Conducting a Business Ethnography in Global Software Development projects of small German enterprises

  • Boden A
  • Müller C
  • Nett B
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Context: Studying work practices in the context of Global Software Development (GSD) projects entails multiple opportunities and challenges for the researchers. Understanding and tackling these challenges requires a careful and rigor application of research methods. Objective: We want to contribute to the understanding of the challenges of studying GSD by reflecting on several obstacles we had to deal with when conducting ethnographically-informed research on offshoring in German small to medium-sized enterprises. Method: The material for this paper is based on reflections and field notes from two research projects: an exploratory ethnographic field study, and a study that was framed as a Business Ethnography. For the analysis, we took a Grounded Theory-oriented coding and analysis approach in order to identify issues and challenges documented in our research notes. Results: We introduce the concept of Business Ethnography and discuss our experiences of adapting and implementing this action research concept for our study. We identify and discuss three primary issues: understanding complex global work practices from a local perspective, adapting to changing interests of the participants, and dealing with micro-political frictions between the cooperating sites. Conclusions: We identify common interests between the researchers and the companies as a challenge and chance for studies on offshoring. Building on our experiences from the field, we argue for an active conceptualization of struggles and conflicts in the field as well as for extending the role of the ethnographer to that of a learning mediator. © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Business Ethnography
  • Global Software Engineering
  • Methodology
  • Offshoring
  • Qualitative research
  • Small to medium-sized enterprises

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  • Alexander Boden

  • Claudia Müller

  • Bernhard Nett

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