Time Separation, Coordination, and Performance in Technical Teams

J. Alberto Espinosa, Jonathon N. Cummings, Cynthia Pickering
2012 IEEE transactions on engineering management  
Technical teams are often distributed across geographic locations and across time zones. While spatial and time separation are often correlated, most prior studies have only focused on one or the other. As a consequence, their respective effects may be confounded when teams have both spatial and time separation. We argue that bridging spatial and time separation pose very different coordination challenges, thus their respective impacts need to be examined together to fully understand how
more » ... hic configuration influences team performance. We report on a field study of 123 technical teams conducted at a large semiconductor manufacturing company where we investigated how spatial and time separation influenced team performance. Our results show that time separation, in the form of maximum time zone difference spanned by members, has a stronger negative impact on team performance than spatial separation. We also show that this impact is indirect -i.e., large time zone spans create coordination problems, which in turn impact team performance. Put differently, when coordination problems are reduced, the negative association between maximum time zone span and performance disappears. We describe our findings and discuss implications for global team managers and collaboration tool designers. "Coordination and Performance in Global Software Service Delivery: The Vendor's Perspective", Gopal, A., Espinosa, J. A., Gosain, S., Darcy, D. P., IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management (2011 in press). Past research on software development outsourcing has explored in some detail the client's perspective and its attendant performance issues. However, relatively few studies have explicitly addressed performance drivers viewed from the vendor side. In this paper, we fill this gap by examining how coordination within the project team and between the client and the vendor organizations influence two dimensions of software project performance -software quality and development speed -using data from 83 software projects from nine Indian software firms. Our results show that both client (external) coordination and vendor team (internal) coordination positively influenced software quality, but not development speed. We also found that client communication barriers moderated the impact of coordination with the client on quality. While we did not find that vendor team coordination affected development speed, team size had a negative interaction effect with vendor team coordination on development speed. Interestingly, temporal boundaries had a detrimental effect on software quality, but a positive effect on development speed. Finally, we found that development speed increased with the number of person days devoted to the project up to a certain point (i.e., a first order effect), but speed declined with additional person days (i.e., a second order effect). Our findings contribute to literature and practice by offering nuanced insights into performance in outsourcing projects from the vendor perspective and the role of coordination, both within the vendor team and with the client. Follow The Sun (FTS) has an interesting appeal -hand-off work at the end of every day from one site to the next site many time zones away in order to speed up product development. While the potential impact on "time-to-market" can be profound, at least conceptually, FTS has enjoyed very few documented industry success cases because it is widely acknowledged that it is extremely difficult to implement. In order to address this "FTS challenge" we provide in this paper a conceptual foundation and formal definition. We then analyze the conditions under which FTS can be successful in reducing development duration. We show that handoff efficiency is paramount to successful FTS practices and that duration can be reduced only when lower within-site coordination and improved personal productivity outweigh the corresponding increase in cross-site coordination. We also develop 12 research propositions based on fundamental issues surrounding FTS: calendar efficiency, development method, product architecture and hand-off efficiency, within-site coordination, cross-site coordination, and personal productivity. Finally, we describe our FTS exploratory field studies and draw out key findings and learning. In globally distributed projects, members have to deal with spatial boundaries (different cities) and temporal boundaries (different work hours) because other members are often in cities within and across time zones. For pairs of members with spatial boundaries and no temporal boundaries (those in different cities with overlapping work hours), synchronous communication technologies such as the telephone, instant messaging (IM), and Web conferencing provide a means for real-time interaction. However, for pairs of members with spatial and temporal boundaries (those in different cities with non-overlapping work hours), asynchronous communication technologies, such as e-mail, provide a way to interact intermittently. Using survey data from 675 project members (representing 5,674 pairs of members) across 108 projects "Global Boundaries, Task Processes and IS Project Success: A Field Study", Espinosa, J. A., G.
doi:10.1109/tem.2011.2126579 fatcat:sk75mtuahbgotk7vrpw5wqszjq