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Asynchronous Collaboration: Achieving Shared Understanding Beyond The First 100 Meters

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Program Delivery Methods and Real World Concepts

Tagged Division

Engineering Management

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.257.1 - 11.257.17



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Paper Authors


Raghvinder Sangwan Pennsylvania State University

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Dr. Raghvinder S. Sangwan is an Assistant Professor of Information Science in the School of Graduate Professional Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. He currently teaches software engineering to professional graduate students from Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Merck, Siemens, and Unisys. Dr. Sangwan is a Consulting Member of Technical Staff at Siemens Corporate Research, with over seven years of experience in software engineering research and development. Formerly, he was a lead architect at Siemens Medical, where he was involved in a distributed development project with over a thousand developers in six countries across three continents. Dr. Sangwan holds a Ph.D. in Computer and Information Sciences from Temple University.

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Kathryn Jablokow Pennsylvania State University-Great Valley

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Dr. Kathryn W. Jablokow is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, Pennsylvania State University. A graduate of The Ohio State University (Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, 1989), Dr. Jablokow’s teaching and research interests include robotics, control systems, and problem solving in science and engineering. She is the author (under the name K. W. Lilly) of Efficient Dynamic Simulation of Robotic Mechanisms (Kluwer), an Associate Editor of IEEE’s Robotics and Automation Magazine, and a member of the Executive Committee of ASME’s Technology and Society Division. Dr. Jablokow has developed four courses based on Adaption-Innovation theory at the graduate level and is currently investigating the relationship between cognitive style and invention.

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Matt Bass Siemens Corporate Research

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Matthew Bass is currently a Member of the Technical Staff for the Software Architecture Program at Siemens Corporate Research. In this role, Matt conducts research and consults with Siemens business units in the areas of Geographically Distributed Software Development and Software Architecture. Prior to coming to SCR, Matt was a Member of the Technical Staff at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute. Matt holds a Masters of Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Dan Paulish Siemens Corporate Research

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Dr. Dan Paulish has over 20 years of experience in software project management, and he has lectured internationally on software project management, software process improvement methods, and measurement. Dr. Paulish has worked as the Software Architecture R&D Program Manager at Siemens Corporate Research for the past 9 years. Prior to this, he worked in the areas of software measurement and software process improvement methods for software projects. Dr. Paulish is a co-author of Software Metrics: A Practitioner's Guide to Improved Product Development, published by IEEE Press, and the author of Architecture-Centric Software Project Management, published by Addison Wesley. Dr. Paulish holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, NY.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Asynchronous collaboration: achieving shared understanding beyond the first 100 meters

Abstract Motivated by a real-world example from the domain of software product development, we discuss some of the key factors that impact shared understanding among collaborating teams in general, along with specific implications of those factors for asynchronous collaboration in particular. Shared understanding is viewed through the lens of Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation theory, a powerful framework for understanding problem solving that provides insights on the creative behavior of individuals and the convergence and divergence of collaborating teams. Proposed research directions are suggested for the future, and implications of this work for engineering education are discussed as well.

1. Introduction It is well known that effective communication plays a key role in the performance of product development teams1, 2, 24, 32. Researchers have shown, for example, that well-coordinated teams demonstrate a higher level of overall performance, especially when their tasks are interrelated and compactly situated18, 21. Achieving the desired levels of coordination among geographically distributed teams can be extremely challenging, however, due to the negative impact that increased distance has on communication8. Research shows that a mere 100 meters of separation results in a significant drop in communication between team personnel1. Beyond this point, it becomes almost irrelevant whether collaborators are located in two different buildings, cities, countries, or continents: communication is greatly degraded and team performance suffers serious setbacks in all these contexts.

These negative effects are even more pronounced when the teams are located several time zones apart with minimal overlap in working hours32. Under these conditions, collaborators must rely heavily on asynchronous interactions (i.e., different individuals providing input to the task at different times); if the work is closely related, and the teams are not communicating well, problems can escalate quickly. This paper will concentrate on the role that shared understanding plays within this wider context, with a special focus on some of the cognitive factors related to the successful resolution of differences in shared understanding and suggestions for ways in which these factors might best be managed when collaborators are far apart.

In response to the many critical issues involved in asynchronous collaboration, project managers often attempt to minimize cross-site communication by allocating relatively independent assignments to different sites. While this is a reasonable approach, the aim is difficult to achieve, especially in the case of software product development. Creating loosely coupled software components that can be developed independently by separate teams is challenging due to the complex nature of the dependencies that exist among the components of a software product; in this context, a “dependency” is defined as any aspect of a component that relies on or provides something to another component or aspect of the system. That “something” could be a particular data construct, a semantic behavior, a timing behavior, or a resource behavior, among others. To manage these many dependencies effectively, the technical teams involved must collaborate, no

Sangwan, R., & Jablokow, K., & Bass, M., & Paulish, D. (2006, June), Asynchronous Collaboration: Achieving Shared Understanding Beyond The First 100 Meters Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--326

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