Awareness Support in Distributed Software Development: A Systematic Review and Mapping of the Literature
The developers’ physical dispersion in Distributed Software Development (DSD) imposes challenges related to awareness support during collaboration in such scenario. In this paper, we present a systematic literature review and mapping that gathered, analyzed, and classified studies that improve awareness support in DSD, providing an overview of the area. Our initial search returned 1967 papers, of which 91 were identified as reporting some awareness support to DSD. These papers were then analyzed, and classified according to the 3 C collaboration model and to the Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework. Our findings suggest that awareness in DSD is gaining increasingly attention, 71 out of 91 papers were published from 2006 to 2010. Most part of the papers presented tools with some awareness support. The classification showed that the coordination is by far the most supported dimension of the 3C model, while communication is the less explored. It also showed that workspace awareness elements play a central role on DSD collaboration.
Key wordsAwareness Communication Coordination Cooperation Distributed software development Systematic mapping Systematic review
The software development industry has been gaining competitive advantage in terms of cost and quality by using qualified professionals from all over the world (Robinson and Kalakota 2004). This approach, called Distributed Software Development (DSD), is based on geographically dispersed teams working collaboratively in a software project. The software industry started obtaining—in some cases—higher quality products at lower costs than that of collocated teams (Jimenez et al. 2009).
In DSD, developers interact in a distributed way along the software lifecycle, creating a network of distributed sub-teams. In some cases, these teams comprise members of the same organization; in others, they involve members from different organizations. Therefore, DSD brings new challenges such as contextual, cultural, organizational, geographical, temporal, language, and political differences among developers (Ivcek and Galinac 2008). Traditional face-to-face meetings become less common, and interaction among members requires the use of technology to support communication, coordination, and cooperation (Jimenez et al. 2009). Temporal distance hinders and limits opportunities for direct contact, cooperation, and development of trust (Carmel 1999). Linguistic distance limits the ability for coherent communication (Jensen et al. 2007). Communication and cooperation in DSD projects are normally electronic with limited opportunities for synchronous contact, due to geographical location and time zone differences (Casey 2010). Initiating casual interaction in this scenario is difficult, since people do not see who is around, do not know if others are available for conversation, and lack the awareness cues that naturally lead to serendipitous interaction (Tee et al. 2009). The increasing adoption of DSD and its characteristics raise several challenges and new opportunities for research of new awareness support techniques, as well as the investigation of the applicability of the existing ones. Due to the collaborative nature of DSD, team members need to be aware of activities of others, progress of tasks, status of artifacts, owners of artifacts, etc. The lack of awareness about what is happening in other parts of the project leads to misunderstandings and errors, affecting the work of the whole team (Gutwin et al. 2005).
A great number of studies and recent advances deal with awareness support in distributed development environments (Steinmacher et al. 2010; Treude and Storey 2010; Omoronyia et al. 2010). However, knowledge is scattered among CSCW and Software Engineering literature. This article surveys the current state of the art and highlights research directions, by means of a systematic review and mapping. As a result, we offer an overview of the research area, which can be used as a guide for researchers and practitioners looking for solutions or challenges in DSD domain.
Systematic reviews gather and evaluate the available evidence concerning specific topics (Mian et al. 2005). In contrast to the usual process of literature review, a systematic review aims to reduce bias and follows a precise and strict sequence of methodological steps that relies on a well-defined protocol. The protocol presents the topic being investigated in a very specific, predefined, focused, and structured question, as well as instructions for the selection, analysis, and summarization of relevant papers. The systematic review aims to present a fair evaluation of a research topic by using a trustworthy, rigorous, and auditable methodology, increasing the likelihood of detecting effects that individual smaller studies are unable to detect (Kitchenham 2004).
In this paper, our goal was to identify awareness studies and elements that aim to improve the DSD scenario and classify them according to commonly used groupware perspectives. For the purpose of analysis and classification, we used the 3C Collaboration Model (Fuks et al. 2007) and the Awareness Framework proposed by Gutwin et al. (1996). According to the former, the collaboration is analyzed from communication, coordination, and cooperation points of view. The latter defines a classification for awareness based on a list of elements that people may keep track of when working with others in a shared space.
In addition to the systematic review, we also conducted a systematic mapping, which provides an overview of a research area, identifies the quantity, type of research, and results available within it (Petersen et al. 2008). The goal of our systematic mapping was to check out the evolution of the research area, as well as to find out in which forums the studies of the area are published, and who the main researchers on the area are.
Thus, the main goals of this paper are: to organize and classify the high number of papers found on this review; to provide a quick reference for DSD environment developers and researchers regarding which awareness features have already been investigated and implemented; and to identify missing coverage and opportunities for possible future research. Our contributions also include: characterization and synthesis of a research area; selection of relevant papers; and comprehensive formulation and integration of findings by analysis of selected papers.
This paper is organized as follows. Section 2 presents a discussion regarding DSD, awareness, and the classification models used. Section 3 presents the systematic mapping and review planning. Section 4 and Section 5 present the results of our systematic mapping and review, respectively. Section 6 concludes the paper, with a discussion about our findings and the limitations of our study.
2 Awareness in DSD
Awareness enables participants to pick up what their colleagues are doing and to adjust their own individual activities accordingly. A deep discussion about the concept of awareness is presented by Schmidt (2002). According to him, awareness denotes the practices through which actors tacitly and seamlessly align and integrate their distributed and yet interdependent activities. De Souza and Redmiles (2011) state that although awareness has been usually associated with individuals’ achievements, checking a tool log, receiving an email, or starting a conversation are also valid examples of work practices deftly used by group members to become aware of their colleagues’ actions.
DSD offers specific awareness requirements. During collaboration, developers need to be aware of how particular tasks or project artifacts are progressing, what fellow developers are (or have been) doing, and the current state of resources associated to the project (Omoronyia et al. 2009a). According to Gutwin et al. (2004), awareness is vital for distributed developers to coordinate their efforts, smoothly add code, make changes that affect other parts of the code, and avoid rework.
Espinosa et al. (2007) state that geographic distances influence the effectiveness of coordination because of: lack of familiarity with cross-site colleagues and working environments, lean communication media, fewer opportunities for interaction, and other geographically distributed collaboration problems (e.g. poor telephone lines, time zones, language and cultural differences). The last reasons listed are specific to distributed development on a global scale (Global Software Development), when the teams are allocated in different countries. In these cases, not only the physical distance, but also temporal and cultural distances increase the difficulties of supporting awareness in computer systems. The participants of a collaborative work often do not know other participants in person, work in different time zones, do not speak the same language, and do not share the same culture. These, among other factors, hinder the information sharing (Chang and Ehrlich 2007), increase the possibility of conflicts (Sarma et al. 2008), and inhibit informal interaction among team members (Calefato et al. 2009).
2.1 Awareness for communication, coordination, and cooperation (3C Model)
Communication: when the paper reports improvements to the way messages and information are exchanged among people, reducing gaps, ambiguity, or the effort needed to understand, establish, or continue a conversation (for example, presenting the context in which the communication takes place is a communication awareness feature);
Coordination: when the paper reports improvements to the support offered for people managing themselves or being aware of the activities flow (availability status and simultaneous editing indication as well as the level of activity of each participant are examples of coordination awareness information);
Cooperation: when the paper reports improvements to the shared space or to the way users interact with shared artifacts synchronous or asynchronously (source code annotation, screen sharing, and code coloring are example of cooperation awareness features). In this context, shared space is a virtual workspace in which people are able to collaborate, sharing artifacts and information related to their collaborative work.
2.2 Gutwin et al. awareness framework
Workspace Awareness: the collection of up-to-the-minute knowledge that a person holds about the state of another’s interaction with the workspace. It helps people move between individual and shared activities, provides a context in which it is possible to interpret other’s utterances, allows anticipation of others’ actions, and reduces the effort needed to coordinate tasks and resources.
Informal Awareness: the general sense of whom is around and what they are up to (the kinds of things that people know when they work together at the same office). Informal awareness is the glue that facilitates casual interaction.
Group-Structural Awareness: involves knowledge about such things as people’s roles and responsibilities, their positions on an issue, their status, and group processes.
Social Awareness: the information that a person maintains about others in a social or conversational context, e.g. whether another person is paying attention, their emotional state, or their level of interest. Social awareness is maintained by means of conversational cues such as back-channel feedback, and by non-verbal cues like eye contact, facial expression, and body language.
Elements of Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework (Gutwin et al. 1996).
Who is participating in the activity?
Where are they?
How active are they in the workspace?
How fast are they working?
What are they doing?
What are their current activities and tasks?
What are they going to do?
Where are they going to be?
What changes are they making?
Where are the changes being made?
What objects are they using?
What can they see?
What can they do?
Sphere of Influence
Where can they have effects?
What do they need me to do next?
The set of elements and questions presented by Gutwin et al. (1996) covers a great part of awareness elements present on collaborative software development, and plays a central role on any collaborative work. We decided to use the framework as a way to classify the elements of awareness presented by the current literature in DSD because of its comprehensive view of workspace awareness and the fact that it is widely used in the general awareness literature (Omoronyia et al. 2010).
3 Systematic review and mapping
A systematic review is a way of identifying, evaluating, and interpreting the available research related to a research question, topic area, or phenomenon. The main purpose for conducting a systematic review is to gather evidences to base conclusions in order to support or contradict claims made by researchers, identify gaps in existing research, provide motivation for new research, and supply a context for the new research (Williams and Carver 2010). On the other hand, Systematic Mapping Studies (also known as Scoping Studies) are designed to provide an overview of a research area, and to provide an indication about the quantity and type of research available within it . Hence, the mapping-related questions are concerned with the structure of the area and the review-related questions with the evidence (Petersen 2011).
Kitchenham (2004) summarizes the stages of a systematic review into three main activities: (i) Planning the Review, (ii) Conducting the Review, and (iii) Reporting the Review. We organized our systematic review and mapping according to this approach.
3.1 Review and mapping planning
The planning activity includes the identification of the objectives and the definition of a protocol. The protocol specifies the method to be used to undertake the systematic review and mapping in a way to reduce the researcher bias (Kitchenham 2004). Systematic reviews are thus auditable and replicable, in the sense that other professionals may reproduce the same protocol and judge the adequacy of the chosen standards. This section summarizes our protocol.
3.1.1 Research questions
- MQ1:How are the publications on DSD distributed across the years?
We expect that the answer to this question points out the growth or shortening of the research area.
- MQ2:Who are the most active authors in the area?
With this question we expect to have an indication of the main researchers in the area, offering a reference for related publications in future researches.
- MQ3:Which publication forums are the main targets for DSD research production?
By answering this question we expect to point to where papers can be found, as well as identify good targets for publication of future studies.
- RQ1:What awareness studies aimed to improve the DSD scenario?
The answer to this question includes all papers presenting tools, surveys, case studies, experiments, or theoretical studies that contribute to the way awareness is supported in a Distributed Software Development scenario.
- RQ2:Which elements of the 3C model and of the Gutwin et al. Awareness framework do the DSD studies support?
The answer to this question involves the identification of which kind of contribution is offered by the papers, classifying them according to the 3C collaboration model and to the Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework.
3.1.2 Search strategy
The research questions drive the definition of a query string to be executed in scientific repositories. To compose this query, key terms (along with their synonymous) are defined. The query string presents a set of logical expressions that combine keywords and their synonymous, arranged in a way that increases the number of relevant papers obtained from search engines (Mian et al. 2005).
Keywords defined based on the research questions.
Distributed Software Development
Distributed software development, Global software development, Collaborative software development, Global software engineering, Globally distributed work, Collaborative software engineering, Distributed development, Distributed teams, Global software teams, Globally distributed development, Geographically distributed software development, Offshore software development, Dispersed teams, Virtual teams
El Compendex (http://www.engineeringvillage.com);
IEEE Digital Library (http://ieeexplore.ieee.org);
ACM Digital Library (http://portal.acm.org);
Springer Link (http://springerlink.com);
ISI Web of Science (www.isiknowledge.com);
3.1.3 Inclusion and exclusion criteria
The papers titles were read, and those papers that were considered clearly irrelevant to the research questions, were excluded.
The remaining papers were gathered and repetitions were excluded. For the exclusion, sources that actually publish the papers were prioritized over those that just index articles from other publishers.
The included papers were then analyzed based on their abstracts and keywords, considering the research questions.
Papers included in the previous step were further analyzed based on the reading of introduction, conclusion, and specific parts related to the contributions.
All papers selected so far were fully read by the researchers and documented on a proper form. Those papers which, despite addressing awareness issues, did not focus on DSD domain were dismissed. Papers included after this step were checked using quality criteria (presented in Section 3.1.4) and the resulting papers were considered our primary studies.
To reduce bias, the first three steps were performed by two researchers independently, and the paper passed to the next step if at least one of them decided so. In the other steps, the paper was included after some discussion and consensus. All the steps were reviewed by a third—more experienced—researcher, responsible for checking the information generated. It is worth noticing that only papers written in English were considered.
3.1.4 Quality assessment
Quality assurance criteria used in this review.
Does the study answer primarily or secondarily the research questions?
Are the objectives and research aims clearly defined?
Is there an adequate description of the context in which the research was carried out?
Was there a control group/comparison with other studies?
Have the authors explained how the study sample (participants or cases) was identified and selected, and what was the justification for such selection?
Is it clear how the data were collected (e.g. through interviews, forms, observation, tools, etc.)?
Do the authors explain how the analysis/interpretation of the collected data was done?
Does the study clearly report the results?
Are the results consistent with the objectives presented?
Are limitations and validity of the study discussed explicitly?
3.1.5 Data collection and analysis
All selected papers were categorized based on the classification used in (Jimenez et al. 2009): (i) case studies; (ii) theoretical studies (also including conceptual/theoretical frameworks); (iii) experiments; (iv) literature reviews; and (v) tools (also including frameworks and architectures).
3: Mainly supports (main focus of awareness study is on that dimension);
2: Also supports (the dimension is not the main focus, but it is also supported);
1: Indirectly supports (it has no focus, but brings indirect improvement);
0: Does not support (when no support or improvement is presented).
Elements and questions considered for papers classification (based on (Gutwin et al. 1996)).
Who is/was participating in the activity?
Where are/were they?
How active are/were they in the workspace?
How fast are/were they working?
What are/were they doing?
What are/were their current activities and tasks?
What are they going to do?
Where are they going to be?
What changes are they making (did they make)?
Where are the changes being made?
What objects are/were they using?
What can they see?
What can they do?
Sphere of Influence
Where can they have effects?
What do they need me to do next?
Who is around?
What are they up to?
What is their opinion?
How interested are they?
How are they feeling?
Are they available?
Roles and Responsibilities
What are their roles/positions?
3.2 Conducting the review
After executing the whole process defined in Section 3.1.3, 91 primary studies were selected. More details about the process, the papers included, and their classification can be found at http://www.igor.pro.br/JCSCW/awarenessDSD.
3.2.1 Inclusion and exclusion process results
Distribution of papers selection according to their source.
Full Text Reading
21 October 2010
21 October 2010
22 October 2010
26 October 2010
27 October 2010
27 October 2010
29 October 2010
For the first step, the titles were analyzed by two researchers independently of each other. From the 1967 papers returned by the query, 728 (37.0 %) were selected. All selected papers were checked to dismiss duplications. Then, 167 papers were excluded (22.9 %) and 561 were kept.
The next step involved abstract reading. All abstracts were read by two researchers independently. After the analysis, 277 papers were selected. We also computed the Kappa coefficient to check the degree of agreement among researchers. The Kappa for step 3 assessments was 0.723, which is characterized as “substantial agreement” according to the classification by Landis and Koch (1977).
On step 4, the researchers read the introductions and conclusions and specific parts related to the contributions of the paper. The papers that did not present any clear contribution to awareness on DSD were dismissed. As a result, 134 papers were included by at least one researcher. The agreement was very good, with the Kappa coefficient of 0.816 (classified as “almost perfect” (Landis and Koch 1977)). These 134 papers were selected as relevant papers and were submitted to an in-depth analysis.
In the deeper analysis, performed by reading the full papers, 39 papers were considered not relevant to the review. The main reason for dismissing papers at this step was that they did not present contributions to the DSD area.
3.2.2 Quality assessment
Quality Assessment overall results.
% of papers that received ‘yes’
1. Does the study answer primarily or secondarily the research questions?
2. Are the objectives and research aims clearly defined?
3. Is there an adequate description of the context in which the research was carried out?
4. Was there a control group/comparison with other studies?
5. Has the researcher explained how the study sample (participants or cases) was identified and selected, and what was the justification for such selection?
6. Is it clear how the data was collected (e.g. through interviews, forms, observation, tools, etc.)?
7. Do the authors explain how the analysis/interpretation of the collected data was done?
8. Does the study clearly report the results?
9. Are the results consistent with the objectives presented?
10. Are limitations and validity of the study discussed explicitly?
4 Systematic mapping report
A systematic mapping aims to provide an overview of a research area and to identify the quantity and type of research available within it. In this section, we present the answers to our mapping questions (MQ).
Most active researchers and number of primary studies.
# of papers
André van der Hoek
James D. Herbsleb
Cleidson R. B. de Souza; Clinton Jeffery; Daniela Damian; Hani Bani-Salameh; Inah Omoronyia; John Ferguson; Kurt Schneider; Marc Roper; Marcelo Cataldo; Murray Wood; Prasun Dewan; Ziad Al-Sharif
Question MQ3 is related to the main forums of publication for awareness studies in DSD. To answer this question, we first analyzed the type of publication: Journal versus Conference. The result shows that 79 papers (86.8 %) were published in conference proceedings, while just 12 (13.2 %) appeared in journals. An interesting fact is that each of the 12 journal papers appeared in a different vehicle.
5 Systematic review report
In this section, we present an overall analysis of the primary studies regarding the type of studies found (Section 3.1.5) and a discussion of the works involving the improvements, opportunities, and research gaps identified in this review. The discussion is based on the 3 C collaboration model (Section 5.2) and on Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework analysis (Section 5.3). Hereafter, we use the notation [PSXX] to cite the primary studies analyzed, where XX is a unique identification of the primary study (see Appendix A for the list of primary studies and their source, type, and reference).
5.1 Studies type
Of the four theoretical studies, three present conceptual frameworks for awareness support [PS31] [PS13] [PS90]; and one introduces the concept of interface translucence as a mechanism for enabling scalable collaboration in software ecosystems [PS14]. Two papers of the review present case studies conducted within the industry [PS21] [PS20]. One of them focuses on investigating whether current awareness, general awareness, and availability are correlated with communication patterns in Requirements Centered Social Networks [PS21]. The other case study goal was to check the consequences of awareness gaps, verifying possible relationships among broken builds and these gaps [PS20]. In addition to the papers presented in Fig. 6, one paper [PS88] was classified as a Survey, presenting and classifying a set of visualization tools which support awareness of human activities in distributed software development.
5.2 Papers classification according to the 3C model
According to Jimenez et al. (2009), the software life cycle requires a great deal of communication using different tools and formats to avoid misunderstandings and delays. Awareness initiatives are needed to avoid ambiguity and misunderstandings, as cultural differences imply on different vocabulary that may lead to mistakes.
As discussed in the previous subsection, awareness supporting communication is poorly explored within the DSD domain. Although many researchers cite communication issues as motivation, only eight awareness initiatives mainly support communication. Most of these papers are focused on offering some kind of context for the conversation. A tickertape tool was introduced by Fitzpatrick [PS39] to present CVS commit messages to members of a project, enabling them to start a private or a group chat within the context of the CVS message. Communico [PS28] is a tool that presents awareness mechanisms that enable participants to check ongoing and past discussions, to know who is talking, and the their level of knowledge. Jazz [PS17] includes a chat tool that enables developers to include links to transcripts of older chats and team event notifications. A Jazz extension, called COFFEE [PS09], provides a discussion tool embedded within eclipse, enabling developers to conduct threaded and categorized discussions within the development environment. EGRET [PS86] also provides contextualized chat and email tools that enable the automatic or manual insertion of navigable links to relevant artifacts into messages.
Another concern of the studies is how to improve informal communication. The social network application FriendFeed1 was integrated to Jazz [PS11] to bring personal interests to workspace and to support informal and social communication by means of microblogs within their development environment. To enable informal, verbal, or ad-hoc communication during project analysis, Stapel et al. [PS87] proposed a specific notation to model and depict information flows, stimulating point-to-point communication.
Ehrlich and Chang [PS32] report a case study conducted within the industry that analyzes the effects of awareness in communication in a DSD environment. The authors found out that frequency of communication was associated with awareness of the person’s current work and familiarity to the other person. Some papers [PS30] [PS88] [PS06] [PS71] [PS83] present limited means to support communication in DSD environments (e.g. chats, forums) without any specific contribution to provide an easier or more effective communication in a DSD scenario.
To conclude, we can argue that some topics about communication are scarcely studied, but present challenges and research opportunities. For example, privacy issues regarding access to sensitive user data during communication is a topic that is starting to be studied on DSD domain (Godefroid et al. 2000; Patil et al. 2009) and can be explored on awareness studies. Ways to support cultural, political, and language differences are frequently cited as issues in DSD studies, but papers addressing them were not found. Semantics extraction and communication formalization could be used to address these issues, for example.
To coordinate themselves, team members need to be aware of their tasks and interdependencies (Damian et al. 2007a). 80 out of 91 (87.9 %) papers present some level of support for coordination and 58 (63.7 %) mainly support it.
To provide awareness for coordination, some papers focused on presenting information regarding the tasks of a project. A list of tasks is presented in TeamSpace [PS43], enabling team members to be aware of related tasks and to track them. ProjectWatcher [PS48] observes and records fine-grained information about user modifications and provides visualizations of who works on the project, what artifacts they have been working on, and where in the project they have been working.
Another approach used to provide awareness to support coordination is gathering information on source code version management repository. CAISE [PS18] is a tool based on commits to notify developers regarding dependent code, user dependencies, and impacts of code changes. Celine [PS34] offers information about artifact conflicts in chaotic, star, and extended star models, by means of an awareness mechanism that supports conflict management in Software Configuration Management (SCM) systems. Syde [PS52] [PS53] [PS54] [PS51] [PS55] is a collaborative tool that brings awareness of team members actions by propagating changes as they happen, and by warning about potential conflicting changes. Many other papers revealed that code repositories are a rich source of information for awareness generation [PS82] [PS17] [PS22] [PS19] [PS68].
Also using information from source code version management repository, but applying social network analysis (SNA) techniques, de Souza et al. [PS25] introduce Ariadne, a tool that enables visual analysis of sociotechnical dependencies, thus helping to find coordination problems. TraVis [PS24] provides a real-time visualization of the project traceability network of artifacts and users, containing valuable information about dependencies between software developers and about what other people work on. Other papers also present sociotechnical network analysis to improve awareness, such as [PS77], [PS66], [PS33] and [PS01].
Some papers propose the usage of visualization techniques to support coordination. Ye et al. [PS91] present SecondWATCH, a tool that enables visualization of local workspaces, version control repository, and bug tracking system in real-time as a common view shared by the whole team using a 3D city metaphor. Augur [PS41] is a visualization tool that creates visual representations of both software artifacts and software development activities, besides enabling developers to explore the relationship between such activities and artifacts. SoftChange [PS42] provides an interactive application that enables the exploration of the project history as a collection of graphs: file authorship (sociotechnical), coupling (co-changes), change overview, authorship overview, and file evolution graphs. StarGate [PS66] uses information visualization techniques to assist the user in understanding the complex interactions between developers and software repositories, helping team members to understand the evolution of the software project over time. Palantír [PS74] provides a three-dimensional activity viewer to explore workspace activities and their evolution on a project-wide basis.
The usage of version management repository information and SNA to search for experts (or identify artifact ownership [PS53]) is another mechanism largely studied to provide awareness to support coordination. Expertise Browser [PS64] and SmallBlue [PS33] are tools to assist users in identifying experts for a specific artifact or task, making them aware of how experienced the candidates are. Minto and Murphy [PS63] present Emergent Expertise Locator, which uses Instant Messenger clients embedded in developers IDE to make them aware of experts. Minto and Murphy use a method proposed by Cataldo et al. [PS15] to measure task dependencies among people, by checking the “congruence” between these task dependencies and the coordination activities performed by individuals. Begel et al. [PS07] present Hoozizat, a tool developed to find people who own and are responsible for a feature, API, product, or service, built as a web search portal over Codebook. One of the features proposed by Omoronyia [PS67] [PS68] is the possibility of ranking developers according to their relevance to a task or artifact, as a result of a real-time analysis of interactions generated from every developers’ workstation.
Tracing artifacts and relationships among them is also used to support coordination on DSD projects. Helming et al. [PS57] present UNICASE, a tool that implements a unified model that explicitly combines system specification and project management models into one fully traceable model, used to notify interested parties. Sysiphus [PS10] enables users to trace artifacts and related users by modeling the links among artifacts as directed graphs and allowing subscription for changes notification. TraVis [PS24] provides a traceability of artifacts and users using social network graphs. Share [PS02] aims to help developers keeping track of their code, presenting a practice of loosely bound cooperation in which individuals are able to pursue independent goals and assist each other.
Three papers present flexible ways to make members aware of quality metrics results, helping developers and leaders/managers to coordinate their work. EvolTrack presents software evolution and enables customizations to show specific metrics in user-defined color scales. Proença et al. [PS72] present a tool that shows quality metrics (e.g. number of developers, number of recent bugs, code volatility), and an overall quality measure represented by a colored border in UML class diagrams. CoderChrome [PS50] is a code coloring plugin for Eclipse that provides means to derive coloring or decorations on source code for information such as code author, code age, cyclomatic complexity, and line length.
Cataldo and Herbsleb [PS13] propose a framework based on product features to support coordination within distributed environments, providing information about members’ activities and their relations with product features.
Most part of the papers that support coordination presented features based on historical information extracted from source code repositories. However, key information used to obtain awareness is based on items that change on a daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute basis (Biehl et al. 2007). Therefore, there is still room for research on awareness based on recent information [PS68]. The use of Social Networks is another research topic appearing on DSD domain. A possible fruitful area is the use of social network to maintain awareness on emerging and unplanned interactions that can appear during the development cycle [PS20].
To cooperatively edit a shared artifact, developers need to be aware of current and previous actions affecting that artifact to avoid loss of efforts. Some papers propose awareness elements embedded in the shared artifacts to provide notifications. In this sense, two papers [PS58] [PS60] use code annotation to present changes being concurrently made by other developers in a shared artifact. Dekel and Herbsleb [PS26] also use code annotation to provide awareness on a tool called eMoose, which enables developers to write informal comments in the code, stores them in a central database, and spreads them to other developers using the annotated module.
Warning conflicts on shared artifacts is a common way to provide awareness to support cooperation. Lighthouse [PS19] is a tool that captures code change events directly on developers’ workspace to avoid conflicts by keeping a shared and up-to-date UML design representation of the actual code, displaying information about who is updating the code and which actions are being done. CASI [PS85] is a Lighthouse plugin that aims to avoid indirect conflicts by dynamically showing the source code entities that are being modified by any developer along with their Spheres of Influence. Guimarães and Rito-Silva [PS46] propose the concept of real-time integration and implement it on WeCode (Eclipse plugin) by automating the detection of actual conflicts while programming, enabling developers to share fine-grained changes before they check in. Estublier and Garcia [PS34] present a study based on cooperative policies to control concurrent engineering in order to avoid conflicts considering different concurrent models. Other papers also present elements to avoid conflicts during cooperative handling of artifacts [PS55] [PS60] [PS72].
Regarding support for synchronous artifact handling, CE4WEB [PS71] is a cooperative CASE tool that supports the cooperative edition of UML diagram, offering a shared blackboard and telepointers. OdisseyShare SDE [PS62] provides a solution based on a telepointer and a radar view as awareness elements to support synchronous handling of UML diagrams. There are some other papers focused on the coding phase, in particular supporting the XP pair programming practice for distributed members, enabling developers to cooperate over a shared piece of code [PS38] [PS49] [PS84] [PS75] [PS56]. Usually, these tools also provide means for the developers to communicate and coordinate their actions.
Despite the number of papers supporting cooperation, this area requires further development. An example is that none of the papers presents ways to make developers aware of pieces of code to complete a given function based on similar codes extracted from other developers’ code. So far, coding is the most supported phase. The other development activities may be further explored, for example, offering support to clients and analysts cooperate during requirement specification or acceptance tests writing.
5.2.4 Summary of the classification according to the 3C Model
In this subsection, we summarize the classification of awareness features according to the 3C collaboration model. This classification was made to (i) organize the high number of papers found on this review, and (ii) to provide a quick reference for DSD environment developers and researchers regarding which awareness features have already been investigated.
Identified awareness features supporting each 3C dimension.
Activity control (workflow, agenda, worklist)
[PS10] [PS39] [PS43]
Artifact change indication
[PS05] [PS10] [PS17] [PS19] [PS22] [PS41] [PS46] [PS54] [PS55] [PS56] [PS59] [PS68] [PS72] [PS76] [PS81] [PS85] [PS86] [PS91]
[PS05] [PS22] [PS34] [PS54] [PS55] [PS56] [PS60] [PS72] [PS85]
Collaborative artifact synchronous handling
[PS19] [PS30] [PS35] [PS38] [PS43] [PS56] [PS71] [PS72] [PS75] [PS84] [PS85]
[PS03] [PS18] [PS19] [PS34] [PS46] [PS54] [PS55] [PS56] [PS60] [PS61] [PS72] [PS76] [PS81] [PS83] [PS85]
[PS19] [PS34] [PS46] [PS55] [PS60] [PS61] [PS72] [PS85]
Context/subject-aware message exchange
[PS09] [PS17] [PS28] [PS30] [PS39] [PS43] [PS86]
[PS05] [PS45] [PS48]
Historic based expert search/recommendation
[PS07] [PS15] [PS33] [PS48] [PS55] [PS56] [PS63] [PS64] [PS68] [PS69] [PS72]
[PS16] [PS50] [PS72]
[PS05] [PS12] [PS17] [PS28] [PS30] [PS35] [PS38] [PS43] [PS46] [PS49] [PS56] [PS62] [PS63] [PS65] [PS75] [PS83] [PS84] [PS86] [PS89] [PS91]
[PS17] [PS27] [PS49] [PS62] [PS71] [PS83] [PS84]
[PS05] [PS17] [PS30] [PS38] [PS56] [PS62] [PS71] [PS75] [PS83] [PS84]
[PS02] [PS07] [PS24] [PS25] [PS40] [PS42] [PS66] [PS68] [PS77]
Software Visualization / Evolution
[PS16] [PS41] [PS42] [PS55] [PS66] [PS68] [PS70] [PS74] [PS91]
Source code annotation
[PS26] [PS59] [PS60]
Tracing artifacts and relationships
[PS02] [PS10] [PS24] [PS57]
5.3 Papers classification according to the Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework
As it can be observed, seven (7.7 %) papers present elements of all types [PS84] [PS75] [PS86] [PS04] [PS05] [PS17] [PS11]. Some other papers presented overlap of three types of awareness elements: six present social, informal, and workspace elements [PS28] [PS89] [PS43] [PS56] [PS63] [PS91]; and one presents Group-structural, informal, and workspace elements [PS65].
In the next subsections, we detail some elements found in our systematic review.
5.3.1 Workspace awareness
All classified papers present some element of workspace awareness, most part of them presenting only elements of this type.
Identity is the most present element, appearing in 83 papers. In a collaborative environment, it is essential to know who is responsible for the action that generated an event. In some papers, this information is presented on communication tools (e.g. forums and chats), enabling users to be aware of who posted a message, or who is discussing it [PS28] [PS86] [PS30] [PS09] [PS11]. Other papers provide information related to the person who is using or has been using an artifact, enabling users to know who are the other members collaborating with them, like in [PS02] [PS55] [PS60] [PS85] [PS91] [PS39] [PS40] [PS50] [PS19] [PS76].
Change awareness elements appear on 63 papers (68.1 %). Some of these papers present awareness related to past changes, enabling members to visualize the history of artifacts [PS07] [PS08] [PS16] [PS41] [PS66] [PS48]. Others focus on awareness of real time changes that occur on distributed workspaces, visualized directly on the shared artifacts [PS59] [PS78] [PS76] [PS02] [PS75] [PS71] [PS61] [PS85] [PS55].
Sphere of Influence information makes people aware of the effects an action can cause. On the selected DSD papers, this element is implemented by showing up the conflicts that a change on an artifact can cause or is causing to other artifacts or team members [PS19] [PS68] [PS36] [PS37] [PS24].
Activity level elements appear on 22 papers (24.2 %). Some of these papers present the activity level using software visualization approaches like, for example, in Stargate [PS66] and SoftChange [PS42]. Other papers focus on showing the activity of the developers within a given task or contributions to a given artifact. For instance, [PS44] [PS45] present a timeline with the amount of changes made by the developers and his/her communication activity.
Location elements were found in four papers, making team members aware of where in the world [PS82] [PS73] and within a building [PS43] are other members located. Ehrlich and Chang [PS32] study the effects of being aware of team members’ location while searching for experts and communicating.
Eight papers presented intention elements, focusing on revealing what the members’ next activities are [PS08] [PS29] [PS30] [PS43] [PS56] [PS65] [PS68] [PS79]. Seven other papers offer some information regarding members’ abilities [PS04] [PS05] [PS08] [PS33] [PS47] [PS63] [PS25].
We also found 54 papers concerned on providing some awareness on what objects are/were being used and 47 on making people aware of the actions performed on the workspace.
5.3.2 Informal awareness
Informal awareness refers to who is around and what they are up to. This kind of information is typically related to presence awareness, since it is associated with technologies, such as Instant Messengers, which enable colleagues at distributed locations be aware of who is online, offline, active, inactive, etc (Omoronyia et al. 2010). Moreover, informal awareness is related to team members’ ability to express their opinion and be aware of others’ opinions about different aspects of collaborative work.
Informal awareness appears in 25 papers. 23 of them provide information related to presence indication within the workspace. The use of Buddy lists is the most explored way to show this kind of information. When dealing with shared sessions (like using screen sharing), some papers bring presence indication by showing a list of users on the session, telepointers, colored text selection [PS75] [PS30] [PS84] [PS83], and radar view [PS38] [PS62]. A presence indication element based on physical cameras and panels is presented by Everitt et al. [PS35], indicating the presence of an individual by a blue shadow in the remote workspaces.
Only two papers in this category present team members’ opinion. In the COFFEE tool [PS09], users can post comments, arguments, questions, and other contributions during a discussion. By adding FriendFeed to the developer workspace, Calefato et al. [PS11] enabled users to share their opinion via messages posts to a social network application available for a private corporative group.
5.3.3 Social awareness
The social dimension creates opportunities to publish personal information helping to establish a shared context among remote developers, with little or no chances to physically meet [PS11].
Some availability feature was found on 11 out of 12 papers that presented social awareness. Availability differs from presence element because it offers specific information about the possibility of being interrupted or not, or if it is an opportune moment to discuss a specific subject, for example. ICI/SCI [PS06] [PS05], and SecondWATCH [PS91] improve social awareness by providing collaborative virtual worlds/environments as part of the developers workspace, enabling them to interact even when dispersed. Some papers use the status of a member to indicate what he/she is doing (participating of a conversation [PS28], or visualizing/editing an artifact [PS75] [PS56]). Some others present the availability using cameras in real time [PS89] [PS43]. When working in shared spaces, such as distributed pair programming environments, availability is indicated by presenting the sessions in which the members are participating [PS84].
Just two papers improve the social area by means of emotional feelings or social/personal information. FriendFeed [PS11] enables team members to express their feelings by posting microblog messages, offering personal context and culture sharing. Status message feature of Jazz [PS17] can also be used to express emotions, since team members can change and share their status according to their feeling at the moment.
We think that this dimension has a lot of possibilities and can grow in order to help current workspaces to become closer to collocated teams space. Since social awareness helps to develop an organizational culture and to consolidate connections and trust-based relationships between distant collaborators, it contributes to project success by improving team’s well-being and social health (Robinson and Sharp 2005). Researches involving interests, day-to-day opinions, and emotions of group members can improve the distributed scenario developing team spirit and help building personal relationships among distant members.
5.3.4 Group structural awareness
Group-structural awareness is related to the expertise of the collaborators based on the roles and responsibilities they assume. This knowledge is important when choosing whom to initiate an interaction with, for mentoring purposes on project activities [PS68].
Most part of the 14 papers presenting roles and responsibilities awareness elements focus on finding out experts on a given subject, extracting information from historical data and contextual information. Minto and Murphy [PS63], for example, propose an Eclipse plugin to show a ranked list of experts about the piece of code a developer is currently working. Carter and Dewan [PS12] propose an approach to create awareness information automatically based on developers’ interactions with the IDE, indicating who is having difficulties. On their work, Hattori et al. [PS55] present an approach based on IDE history logs to measure code ownership. In this sense, other papers also present ways to find experts or owners of specific artifacts (or parts of them) [PS33] [PS68] [PS72] [PS64].
Other papers aim to make teams aware of roles assigned to teams or developers within an activity or project. On EGRET [PS86], a user is able to list all stakeholders along with their status and roles in different modules. In World View [PS82], it is possible to display maps presenting team’s location, time zones and responsibilities, enabling one to check the dynamics of the whole project.
Papers regarding group-structural awareness are expected to address developers’ awareness regarding the full distributed process, the roles involved in each activity, and who is playing the roles on the project. Although there are a great number of papers focusing on expertise and ownership search, the area can be extended to support other development phases or to find experts on previous development phases. For example, an architect may need to be aware of experts on the domain or infrastructure of a solution he/she needs to design; a developer may need to find the analysts able to help explaining the feature affected by the code he/she is changing, etc.
5.3.5 Summary of the classification according to the Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework
Distribution of papers according to Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework elements.
6 Threats to validity
Systematic review is a powerful method to search for primary studies within a given domain (Kitchenham 2004). As any other method, it also presents some threats to validity and limitations.
This review may have missed some papers that address the use of awareness to support DSD, since we did not perform our search into every possible source and some relevant papers may not contain the chosen terms. To reduce bias, we defined the sources and the keywords based on other studies (Jimenez et al. 2009; Prikladnicki and Audy 2010; Dybå and Dingsøyr 2008; Williams and Carver 2010; Petersen 2011; Petersen et al. 2008), and on the subject under review. We adjusted the criteria to cover all relevant papers that were of our knowledge and conducted pilot studies. A prior version of this review was published at (Steinmacher et al. 2010). We considered the feedbacks obtained during the submission and presentation of that paper.
The findings of this review may have also been affected as the classification is a human process and it is based on some subjective criteria. In particular, the terms of the area do not have a common definition among all studies, thus we need to interpret and sometimes reword some concepts. This was particularly relevant for the classification of the elements according to the 3C Model and Gutwin et al. framework. For example, some authors called collaboration what we consider cooperation (and vice versa), or called coordination what we consider cooperation, etc. Finally, we only considered awareness elements that were specific to the DSD domain. Thus, general awareness elements that support communication, coordination, and cooperation, but did not have any particularity for the DSD domain were discarded. This interpretation of what is specific to the DSD domain may also suffer from interpretation bias.
To reduce interpretation bias, this review involved two researchers cross checking each paper for inclusion, and a third researcher responsible for reviewing and discussing the information generated after each step. One of the researchers, besides the academic background, has also actual experience on coordinating DSD teams, being responsible for industry global software development (GSD) projects. Another one has academic experience in coordinating a DSD project.
In this paper, we presented the results of a systematic review and mapping on the support for awareness in DSD environments. By using a systematic method, we obtained with some degree of confidence a comprehensive picture of the state of art, which may guide other researchers to position their current researches or to find new research opportunities. We estimate that we spent around 1500 men/hour on the overall process.
During the selection of the papers, we could note the lack of standard terminology in the area, which resulted in 1967 papers to start with, which filtered, resulted in 91 relevant papers in the area. Mapping these papers (Section 4), we showed that awareness in DSD had not been widely studied until 2006 and we could note a high number of papers appearing in 2010, the year in which we ran our query.
During the mapping, we also identified the main publication forums for awareness studies in DSD and the most active researchers of the area. We could observe a small propensity for Software Engineering forums, which comprised 53 (58 %) of the relevant studies. ICSE and its workshops was the main forum, being responsible for 21 (23 %) of all the papers. Regarding the researchers of the area, we could note some groups and some concentration. The five most active researchers of the area published 26 % of the papers.
Analyzing the content of the selected papers, we could note that most part of them (70 %) focused on introducing a new tool with some awareness support to DSD. The predominant approach was to gather information from source code version management repositories to provide some kind of awareness. As depicted in Table 8, the most common awareness features identified in the papers were change indication, conflict notification, and presence/status indication.
In terms of classification according to the 3C collaboration model, we may conclude that most of the literature focused on awareness to support coordination, while awareness support for communication was very poorly explored. However, it is worth to note that we indeed found several tools in the area with support for communication. Many studies we have analyzed, like (Bani-Salameh et al. 2008; Duque et al. 2010; Penichet et al. 2008; Schümmer 2001), present means to support communication, such as text chat, teleconference, and forum. However, they do not present any awareness element to improve the communication in DSD scenario; they presented just general communication awareness elements. As communication issues are usually considered among the main difficulties when moving to a DSD scenario, we consider this gap a good opportunity for future research. Awareness to support communication can be fostered, for example, by taking advantage of semantics extraction, and language formalization to reduce ambiguity and misunderstandings.
In our opinion, all three dimensions have open opportunities and gaps that can become fruitful research areas (some of them were already stated in Section 5). Regarding cooperation, an open research topic is offering awareness to support software engineering phases that require cooperation among stakeholders with different roles, like clients and business analysts during requirement specification and functional tests. Coordination, even appearing as the main focus of awareness within the DSD area, still presents some open opportunities like those described in (Omoronyia et al. 2009a) and (Damian et al. 2007a), and summarized in Section 5.2.2.
Regarding Gutwin et al. Awareness Framework, we have observed that workspace elements play a central role on DSD domain. However, some elements are still scarcely studied. Embedding social environments within collaborative software engineering environments, like Jazz [PS17] and SCI [PS05] can help overcoming isolation, lack of team spirit, and other geographically related issues found on DSD. To do so, more initiatives on Social and Informal awareness elements are necessary. In addition, it is possible to observe that several concepts and techniques already investigated by the CSCW community in other contexts may be adapted or extended to the DSD domain.
In addition to the analysis made in sections 5.2 and 5.3, it is possible to highlight some other potential research topics that may be explored. We have not found papers dealing with awareness to overcome issues related to cultural, political, and geographical differences, although these issues are frequently presented as motivation on DSD studies. An opportunity is the definition of policies to provide awareness within a DSD environment and to maintain privacy and information security for team members and organizations. Another opportunity that may be explored is the use of awareness elements not only to support the coding phase, but also to support other software engineering phases, including project management, quality, and measurement. We also did not find papers linking awareness in DSD and ubiquitous and mobile computing. Merging these areas may be a promising research topic, since awareness is already being discussed in ubiquitous computing for some time (Baldauf et al. 2007).
The results presented here can be applied in distinct ways, such as for aiding the design and implementation of new DSD applications. It can also be considered a starting point to establish issues upon which subsequent researches may focus on or upon which developers may consider while designing DSD environments. This review also presented an overview of how awareness is used on a collaborative domain. The methodology applied here may also be used or adapted by other groupware researchers while conducting systematic reviews for other CSCW domains.
This work was partially funded by Fundação Araucária. The authors would also like to thank Gustavo Ansaldi Oliva and Giovanna Avalone for proofreading preliminary versions of this document. Marco Aurélio Gerosa receives individual grant from Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq).
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