Managing cross-functional teams: An activity-theory approach to software development and documentation

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Texas Tech University

While there is growing consensus in the literature that wider inclusion of technical communicators has potential for improving the processes by which software is developed there is little agreement regarding the extent of this inclusion, nor how it should be accomplished. This dissertation examines ways in which technical communicators participate in software development specifically, examining the complexities of their roles in interdisciplinary development teams.

The trend toward interdisciplinary development teams is based upon recognition that the specialized skills and expertise of a number of disciplines have potential to improve software processes and products. Ideally, cross-functional processes and roles would take advantage of specialized disciplinary competencies and integrate them into a single, cohesive development effort. This combined effort is in many ways the rationale for cross-functional teams defined as a level of process maturity at which stages of development are characterized by interdisciplinary cooperation in delineating the process and resolving problems.

This dissertation uses an Activity Theory approach to address many of the political and epistemic barriers inherent in contemporary development processes. Many theories posit that process improvement must evolve through careful management of various organizational behaviors. This perspective is complicated by recognition of two levels of organizational behavior: a formal level represented in "official" artifacts of the organization, and an informal level of human activity networks. The literature on knowledge management argues that a critical success factor for administering change in organizational processes is devising intervention strategies that reconcile these two dimensions of organizational behavior. In light of these issues, what factors should be considered in management strategies for software development process improvement, and how might these intervention strategies affect the roles of technical communicators''

This dissertation addresses these questions by examining various issues that shape contemporary software development models and practice. The first chapter reviews the literature pertinent to team development. The second chapter provides a rationale for activity theory as the lens through which the research is contextualized. Chapters HI and IV describe research methods and results of a case study investigation, which observes the activities and artifacts of a collaborative development project between a computer science course and technical communication course. And in the last chapter, this work suggests strategies for implementing a cross-functional approach to process improvement efforts.

Interorganization relations, Cross-functional teams, User interfaces (Computer systems), Action theory, Computer software -- Development, Software documentation