Cultural Blind Spots


Cultural blind spot: an unidentified knowledge of our own cultural behaviour and practices within organisations


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Danish companies neglect their home ground when engaging in GSD

IT companies engaged in global software development (GSD) — developing software in geographically distributed teams through e.g. offshoring or outsourcing—meet challenges of working remotely across time zones and geography. Issues such as trust, commitment, coordination, knowledge management, and awareness are crucial enablers for GSD; however, very difficult to establish and achieve in practice. For companies determined to reap the benefits of GSD, methods for assuring the quality of software engineering processes and end product have tended to steal the focus, while the actual concrete practices have attracted less attention. Often, when initiating a global collaboration much time is spend focusing on preparing the remote IT vendor site; assuring alignment of processes and practices towards the outsourcing IT company, while paying less attention to the changes that come along at the home ground—impacting the local work practices of the IT developers.

“..when initiating a global collaboration much time is spend focusing on preparing the remote IT vendor site; assuring alignment of processes and practices towards the outsourcing IT company, while paying less attention to the changes that come along at the home ground”

In this research, we investigate how local IT development work is shaped by a global software development arrangement by following an outsourcing setup between a large Indian IT vendor and a Danish IT company. Despite their 7 years of collaboration the Danish developers still articulate and experience problems and challenges in working remotely. In particularly, we found that the management in the Danish outsourcing company focused only on the Indian site of the collaboration, and problems emerged from the lack of attention paid toward the changes that was happening in the Danish organization. We refer to this lack of attention as a cultural blind spot—an unidentified knowledge that exists in parallel within organizations. Cultural blind spots is the information and practices embedded within our own cultural behavior and practices—our culture, mind, action, or motivation—that we take for granted and typically overlook when paying attention elsewhere, thus risk neglecting. Cultural blind spots may encumber the collaboration, as people and organizations may have blind spots toward their cultural self-awareness.

 “…management in the Danish outsourcing company focused only on the Indian site of the collaboration, and problems emerged from the lack of attention paid toward the changes that was happening in the Danish organization”

Due to the cultural blind spot, tensions were created in the global setup, influencing the collaborative work practices between remote colleagues. The changing work practices of working locally within the walls of the Danish IT company to be creating high-quality documentation and specifications to collaborators outside these walls—requires additional competences than high level domain knowledge and expertise in programming. Additionally, the concerned code that needed to be specified—enabling remote colleagues to work on the development—had been gemmating for many years and therefore was not structured enough for easily producing high-quality documentation and specification. The Danish IT developers’ daily work practices and the nature of the development work thus changed fundamentally—involving increased communication, coordination and collaboration with remote colleagues—and was experienced as “extra work” due to the global setup.

“The Danish IT developers’ daily work practices and the nature of the development work thus changed fundamentally … and was experienced as “extra work” due to the global setup”

Pointing to how outsourcing companies may have cultural blind spots towards the changes that comes along in the local work at their home ground—the implications of our findings include considerations for how to organize GSD practices and prepare for the organizational changes that occur when moving from a co-located software development to geographically distributed software development. Also, we open up the discussions about the professional identity of IT developers within GSD, as it may to a greater extend require supplementary qualifications in addition to techy programming skills. To address organizations’ cultural blind spots, an active effort is required to take a critical stance toward one’s own practices, and continuously make changes that go along with becoming a global organization.

 “The changing work practices of working locally within the walls of the Danish IT company to be creating high-quality documentation and specifications to collaborators outside these walls—requires additional competences than high level domain knowledge and expertise in programming”

Related Publications

  1. Matthiesen, S., et al. (2014). “Figure Out How to Code with the Hands of Others”: Recognizing Cultural Blind Spots in Global Software Development. Accepted at the conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW ’14).