Measuring Shared Understanding in Software Design Teams

Author/Creator ORCID




Information Systems


Information Systems

Citation of Original Publication


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Background Software engineering teams must have a shared understanding of the system design in order to work independently but successfully integrate their code. These issues of understanding are important to project success but difficult to investigate with current approaches. Current techniques for investigating shared understanding, such as interviews or questionnaires, are limited by the difficulty of team members to externalize knowledge relevant to shared understanding. Aims This research has two goals. The first goal is to identify and validate a measure of shared understanding that researchers can use to investigate issues of shared understanding in software design. The second goal is to evaluate the potential for this measure to be used by practitioners to improve the software design process. Method A measure of shared understanding was developed by adapting an approach from the Team Mental Models literature. Five student teams and two industrial teams were recruited to evaluate the measure empirically. The validity of the measure, the significance of the differences in understanding found, and the applicability for design process improvement were investigated using qualitative techniques, including group interviews, observation, and questionnaires. Results When ranked by the measure of shared understanding, high ranking design concepts were generally, but not consistently, found to be associated with greater similarity of understanding than low ranking concepts. This supports a finding that the measure is valid, but imprecise. Although no specific misunderstandings were identified within the team, some team members found the discussion, guided by the measured differences, valuable for improving shared understanding generally. Conclusions The results support the use of the measure as a tool to investigate shared understanding so long as consideration is given to its limitations. It is premature for practitioners to use the measure to improve the design process. The results are based on only two industrial teams without a history of failures related to shared understanding. Future research should re-evaluate the measurement in different contexts. Guidance is given for additional research to refine the measurement.