Distributed Development Considered Harmful? – ICSE 2013 SEIP Track

We offer a case study illustrating three rules for reporting research to industrial practitioners. Firstly, report “relevant” results; e.g. this paper explores the effects of distributed development on software products. Second: “recheck” old results if new results call them into question. Many papers say distributed development can be harmful to software quality. Previous work by Bird et al. allayed that concern but a recent paper by Posnett et al. suggests that the Bird result was biased by the kinds of files it explored. Hence, this paper rechecks that result and finds significant differences in Microsoft products (Office 2010) between software built by distributed or collocated teams. At first glance, this recheck calls into question the widespread practice of distributed development. Our third rule is to “reflect” on results to avoid confusing practitioners with an arcane mathematical analysis. For example, on reflection, we found that the effect size of the differences seen in the collocated and distributed software was so small that it need not concern industrial practitioners. Our conclusion is that at least for Microsoft products, distributed development is not considered harmful.

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