Data Validation

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Validation of the results was carried out in two steps. First, the coding and mapping steps

were performed independently by each member of the research team for the same

interview. Coding and mapping results were then compared, discussed and homogenized

with the research team. A research report containing the results was sent to the

interviewees and discussed with each of them separately. The aim of the discussion was

to verify if the interviewees recognized in the map an adequate representation of their

ideas. The concepts dictionary was validated in the same way.

Furthermore, a subsequent group discussion of the results was organized to construct

a shared dictionary of the concepts in which each concept was defined as trying to

include or improve individual contributions.

Table 5. Differences and similarities in concept relevance

Requirements 21%

Costs 17%

Time 20%

Quality 10%

Risk 17%

Relationship with the customers 2%

Competencies 8%

Dimension 5%

Table 6. Concept importance calculation

Interview A Interview B Interview C Interview D Interview E

Top four relevant

concepts as

declared in the



















-Relationship with

the customer



Top four relevant

concepts as

emerged from

domain analysis

- Costs

- Time

- Quality



- Relationship with

the customer

- Control

- Risk






- Budget


- Risk

- Team

- Requirements

- Time










Top four relevant

concepts as

emerged from



- Time

- Risk

- Costs

- Control

- Risk

- Time

- Requirements

- Dimension

- Competencies

- Budget


- Risk

- Requirements



- Project







Implications for Decision Support

A Simple DSS For Life-Cycle Selection

In this section we examine the issue of how to employ the results obtained from the

analysis presented in the previous section to develop a simple DSS for the problem of

life-cycle selection. In particular results emerging from the analysis were integrated into

a DSS for life-cycle selection adapted from McConnell’s approach (McConnell, 1996).

McConnell’s approach is based on the definition of a selection matrix S = [sij] reported

in the Appendix.

The table allows software project managers to compare a set of alternative development

models reported in the matrix columns with respect to a set of evaluation criteria reported

on the rows. Life-cycle models that are reported in the table can be well-known models

drawn from the literature or customized models developed by a company thanks to its

know-how and past experience. The same applies for evaluation criteria whose list can

be modified and integrated depending on the context of the application.

The value sij is a verbal evaluation assessing the capability of the model j-th to satisfy

the i-th criterion. Such evaluations are the result of the analysis of the strengths and

weaknesses of each model. The set of judgments contained in each column can be

considered the description of the ideal case in which the corresponding life-cycle model

should be used. For example, one should use the spiral model if: a) requirements and

architecture are very ambiguously defined, b) excellence in reliability, large growth

envelope, and capability to manage risks is requested, c) respect for an extremely tight

predefined schedule is not required, d) overhead is low, and e) the customer needs

excellent visibility on progress.

McConnell suggests that decision-makers evaluate a given project according to the

criteria contained in the table and then select the alternative that best fits the characteristics

of the specific project.

Starting from the Appendix table and using the results obtained from the field analysis,

a simple tool to support decision-makers in the selection of the most suitable life cycle

was built. The developed tool allows its users to define a selection matrix, to add life-cycle

models and evaluation criteria, and to establish weights for evaluation criteria. The input

and output interface of the DSS are illustrated in Figure 5.

To identify the best life cycle for a given project, users are asked to evaluate each criterion

by assessing the characteristics of the project through a Likert scale ranging from one

to five. In the example shown in Figure 5 the evaluator is saying that for the given project,

the capability of the life-cycle model to cope with a poor definition of requirements and

architecture should be poor to average, the capability to ensure high reliability should

be excellent, etc. The user is also required to assign weights representing criteria

importance expressed as a percentage and then normalized. The algorithm then calculates

a score for each model stored in the selection matrix representing the distance between

the profile of the considered project described in terms of the evaluated criteria and the

ideal profile corresponding to each model. Consequently, the model to which the lowest

score is assigned should be selected as the best one for the given project. In the example

shown in Figure 5 the numbers 1.92, 1.65 and 1.24 represent the distances between the

profile of the given project described in the column “evaluation” and the profiles of,

respectively, the waterfall the evolutionary prototyping and the spiral model as contained

in the selection matrix. On the basis of such results the best choice is the spiral


Causal Map Analysis For DSS Improvement

The analysis of causal maps helps in improving the meaningfulness and the reliability

of the DSS presented above. The in-depth analysis performed through causal maps can

help companies to elicit unshared knowledge at the individual- as well as at the team-level

that may be potentially useful. Such knowledge can be discussed and analyzed through

the methodology presented in this chapter. Eventually, outputs of the analysis can be

integrated into decision support tools described above in the following way:

a) construction of a better (i.e., richer and more complete) definition of evaluation

criteria: concept dictionary analysis and group discussion can help researchers

identify evaluation criteria on the basis of the experience of developers through the

integration of different points of view; existing criteria can be updated and new

criteria can be added as new experience is gained;

Evaluation criterion Evaluation

Works with poorly understood requirements 2

Works with poorly understood architecture 2

Produces highly reliable systems 5

Produces system with large growth envelope 5

Manages risks 5

Can be constrained to a predefined schedule 5

Has low overhead 4

Allows for midcourse corrections 4

Requires little manager or developer



Provides customer with progress



Provides management with progress



1= poor 2= poor to average 3= average 4= average to excellent

5= excellent














Waterfall Evolutionary



1,92 1,65 mod1e,l2 4

Spiral model

On the basis of your judgements, the best life cycle model

forfror For your project is

Figure 5. Input output interface of a DSS for life cycle selection

b) reduction of ambiguity of evaluation criteria meaning: comparison of individual

maps and the dictionary can be used to identify possible discrepancies in meaning

attribution to a same evaluation criterion by different developers; as shown in the

examples presented in the fifth section, this situation can occur frequently.

Through the methodology presented in the fourth and fifth sections, those

discrepancies can be elicited; different interpretation can be integrated into more

comprehensive ones, while incoherence and conflicts can be analyzed and discussed

in depth. Analysis through discussion and self-reflection increases knowledge

sharing, people’s involvement, and the participation of team members in the

decision-making process concerning project development;

c) assessment of criteria relevance through calculation of weights representing

criteria importance: quantitative analysis of causal maps permits the estimation of

criteria importance through weights that are more reliable than weights expressed

in a direct way since they take into account concept relevance in the considered

domain of analysis and causal patterns between them.

Evaluations can be expressed by the project manager or through a group discussion. It

is also possible to implement multi-person aggregation algorithms to collect separately

and aggregate opinions of different experts. Evaluation sessions can be stored in a

database and re-used in similar situation according to a case-based reasoning approach

(Schanck, 1986; Kolodner, 1991), with ex post comments about the validity of the choice

made. Through time the conjoint application of causal mapping and DSS can allow

companies to store knowledge and past experiences that can be continuously revised

and updated.

Conclusions and Implications:

Knowledge Management through a

Cognitive Approach

The adoption of formal methodologies for software development contributes to substantially

improve software development projects in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness.

Nevertheless, such methodologies are often perceived as constraining and limiting

developers’ knowledge and capabilities. As a consequence, promised benefits are not

achieved if developers resist their adoption. This chapter shows that an investigation

of the development process in its early stage from a cognitive point of view can:

a) reduce the degree of resistance through involvement and consensus policy in the

choice phase;

b) help to identify in advance multiple meanings and interpretations used by team

members and possible conflicts arising from such differences;

c) enrich team knowledge and competencies through multiple interpretations;

d) resolve differences and possible divergences through internal discussions or

through training initiatives;

e) provide team members a deeper knowledge, higher visibility of the process and a

higher level of awareness of the problems in a specific development process.

As outlined in the introduction of this chapter, by eliciting and mapping individual

knowledge, the methodology shows how it is possible to:

a) Identify critical factors that impact the success of new projects;

b) Compare different individual interpretations represented through causal maps

concerning the meaning and the importance of choice variables, to verify the

existence of overlapping perceptions, shared beliefs and conflicting interpretations;

c) Analyze individual knowledge and use the results of such analysis for the design

of more effective decision support tools for software life cycle selection.

Critical factors are elicited through interviews and then represented through causal


The concept dictionary contains the description of the meaning of each variable.

Centrality and domain analysis help to identify the most critical and recurring issues as

perceived by team members. Finally, individual map comparisons permit us to identify

those factors that have different and divergent meanings according to different individuals.

Therefore one may say that critical factors are such because of their relevance, and

because of the presence of several, multifaceted and/or conflicting individual interpretations.

Representing developers’ discourse through causal maps provides analysts with an

immediate tool to compare how individuals frame a same problem, and how complex and

articulated is the structure of their reasoning in the given context of analysis. The number

of concepts, number and kind of connections, and low or high presence of feedback are

structural characteristics that are easy to identify in causal maps. Difference in relevance

of a concept can be calculated through centrality and domain analysis. The comparison

of different concept dictionaries can help to identify differences in meaning.

Finally, the analysis of individual knowledge obtained through causal maps can be used

to improve the design of DSS in software development as shown in this chapter. The basic

idea is to integrate the formal and explicit knowledge contained in a DSS with human

expert knowledge, which is usually situated, highly contextualized, unshared and tacit.

Through the proposed approach this could be done in several ways (e.g., by adding new

evaluation criteria, new life-cycle models, by redefining criteria weights, or by merging

different individual interpretations into more complete and richer definition of criteria’s


At a first level of intervention, the in-depth analysis carried out using causal mapping

can be used to improve the reliability and meaningfulness of the system, as shown in the

case of McConnell’s approach. At a more sophisticated level, the use of causal mapping

can be considered as a fundamental step in the cognitive approach to knowledge

management in software development. Actually, what causal mapping can help to do is

to elicit and model expert knowledge to construct formal and manageable representations

of individual knowledge. Such representations can be used for descriptive purposes and

analyzed to improve the design of formal decision support tools. What really matters is

that from this perspective decision support tools can be conceived as open platforms

which can be continuously revised, updated and enlarged through knowledge elicitation

and mapping, as individual and organizational knowledge gradually increase thanks to

new experience and know-how. For instance, a simple tool like McConnell’s table could

be transformed into a knowledge base for a DSS by storing knowledge over time (e.g.,

adding new evaluation criteria, new development models, by revising weights and

reformulating meaning of evaluation criteria).

A remarkable advantage offered by causal mapping is that knowledge elicitation and

mapping is actually obtained through a strong involvement of employees and managers.

This brings about many advantages not strictly related to decision support issues such


a) people’s involvement may increase employee motivation;

b) companies gaining more knowledge about how things go on in their organization,

i.e., they can investigate the theory-in–use and detect possible discrepancies with

the organizational espoused theory contained in formal procedures, documentation

and organizational charts (Argyris & Schon, 1978);

c) divergent or conflicting interpretations can be elicited and analyzed;

d) group discussions can allow team members to have an occasion to reflect on their

problem framing and to compare their opinions and cognitive schemata and attitude

with other team members;

e) improvements in training and learning can be obtained.

Lessons Learned

The methodology and the case study presented above can be further discussed to

highlight both conceptual and theoretical implications for knowledge management and

learning in knowledge-intensive organizations, as well as in terms of practical implications

for the management of software projects.

Theoretical Contribution: Causal Maps as Tools To

Investigate Organizational Learning

In the proposed approach, the emphasis is on the problem-setting stage in the decisionmaking

process when managers must identify key issues and alternative evaluation

approaches for the development of a new software project.

This stage can be investigated through the analysis of formal processes used by the

organization for life-cycle selection (espoused theory following Argyris and Schön’s

terminology) and the actual way in which the selection is implemented (theory in use).

The espoused theory and the theory-in-use do not always coincide and it is important

to understand the reasons for such a discrepancy. Describing the espoused theory,

explicit by definition, and the theory-in-use, very often tacit and not easy to formalize,

means to map the organizational knowledge employed by the organization in the lifecycle

selection process.

Knowledge engineering approaches (Schreiber et al., 2000), causal mappings and studies

on organizational cognition (Weick, 1976, Huff, 1990, Eden & Ackermann, 1996) can offer

theoretical as well as methodological contributions to support organizational knowledge


From this perspective, life cycle selection, as any organizational evaluation, is a product

of the organizational knowledge, here intended as the combination of formal espoused

theories and idiosyncratic situated theories in use. If the analysis of official organizational

procedures can shed light on the espoused theory, causal mapping can help to

elicit the theory in use and, at least to certain extent, to evaluate how and in which sense

it differs form the espoused theory.

An in-depth analysis through causal maps can help to elicit the theory in use, very often

only partially shared and more or less tacit, to compare different theories in use, and to

incorporate such knowledge into formal tools, such as DSS, and procedures, in other

words into the espoused theory.

When this occurs one might accept that an organization has updated its knowledge, i.e.,

organizational learning has occurred. Even if issues such as what is organizational

learning, how and if it actually happens, etc., are largely debated and questioned in the

literature, the contribution to such a debate advanced in this chapter and offered as

reflection for the reader is that causal maps can be a methodological tool to investigate

organizational learning, especially in knowledge-intensive organizations such as software


In particular, the process of software development, involving an intense level of

decision-making activity both at the individual as well as at the organizational level, can

be investigated within this framework. For instance, the selection of a life-cycle model

and the way through which such choice occurs is actually influenced by the existing

theory-in-use and the espoused theory about “how to develop the project given certain


Summing up, the methodological implications deriving from such a theoretical perspective

can be condensed in terms of the following recommendations:

a) both the theory-in-use and the espoused theory about how the organization makes

a decision should be analyzed;

b) theory-in-use can be elicited and analyzed through causal maps by asking people

to explain how they usually make a decision, which variables influence their choice,

what is the meaning of these variables, etc.;

c) useful implications for the design of the “right” selection method can be drawn from

such an analysis.

Managerial Implications

Increased reliability/meaningfulness for decision support tools and organizational

analysis, and self-reflection can be considered as the added value obtainable through

a cognitive approach to knowledge management in software development. It is quite

straightforward to maintain that the methodology proposed in this chapter, by combining

a cognitive approach with a decision-support system orientation, can help organizations

in facilitating or enabling knowledge elaboration and creation. With reference to the wellknown

Nonaka and Takeuchi terminology (1995), the proposed methodology can

contribute to achieve this result through the following mechanisms:

a) Knowledge socialization through group discussion;

b) Knowledge externalization through causal maps;

c) Combination of implicit knowledge contained in interviews and explicit knowledge

contained in manual, procedures and DSS;

d) Internalization, through self-reflection.

Group discussion for data validation and comparison facilitate individual knowledge

sharing and hence knowledge socialization (causal maps can also be constructed

through a group interview — an approach not tempted in this chapter). Interview coding

and mapping help knowledge externalization through the formal representation obtained

with coding sheets, concept dictionaries, and above all causal maps. Combination can

be favored by integrating results from different sources of explicit knowledge such as

existing DSS, formal methodologies for software development and new explicit knowledge

contained in individual causal maps, and group maps could also be constructed by

combining individual knowledge. Finally, causal maps facilitate internalization in two

ways. First, by allowing an individual to analyze formal representations of their problemframing

and problem-solving strategies, maps play a reflexive function inducing individuals

to actively reflect and re-evaluate their ways of thinking with respect to a specific

context of action. Second, once elicited knowledge is integrated into a new DSS, it is then

critically reviewed and applied by individuals in everyday practice.


The authors wish to thank Valerio Teta and Mario Capaccio for their support in the field

analysis and for their suggestions and collaborations during analysis of the results, and

Vincenzo D’Angelo who participated in the field research. The authors also wish to thank

the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and contributions.