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Developing Software in an Equal and Collaborative Environment


By mygemadmin - Posted on 12 August 2004

 

Developing Software in an Equal and Collaborative Environment

[Asia/Pacific-Australia]

Organization Name: Community Communications Online (c2o)
Contact Person: Rod and Andrew Garton
Type of ICT Initiative: Community Building


Project Background

The Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM) was impleme

Layout of WOK website

nted to evaluate the use of a content management system, the Web Origami Kit (WOK) in developing a multimedia application (D3). Particular interest was in how production and development of D3 through the WOK took into account the needs of its team members.
  • 80% of the sample indicated that they were not satisfied with their performance on the project, citing role-clarification and time-management issues.
  • 80% of the sample indicated that they “could have done more in the project implementation.”

Time and technical constraints were indicated as barriers by more than half of all respondents.

  • 80% of respondents indicated that the WOK had “saved time”, while suggesting improvements, such as in navigation and documentation;
  • 80% of respondents indicated that they had acquired new skills, especially in programming and related to Flash; and
  • 60% indicated that they had contributed “a little”, rather than “a lot”, to the project.

Due to issues raised through this project and survey ongoing development of the WOK, at the time of writing, is focused for in-house use only.

All legacy builds of the WOK on public projects and web sites are being replaced by the current and final public build version. At the time of writing, no further development of the WOK will be pursued and the WOK project is to be suspended.

Setting Objectives

In the interest of evaluating the WOK development process, as it was applied in developing D3, the following evaluation goals were formulated:

 

To assess the extent to which the D3 production and development process, as facilitated by the WOK, took into account the needs of its team members, ensuring:
  • equal opportunity for collaboration
  • equal access to resources
  • professional development
  • equal opportunity to participate in development of the project
  • equal opportunity for professional development
  • a supportive and consultative environment for confidence-building and self-empowerment for
  • all production team members and WOK evaluators
  • equal sharing of technical information among team members
  • no disempowering of any team member with the implementation of a new production procedure or management tool

Formulating Evaluation Questions

These goals will be assessed in terms of the WOK’s:
  • project management
  • tracking and technical development procedures
The outcome of this analysis will be integrated into a preferred production methodology that would govern:
  • the development of WOK Version 2
  • the deployment of the WOK into the open source community

It should be noted that GEM was utilised as a holistic ICT evaluation methodology, which, as a result of its gender/feminist origins, usefully addresss issues of personal empowerment, and professional and personal development. GEM was not, therefore, used to specifically address the experience of women in using the WOK, but to evaluate benefits for all project developers. The interest of evaluation, in other words, was on equal opportunity and access for all, not only for some.

Setting Indicators

A questionnaire was developed that addressed the evaluation objectives. This was largely composed of questions with forced-choice (yes/no) response alternatives, and usually with further comments permitted for each answer. These items addressed:
  • satisfaction with performance on the project
  • possibility to do more in implementing in project
  • if the WOK saved time or increased workload
  • if new skills were learned in working on D3, and if they were applied
  • extent of contribution on the project

Open questions, in which respondents were free to comment on the issues raised, addressed:

  • recommendations for improving the WOK as a production and content management tool
  • how the respondent participated in decision-making

In addition, respondents were asked to identify:

  • any barriers they encountered (from a category-check question)
  • the tasks they performed (from a category-check question)
  • their sex
  • role in the project, and name (only for in-house WOK questionnaire, not requested of ACMI staff)
C2O- D3

Collecting Quantitative Indicators

An email was sent to the project mailing list and individuals within the Australian Centre for the Moving Image(ACMI), inviting people to complete the questionnaire. Frequent reminders were sent via email, specifically ACMI project management staff who had commissioned D3.

Twelve people were expected to complete the survey, seven from Toy Satellite and five from ACMI.

Data-collection began in August 2003. After one month, four respondents had completed the questionnaire. Following personal reminders, another response was received in January 2004. This gives a response-rate of about 42%. All but one of the five respondents were male.

The roles and tasks in the D3 project, as represented by the sample, were:

  • Producer (Production management, Sound design, Instructional writing,
  • Creative direction, Administration, Client liaison, Consultancy, Documentation, Research, Reporting)
  • Project Manager (Administration, Assisting with coding)
  • Production assistant (CMS development, Administration and Reporting)
  • Technical Consultant (CMS development, Programming, SWF Maker, Documentation, Research)
  • Flash programmer

From the above, it can be noted that the most frequently cited responsibility among the sample was Administration (60% of all respondents), followed by CMS development, Documentation, Research and Reporting.

None of the respondents identified their roles/responsibilities in the D3 project as:

  • Graphic/interface design
  • Project management - CMS implementation
  • Marketing
  • Branding
  • Liaison with 3rd party providers
  • Scheduling

Finding Qualitative Information

Eighty percent (80%) of the sample indicated they were not satisfied with their performance on the project. As explanatory comments made clear, this dissatisfaction was related to issues of role clarification and time-management:

 

“Trying to do more than I was capable of.”

“Unclear role and expectations. My role changing part-way through.”

“Rushing it a lot to get things done in a limited time frame.”

The one respondent who indicated satisfaction with performance simply explained that this was “on the whole.”

Eighty percent (80%) of the sample indicated that they “could have done more in the project implementation.” Perceived deficits were typically related to the quality of performing assigned roles, from providing adequate leadership to implementing a “richer and more mature” CMS. Another remarked on a personal deficit in communicating with others.

The reasons that these deficits emerged were given as:

  • Role-conflict, namely, having to manage production as well as assume other roles.

     

  • Project-conflict:

    “The project began to encroach on other spaces and I shied away from it.”

     

  • Team-alienation:

    “Having not met or talked to most of the people I was working with, and only communicating with email.”

    “Felt slightly uncomfortable working with team members from other workplaces/capacities in this different context.”

     

  • Deficits in planning and preparation:

    “Project mixes artistic with technical, therefore trying out new things, which was costly. [S]eparating the two, better analysis and design of technical implementation, where there was a lot of unknowns early on, could have gained greater efficiency.”

    “Did not understand the development methodology in the early stages and didn't catch up. It was a complex project and the early designs were abstract.”

All respondents endorsed at least one of the suggested forms of “constraint” as having inhibited their performance on the project; most endorsed either two or three. The most commonly endorsed form of constraint was related to time.

Technical constraints were also endorsed by more than half of all respondents. On the other hand, budgetary, technical, personal and resource-access constraints were each endorsed by less than half of all respondents.

  • Time constraints - 80%
  • Technical constraints - 60%
  • Budget constraints - 40%
  • Personal constraints - 20%
  • Access to resources - 20%

Eighty percent (80%) of respondents indicated that the WOK had “saved time”, principally as a means to organise and communicate information, as follows.

 

“It became a central repository for essential assets and documents.”

“Let me post and retrieve project information.”

“People sent specific links to content onto the projects list; useful way of getting flash code moved around.”

The only mention of the WOK increasing workload was from a WOK developer:

 

“It increased my non-d3 workload because any problems in the interface were revealed for me to fix! :)”

All respondents suggested some form of improvement to the WOK, as follows.

  • Navigation:

    “Difficult to find things - Index pages might be better as complete listings of the internal content - perhaps a simpler structure.”

     

  • Documentation:

    “Better integrated help screens and documentation. This component might better distinguish between WOK as a production/communication tool, and WOK as a D3 content management system.”

     

  • Development:

    “Integrating bug tracking and versioning tool.”

    “A dedicated WOK technical programmer to help extend general project features, template capabilities.”

     

  • Other issues:

    “‘Comments’ area to each item/article.”

    “Calendar tool.”

    “Linking production mailing list to the site.”

    “Make sure it is used and updated regularly.”

    “The usual c2o issues.”

 

Eighty percent (80%) of respondents indicated that work on the project involved the acquisition of new skills, and that these were usually able to be applied in working on D3. These skills were typically in programming and related to Flash, as follows:

 

“Flash developer - learned a bit about Flash programming, about Flash.”

“Programming skills.”

“In the implementation of the video installation component of the project, the integration of soundscapes in Flash.”

 

In general, respondents indicated they had participated in decision-making principally through team-meetings. The mailing list and personal meetings were also identified as decision-making venues.

 

“Production meetings, one to one meetings with production crew and via the mailing list.”

“Collaborative with other members of the team, clients and third party suppliers.”

“During team meetings and through the email list.”

“Discussed interface design and functionality with designer.”

“Attended and documented team meetings. [Producer] discussed issues with me.”

Sixty percent (60%) indicated that they had contributed “a little” to the project, as opposed to 40% who indicated they had contributed “a lot”.

 

The present response-rate can be seen as at least comparable to rates generally reported for mailed and telephone surveys. These typically receive no more than about 40% returns even with continued reminders and customised rewards.

The results were derived from 100% of the Toy Satellite (TS) members of the project. However, as no ACMI members responded, it would not be safe to generalise all of the findings to project-members outside of Toy Satellite. We might assume that some of the issues raised by TS members were shared by ACMI members, but we do not know, from the evaluation, what particular issues ACMI members experienced.

It should be noted that the sample was somewhat restricted with respect to the roles of team-members.Installation D3 @ ACMI July - Sept 2003

Incorporating Learning into Organisational Work

The evaluation was intended to assess the extent to which the WOK provided for equal opportunity and access, and a supportive and consultative environment, in developing and producing D3. In their selection of response-options, and in their comments, respondents described challenges to their work performance which indicated deficiencies in fulfilling these objectives. While new skills were acquired, and while there appeared to be ample scope for participating in decision-making, there was a general lack of satisfaction with performance, and a perceived under-application of potential.

These deficiencies, however, did not appear to be directly related to processes inherent in the WOK. On the contrary, respondents tended to identify the WOK as a time-saver, and suggestions for its improvement did not appear to be related to its substantive processes.

More personal skills, such as in time-management and communication, appeared to be associated with the identified problems.

In this sense, it might be concluded that the WOK was useful, but not sufficient, to satisfactorily fulfill the objectives of equality of opportunity and access; and that a supportive and consultative environment was to be supplemented by other means. It remains to be considered if the WOK can be further developed to support fulfillment of these objectives, and to address the identified issues.

D3 saw the development of new features and importation of some original features from a previous build. Although not reflected in the production management version of the WOK, the custom WOK integrated with the D3 application benefited from an injection of development time and resources.

However, since the deployment of D3 these features have not migrated to the public build of the WOK, largely due to inadequate resources available. In addition, suggestions made by the production team for improvements to the WOK cannot be implemented due again to the lack of resources to sustain ongoing development.

It should also be noted that since the first build of the WOK countless content management systems have emerged, many financed through grants, commercial financing and/or collaborative efforts within the open source community. Given the availability of these tools and the resources available to them for ongoing development it is unlikely that further implementations of the WOK will be considered for public use.

Since the completion of D3, the WOK is largely employed as an in-house tool, specifically reflecting its use as a document store for D3. C2o/Toy Satellite has implemented the WOK as a back-end to its Intranet and all legacy builds, both in-house and client sites are being upgraded to the most recent build.

To that end, the project in question has assisted in defining more appropriate use of the WOK given its present state of development.

The WOK may not assist in time management or in the clarification of roles, but it does act as a searchable repository for important in-house documents, reports, archival materials and conduit to tools such as Mantis (bug and project tracking).

The GEM process may indeed have assisted in determining the ongoing viability of the WOK as well as point out how much pressure a production team is under when working within tight deadlines and budgets. Even though this experience is not unique, having documented it can prove invaluable when determining the scale of future projects.

Recommendations of WOK developers can be integrated into WOK builds through use of the Concurrent Versioning System (CVS). Improvements were made to the WOK during D3, but have not been carried over into the full build. This is largely a result of inadequate funding to ensure that new features of any customised WOK be available to the entire WOK user community.

It should be said, however, that the D3 project did manage to achieve the integration of the WOK as an asset management tool that acted as a back-end to a Macromedia Flash interface. In addition, the WOK facilitated the implementation of a custom tool that converted Global Positioning System data into the vector graphic format.

WOK development is generally project-driven, not ongoing. The WOK is developed when a project need arises. As such, development time is allocated on a project by project basis as there are no resources to provide ongoing development.

WOK developers have brought to the project a broad skills base which, in some sense, has been refined towards clearer definition of what a content management system is, what it can do and how it can be implemented within individual organisations and/or projects.

Given the immanent suspension of the entire Web Origami Kit project, a third party CMS product, defined in part by the outcome of this survey, will be employed for all future client-based and commissioned projects.


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