process improvements are done in a small software company. Ethnography was used as research method. It was the aim of this study to build up an understanding of how software process improvements are done and enabled in a small organisation.
Fieldnotes were taken and later analysed using template analysis. Ethnography as the chosen research strategy proved to be applicable and feasible in software engineering research. The qualitative research strategy resulted in a detailed description of how one software company did software process improvements from a bottom-up perspective. Despite the learning potential of "how real world contingencies and possibilities interact and shape software process improvement efforts", such descriptions are rare in software engineering literature.
Based on the field experiences and the analysed fieldnotes, the following results were identified: In the studied small software organisation, software process improvement efforts were pushed by the initiative of single employees. The studied company did not have enough resources to implement a complete quality model. In addition, management was heavily involved in daily work and therefore had not enough time to initiate and lead software process improvement efforts. For small software companies in a similar situation, the following guidelines can be given: First, a bottom-up approach with delegating responsibility from management to selected employees is needed. Second, management must ensure to be available if decisions must be taken. Third, improvements must be visible and feedback must be provided contemporary to gain momentum in the whole improvement effort. In some cases it might be important to create awareness of possible improvements. Here, employees should create internal lobbies by involving and convincing other employees of the improvement's importance. A joined effort will help to create enough pressure for change, so that improvement efforts get started.

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Keywords: Quality System, Ethnography, Software Methodology, Process Improvement

Bibtex entry: sstein2006.bib

   title="Software Process Improvements in a Small Organisation: an Ethnography",
   author="Stein, Sebastian",
   school="Blekinge Institute of Technology",
   address="Karlskrona/Ronneby, Sweden",

Research Proposal (2005-03-02): Download as PDF (ca. 67 KB)

Contact: Sebastian Stein <> (important: replace -AT- with @)
Last Modification: 2007-10-17