Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 1035–1066 | Cite as

An experiment on the impact of transparency on the effectiveness of requirements documents

  • Yu-Cheng Tu
  • Ewan Tempero
  • Clark Thomborson


Effective communication is important to successful software development, but it is difficult to achieve. We believe transparency — the visibility of information to stakeholders — is an important factor in the effectiveness of communication in software projects. We theorise that more effective communication results from more transparent requirements documents. To test our theory, we conducted an experiment. We developed an operational definition of transparency with three attributes: accessibility, understandability, and relevance. We had students and software practitioners use requirements documents of differing levels of transparency based on these attributes to answer questions. We found that participants with the more transparent document spent less time, answered more questions correctly, and were more confident about their answers, than participants with the less transparent document. The results of our experiment provide evidence that our view of transparency may help evaluate the effectiveness of documents as a form of communication. Further work is needed to reproduce our results, and to determine whether they are generalizable to other types of stakeholders and forms of communication.


Controlled experiments Functional requirements Requirements specification Use case models Transparency Communication 


  1. Al-Rawas A, Easterbrook S (1996) Communication problems in requirements engineering: A field study. In: Proceedings of Conference on Professional on Awareness in Software Engineering, pp 47–60Google Scholar
  2. Allaby M (ed) (2008) A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  3. Anda B, Sjøberg D, Jørgensen M (2001) ECOOP 2001 Object-Oriented Programming, vol 2072. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg, pp 402–428Google Scholar
  4. Awad N, Krishnan M (2006) The personalization privacy paradox: An empirical evaluation of information transparency and the willingness to be profiled online for personalization. MIS Q 30(1):13–28Google Scholar
  5. Bevan N, Azuma M (1997) Quality in use: Incorporating human factors into the software engineering lifecycle. In: Software Engineering Standards Symposium and Forum, 1997. Emerging International Standards. ISESS 97. 3rd IEEE International, pp 169–179Google Scholar
  6. Bickerstaff K, Tolley R, Walker G (2002) Transport planning and participation: The rhetoric and realities of public involvement. J Trans Geogr 10(1):61–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bird C (2005) Top 10 tips for better agile. Inf Prof 2(6):33–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cerri S (2000) Effective communication skills for engineers. In: Proceedings of the 2000 IEEE Engineering Management Society, pp 625–629Google Scholar
  9. Clarke R (1999) Internet privacy concerns confirm the case for intervention. Commun ACM 42(2):60–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coughlan J, Macredie R (2002) Effective communication in requirements elicitation: A comparison of methodologies. Requir Eng 7(2):47–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Curtis B, Krasner H, Iscoe N (1988) A field study of the software design process for large systems. Commun ACM 31(11):1268–1287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fleischmann K, Wallace W (2005) A covenant with transparency: Opening the black box of models. Commun ACM 48(5):93–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fleischmann K, Wallace W (2009) Ensuring transparency in computational modeling. Commun ACM 52(3):131–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Forward A, Lethbridge TC (2002) The relevance of software documentation, tools and technologies: A survey. In: Proceedings of the 2002 ACM symposium on Document engineering. ACM, pp 26–33Google Scholar
  15. Fowler M (2004) UML distilled: A brief guide to the standard object modeling language. Addison-Wesley ProfessionalGoogle Scholar
  16. Hartwick J, Barki H (2001) Communication as a dimension of user participation. IEEE Trans Prof Commun 44(1):21–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heijstek W, Kuhne T, Chaudron MR (2011) Experimental analysis of textual and graphical representations for software architecture design. In: International Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement (ESEM). IEEE, pp 167–176Google Scholar
  18. Herlea Damian D, Eberlein A, Shaw M, Gaines B (2000) Using different communication media in requirements negotiation. IEEE Softw 17(3):28–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hertzum M, Pejtersen A (2000) The information-seeking practices of engineers: Searching for documents as well as for people. Inf Process Manag 36(5):761–778CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ingalls P, Frever T (2009) Growing an agile culture from value seeds. In: Agile Conference, 2009. AGILE ’09, pp 119–124Google Scholar
  21. Jedlitschka A, Ciolkowski M, Pfahl D (2008) Reporting experiments in software engineering. In: Shull F, Singer J, Sjøberg D (eds) Guide to Advanced Empirical Software Engineering. Springer, London, pp 201–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Leffingwell D, Widrig D (2000) Managing Software Requirements: A Unified Approach. Addison-Wesley ProfessionalGoogle Scholar
  23. Lyytinen K, Hirschheim R (1987) Information systems failures: A survey and classification of the empirical literature. Oxford University Press, Inc, pp 257–309Google Scholar
  24. Norman G (2010) Likert scales, levels of measurement and the “laws” of statistics. Adv Health Sci Educ 15(5):625–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Oliver R (2004) What is transparency?. McGraw-HillGoogle Scholar
  26. Poole W (2003) The softer side of custom software development: Working with the other players. In: Proceedings. 16th Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training, 2003. (CSEE T 2003), pp 14–21Google Scholar
  27. Rowe G, Frewer L (2000) Public participation methods: A framework for evaluation. Sci, Technol, Hum Values 25(1):3–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Saiedian H, Dale R (2000) Requirements engineering: Making the connection between the software developer and customer. Inf Softw Technol 42(6):419–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Santana A, Wood D (2009) Transparency and social responsibility issues for wikipedia. Ethics Inf Technol 11:133–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schwaber K, Sutherland J (2012) The scrum guide.
  31. Tan B, Smith H, Keil M, Montealegre R (2003) Reporting bad news about software projects: Impact of organizational climate and information asymmetry in an individualistic and a collectivistic culture. IEEE Trans Eng Manag 50(1):64–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Trochim WM (2001) Research methods knowledge base. Atomic Dog Pub., Cincinnati, OH.Google Scholar
  33. Tu Y (2014) Transparency in Software Engineering. PhD thesis, University of Auckland, New ZealandGoogle Scholar
  34. Tu Y, Tempero E, Thomborson C (2014) Evaluating presentation of requirements documents: Results of an experiment. In: Zowghi D, Jin Z (eds) Requirements Engineering, vol 432. Communications and Information Science. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg, pp 120–134Google Scholar
  35. Verner J, Overmyer S, McCain K (1999) In the 25 years since the mythical man-month what have we learned about project management? Inf Softw Technol 41(14):1021–1026CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Walz D, Elam J, Curtis B (1993) Inside a software design team: Knowledge acquisition, sharing, and integration. Commun ACM 36(10):63–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wohlin C, Runeson P, Höst M, Ohlsson M, Regnell B (2000) Experimentation in Software Engineering: An Introduction. Kluwer Academic Publishers, MA, USACrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Computer ScienceThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations