Qualitative Research on Practice in Small Software Companies

Qualitative Research on Practice in Small Software Companies

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch062
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The importance of small companies to economic activity, employment, innovation and wealth creation in many countries is widely recognized in literature (Bell et al., 2004). The number and the importance of very small software companies in world economies are growing. Many researchers reported the share of small software companies in the economies of some countries or regions. For example, according to Richardson and von Wangenheim (2007) small software companies represent up to 85 percent of all software organizations. Coleman and O'Connor (2008) reported that 61 percent out of a total of 630 indigenous software companies in Ireland employed 10 or fewer people. Laporte et al., (2006) reported that 85 percent of IT sector companies in Europe have between 1 and 10 employees, while over 50 percent of companies in Montréal area in Canada have fewer than 10 employees.

Most of the software engineering researches are rather devoted to providing recommendations and suggestions to practitioners what they ought to do, then they concentrate on understanding what actually happens in the practice (Glass, 2003). Researchers often do not know what actually happens in practice, while practitioners think about the current duties and deadlines, which lead towards the gap between research and practice. People in small software companies are fully dedicated to daily activities and deadlines attached to current tasks. The daily practice of small software companies is mainly improvisational (Dyba, 2000) and influenced by various internal factors, or context dependent factors, and global factors related to trends in global economy. In addition, the complexity of the human behaviour, and individual and organizational characteristics significantly influence daily practice in small software companies. The deeper understanding of these behaviours and characteristics is necessary in order to provide the relevant basis for practice assessment and improvement. Because of constraints in resources, small software companies need effective software engineering practices tailored to their size and type of business (Fayad et al., 2000). Observed state of the practice and research enabled acceptance of qualitative research methods for investigating the practice in small software companies.

Qualitative research methods have long history that includes various development directions. Early development of qualitative research methods, starting from 17th century, is mainly connected with ethnographic studies (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Modern qualitative research methods, starting from 20th century, have been developed through eight movements, starting with the traditional period in the first four decades of 20th century. Next movements like modernist phase and blurred genres started in 1970s enabled researchers to use several complementary paradigms and methods in their research. In last two decades other movements appear, and several qualitative journals began to publish contemporary qualitative researches.

Qualitative methods originated in social sciences and later get attention in education and technical sciences. In qualitative research, sometimes defined as interpretive research, the emphasis is on interpretations of human experiences. Qualitative research involves the researcher working in the field, and getting close to the people and circumstances to capture what is happening (Patton, 2001). Silverman (1998) suggested the view of qualitative methods as how people do things, rather than how people see things. Qualitative research is based on qualitative data that are source of well-grounded and rich descriptions of human processes. Qualitative data help researcher to generate new conceptual frameworks about observed phenomenon, or to revise existing ones.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Qualitative Research: A set of research strategies and methods that rely on qualitative, non-numerical data.

Grounded theory: Qualitative research approach aimed toward developing a theory about observed phenomena by using inductive interpretative analysis.

Narrative Research: Qualitative research approach for capturing and analysing stories of individual life experience of small group of individuals over time in given context.

Field Study: A study conducted in the real setting with the real practitioners with the aim to understand different aspects of the practice or phenomena that occur.

Practice: Set of activities oriented towards achieving specific goals.

Phenomenon: Appearance or object that exists in the human experience and can be subject of inquiry.

Ethnographic Research: Qualitative research approach for examination of phenomena in the context of everyday life of the community being studied.

Inductive Analysis: Approach to data analysis that aims at deriving more general concepts through interpretation of raw textual data.

Interpretative Research: Qualitative research aimed at understanding social phenomena by interpreting people experiences and meanings they create.

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