Ambidexterity in large-scale software engineering
Doctoral thesis, 2015
Software is pervading our environment with products that become smarter and
smarter every day. In order to follow this trend, software companies deliver
continuously new features, in order to anticipate their competitors and to gain market
share. For this reason, they need to adopt processes and organization solutions that
allow them to deliver continuously.
A key challenge for software organizations is to balance the resources in order to
deliver enough new features in the short-term but also to support the delivery of new
features in the long-term. In one word, companies need to be ambidextrous. In this
thesis we investigate what ambidexterity is, what are the factors that hinder large
software companies to be ambidextrous, and we provide initial solutions for the
mitigation of such challenges.
The research process consists of an empirical investigation based on the Grounded
Theory approach, in which we conducted several case studies based on continuous
interaction with 7 large software organizations developing embedded software. The
results in this thesis are grounded in a large number of data collected, and corroborated
by a combination of exploratory and confirmatory, as well as qualitative and
quantitative data collection.
The contributions of this thesis include a comprehensive understanding of the factors
influencing ambidexterity, the current challenges and a proposed solution, CAFFEA. In
particular, we found that three main challenges where hampering the achievement of
ambidexterity for large software companies. The first one is the conflict between Agile
Software Development and software reuse. The second one is the complexity of
balancing short-term and long-term goals among a large number of stakeholders with
different views and expertize. The third challenge is the risky tendency, in practice, of
developing systems that does not sustain long-term delivery of new features: this is
caused by the unbalanced focus on short-term deliveries rather than on the system
architecture quality. This phenomenon is referred to as Architectural Technical Debt,
which is a financial theoretical framework that relates the implementation of suboptimal
architectural solutions to taking a debt. Even though such sub-optimal
solutions might bring benefits in the short-term, a debt might have an interest
associated with it, which consists of a negative impact on the ability of the software
company to deliver new features in the long-term. If the interest becomes too costly,
then the software company suffers delays and development crises. It is therefore
important to avoid accumulation, in the system, of Architectural Technical Debt with a
high interest associated with it.
The solution proposed in this thesis is a comprehensive framework, CAFFEA, which
includes the management of Architectural Technical Debt as a spanning activity (i.e., a
practice shared by stakeholders belonging to different groups inside the organization).
We have recognized and evaluated the strategic information required to manage
Architectural Technical Debt. Then, we have developed an organizational framework,
including roles, teams and practices, which are needed by the involved stakeholders.
This solutions have been empirically developed and evaluated, and companies report
initial benefits of applying the results in practice.