The Hidden Experts in Software-Engineering Communication

Irwin Kwan and Daniela Damian
University of Victoria, Canada

Sharing knowledge in a timely fashion is important in distributed software development. However, because experts are difficult to locate, developers tend to broadcast information to find the right people, which leads to overload and to communication breakdowns. We study the context in which experts are included in an email discussion so that team members can identify experts sooner. In this paper, we conduct a case study examining why people emerge in discussions by examining email within a distributed team. We find that people emerge in the following four situations: when a crisis occurs, when they respond to explicit requests, when they are forwarded in announcements, and when discussants follow up on a previous event such as a meeting. We observe that emergent people respond not only to situations where developers are seeking expertise, but also to execute routine tasks. Our findings have implications for expertise seeking and knowledge management processes.