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Global Development Institute

Uncertainty and Coordination in Global Software Projects: A UK/India-Centred Case Study

Su-Ying Lai, Richard Heeks, Brian Nicholson


Increasing numbers of software development projects are conducted on a global scale that disperses processes to different locations. This paper presents a global software project case study, in which development work was divided between the UK and India. It focuses on two issues: the uncertainties that arise because of differences between project locations, and the coordination activities undertaken in an effort to reduce those uncertainties. The case makes use of the COCPIT framework to identify sources of uncertainty, and a four-way categorisation of coordinative actions. It shows how uncertainty and difference lead to delays, additional costs, and additional management overheads in global projects. It also indicates the limitations of 'remote management' via ICTs. Conclusions are drawn about management of global software projects, including techniques for risk analysis.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What kind of project was used for this case study? [part A]
  2. What are 'uncertainty' and 'coordination' in software projects? How are they related? [part B]
  3. What types of uncertainty and coordination were found in the case project? [part C]
  4. On the basis of the case evidence, what recommendations would you make to the manager of a global software development project? [part D]

Development questions

  1. What limitations does the research method described in this paper have?
  2. Do uncertainty and coordination tell us all we need to know about global software project management?
  3. How might uncertainty and coordination issues differ if the developers had been based in the US and UK, rather than the UK and India?
  4. How might the findings differ for i) a larger project, and ii) a two-site rather than seven-/eight-site project?
  5. Turn the clock back to early 2002. What advice would you give to Company A about the management of its software development project?
  6. Will truly virtual global software teams ever be possible?