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Effects of intra-group conflict on packaged software development team performance



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Info Systems J 2001 11 155 178 155 Effects of intra group conflict on packaged software development team performance Steve Sawyer School of Information Sciences and Technology The Pennsylvania State University University Park PA 16802 USA email sawyer ist psu edu Abstract Data from 40 packaged software development teams are used to test a path model that relates three antecedents the presence of intragroup conflict and the level of conflict management to software development team performance Findings indicate that a combination of the team s characteristics team member characteristics and existing levels of intragroup conflict accounts for nearly onehalf of the variance between the best and worst performing teams Furthermore the level of conflict management moderates the relationship between existing levels of intragroup conflict and performance These results highlight both the complexity of the social processes of packaged software development and the value of this perspective for gaining insight on software development performance Keywords Conflict conflict management packaged software path models software development software development team performance teams INTRODUCTION Intra group conflict among members of a software development team is seen as both inevitable and likely to lead to bad consequences Brooks 1974 Robey 1984 There have been two general approaches to minimizing such conflict In the software engineering literature the typical approach is to hire the best individuals Boehm 1981 Walz et al 1993 The information systems development literature has emphasized conflict resolution and the selection of people who are socially skilled to do so The primary focus of this second line of research has been to focus on the relationship between the team s members and various users external stakeholders Robey 1984 Robey et al 1989 1993 Both literatures suggest that some combination of the right skill blend be they technical or social will reduce the negative consequences of conflict Thus the contemporary advice to software development managers is to hire team players and to carefully assemble teams of compatible people We also believe that intragroup conflict is inevitable Simmel 1955 However like others we contend that conflict if it is well managed may improve the software development team s performance Carmel Sawyer 1998 Zachary 1998 From this perspective the presence of conflict is less important than how it is managed if a team manages their intragroup con 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd 156 S Sawyer flict well they should out perform a team that does not even if the relative levels of conflict are similar This shifts the managerial emphasis from picking team members that can work without too much conflict to selecting team members who can work well in an open and often contentious social environment McCarthy 1995 The research reported on in this paper explores 1 What factors most affect the level of intragroup conflict in packaged software development teams 2 What effects do these factors have on packaged software development team performance To respond to these questions we draw on data collected from 40 packaged software development teams at one site of a large global computer software and hardware manufacturer Selecting the teams from one site minimizes the potential confounding effects of varying industrial organizational factors That is by selecting teams from one site we know that they share common production goals have a common software development methodology and use the same software development tools Project managers for these teams are trained in the same techniques and also report to the same senior managers Studying packaged software development teams also allows us to explore the role of intragroup conflict in a different context Packaged software also known as commercial commercial off the shelf COTS or shrink wrap is licensed for use by others Carmel 1997 Carmel Sawyer 1998 argue that packaged software development differs from custom development along a number of dimensions The most pertinent of these dimensions for this paper is the level of user involvement As Keil Carmel 1995 show there is little direct contact between most developers and users of packaged software This means existing models regarding the effects on intragroup conflict and performance due to the involvement and or participation of users i e Robey et al 1993 cannot be used without some additional conceptualizing The paper continues in five sections In the next section we develop the concepts of intragroup conflict among the members of packaged software development teams called conflict through the remainder of the paper theorize about the antecedents to conflict and detail what we mean by software development performance The second section lays out how these constructs are measured The research approach and data collection efforts are presented in the third section while the fourth contains the analyses and findings The paper concludes with a discussion of the findings and their implications to software development management and research C O N F L I C T A M O N G S O F T WA R E D E V E LO P M E N T T E A M M E M B E R S Intra group conflict is a general social phenomenon and the relevant literature contains several definitions that encompass factors such as objective conditions emotions perceptions and behaviour Simmel 1955 Pondy 1967 Deutsch 1969 Thomas 1975 Green Taber 1980 Wall 1987 Volkema Bergman 1989 Rather than attempt to argue the superiority of any 2001 Blackwell Science Ltd Information Systems Journal 11 155 178 Conflict in packaged software development 157 one specific definition in this paper we treat conflict generically to be a difference between two or more people about the meaning of some information such as a requirement or need an idea or a decision Thus the existence of conflict indicates neither a positive nor negative state just a difference between how people interpret information Simmel 1955 Conflict management also known as conflict resolution is the process of resolving these differences Green Taber 1980 Sambarmurthy Poole 1992 The resolution of conflict can lead to both positive and negative outcomes Simmel 1955 Deutsch 1969 For example Robey s work on conflict among software developers posits conflict as a mostly negative effect Robey 1984 Robey Farrow 1989 Robey et al 1989 1993 Walz et al 1993 presents evidence highlighting both the positive and negative aspects


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