Software offshoring has been established as an important business strategy over the last decade. While research on such forms of Global Software Development (GSD) has mainly focused on the situation of large enterprises, small enterprises are increasingly engaging in offshoring, too. Representing the biggest share of the German software industry, small companies are known to be important innovators and market pioneers. They often regard their flexibility and customer-orientation as core competitive advantages. Unlike large corporations, their small size allows them to adopt software development approaches that are characterized by a high agility and flat hierarchies. At the same time, their distinct strategies make it unlikely that they can simply adopt management strategies that were developed for larger companies.
Flexible development approaches like the ones preferred by small corporations have proven to be problematic in the context of offshoring, as their strong dependency on constant communication is strongly affected by the various barriers of international cooperation between companies. Cooperating closely over companies’ borders in different time zones and in culturally diverse teams poses complex obstacles for flexible management approaches. It is still a matter of discussion in fields like Software Engineering and Computer Supported Cooperative Work how these obstacles can be tackled and how they affect companies in the long term. Hence, it is agreed that we need a more detailed understanding of distributed software development practices in order to come to feasible technological and organizational solutions.
This dissertation presents results from two ethnographically-informed case studies of software offshoring in small German enterprises. By adopting Anselm Strauss’ concept of articulation work, we want to deepen the understanding of managing distributed software development in flexible, customer-oriented organizations. In doing so, we show how practices of coordinating inter-organizational software development are closely related to aspects of organizational learning in small enterprises. By means of interviews with developers and project managers from both parties of the cooperation, we do not only take into account the multiple perspectives of the cooperation, but also include the socio-cultural background of international software development projects into our analysis.
Based on an analysis of the management practices we found in the field, we present theoretical as well as practical implications for the management of software offshoring in small companies. Furthermore, we contribute implications for the design of supportive technology, and discuss the methodological issues that we encountered while doing field research in the field of distributed software development.