Work Item Tagging: Communicating Concerns in Collaborative Software Development

After a round of minor revisions, the extension of our ICSE 2009 paper on tagging in software development has been accepted for the TSE Special Issue of Best Papers from ICSE 2009.

For the TSE paper, Peggy and I replicated the previously reported case study on how software developers use tags for work items in two ways:

  1. We extended the study of the Jazz team in several ways; and
  2. We conducted another case with a different team at IBM that was not as likely to be biased towards using the tagging feature.

For the Jazz case study, we analyzed another year of archival data on the tagging activities; we further observed the team and tagging of work items through an additional 5 more months on-site and we conducted interviews with two additional team members. For the second case study, we observed a different group of developers for 2 weeks, we conducted interviews with 6 individuals of various roles and we analyzed tagging data from a one year period. Many of the original findings were replicated through these additional case studies, but the key differences in the extended paper are that:

  1. Our findings on the collaborative aspects of tagging are more comprehensive because of the extended ethnography and additional 8 interviews over both cases.
  2. The categorization for the types of tags used is treated much more thoroughly with new categories emerging from the analysis (many across both cases).

This is the abstract of the paper:

In collaborative software development projects, work items are used as a mechanism to coordinate tasks and track shared development work. In this paper, we explore how “tagging”, a lightweight social computing mechanism, is used to communicate matters of concern in the management of development tasks. We present the results from two empirical studies over 36 and 12 months respectively on how tagging has been adopted and what role it plays in the development processes of several professional development projects with more than 1,000 developers in total. Our research shows that the tagging mechanism was eagerly adopted by the teams, and that it has become a significant part of many informal processes. Different kinds of tags are used by various stakeholders to categorize and organize work items. The tags are used to support finding of tasks, articulation work and information exchange. Implicit and explicit mechanisms have evolved to manage the tag vocabulary. Our findings indicate that lightweight informal tool support, prevalent in the social computing domain, may play an important role in improving team-based software development practices.

Update [November 11, 2010]: The preprint of the paper is now available here (IEEE Computer Society).

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