by Sanae Saadaoui and Frederic F. Monfils
EXTRA has been designed to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) improve the way they develop and deliver software by making better use of each company’s previous experiences. In order to do this, SMEs must record these experiences. While knowledge management evaluation used to be inaccessible to SMEs, this is no longer the case. EXTRA has developed a self-assessment tool providing a set of good practices in software development for SMEs.
Among the various initiatives envisioned so far to improve the quality of software products, knowledge sharing has been under recent investigation. The goal is to record experiences from past projects, both successes and failures. Capitalizing on experiences accumulated by the company can significantly improve the quality of the product, the efficiency of the team and the satisfaction of the customer. However, existing solutions in knowledge management are expensive and often require large investments of time, resources and money. This explains why these solutions are seldom applicable in SMEs.
The EXTRA project aims at producing a set of knowledge management techniques tailored to SMEs that develop and/or deliver software, hence improving the quality of their services. These techniques are based on theoretical research in this area. EXTRA follows the ‘Action Research’ methodology. In this methodology, the researchers and the participating SMEs collaborate to develop and test innovations in a local context. This process ensures the commitment of players and the quality and relevance of research activities.
The EXTRA project will finish in a few months, and a set of techniques have now been validated. Following is a description of the main achievements which led to this validation and to the self-assessment tool developed during the project.
The first step consisted in surveying the requirements of the SMEs participating in the project as well as understanding their current experience with knowledge management. A questionnaire was designed to determine current and future interests in five major categories of strategies for knowledge management:
- the System school, which uses information systems (intranet, wiki) to codify knowledge
- the Cartographic school, which records employees and their skills
- the Engineering school, which records how to perform the activities and which particular role performs each task (this is similar to the writing of procedures when initiating an ISO 9001 certification)
- the Organizational school, which uses networking and meetings to share experience on a common topic
- the Spatial school, which arranges the work environment to encourage and promote exchange among employees.
The results showed a strong preference for the ‘System’ and ‘Engineering’ schools, with interest in the ‘Spatial’ school being low.
Based on the results of the survey, a first version of the guide was created that covered seven techniques. The descriptions of the techniques were validated by the participating SMEs, and some were implemented by them. The second version of the handbook incorporated the feedback of these implementations.
It appeared during the various meetings with SMEs, that there was a high demand for a self-assessment tool to help them evaluate their current practices in knowledge management. CETIC was appointed to develop this assessment tool given its proven expertise in assessment methods and software process improvement targeted to small companies. CETIC also actively participates in the ISO WG24 working group and this group is responsible for developing a new standard, ISO/IEC29110, suited to small and very small businesses.
The self-assessment tool consists of a questionnaire. The benefits of this assessment are threefold. First, it identifies the interests of the company in the five main knowledge management schools; second, it evaluates the maturity of the company in the three main practices (capitalization, recording and diffusion of knowledge); and finally, it directs the company not only to the most appropriate knowledge techniques described in the handbook but also to general recommendations in knowledge management (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Self-assessment tool.
This tool is currently available as a spreadsheet and should be soon made available as an online Web form with direct guidance.
Final presentation of the EXTRA project results
The results of the EXTRA project will be presented at the XP2010 conference to take place in June 2010 in Trondheim (Norway). A session will be dedicated to the project. There will also be presentations and workshops held in order to guide SMEs in their implementation of knowledge management techniques and in the evaluation of their IT-related practices.
EXTRA is a European CORNET project funded by DGTRE - Walloon Regional Ministry – Directorate General for Technologies, Research and Energy, Belgium. It involves partners from three different countries: Belgium (CETIC), Norway (ICT Norway, SINTEF) and Cyprus (CITEA, Inteliscape, Virtual IT). The project started in May 2008 and runs for a period of 24 months. In addition to research partners, participating SMEs based in Cyprus, Norway and Belgium’s Wallonia area are also involved in order to validate the research.
Sanae Saadaoui, CETIC, Belgium
Tel: +32 71 490 748
Frederic F. Monfils, CETIC, Belgium
Tel: +32 71 490 736