This study examines whether individuals, groups, and organizational units learn from experience in software development and whether this learning improves productivity. Although prior research has found the existence of learning curves in manufacturing and service industries, it is not clear whether learning curves also apply to knowledge work like software development. We evaluate the relative productivity impacts from accumulating specialized experience in a system, diversified experience in related and unrelated systems, and experience from working with others on modification requests (MRs) in a telecommunications firm, which uses an incremental software development methodology. Using multilevel modeling, we analyze extensive data archives covering more than 14 years of systems development work on a major telecommunications product dating from the beginning of its development process. Our findings reveal that the relative importance of the different types of experience differs across levels of analysis. Specialized experience has the greatest impact on productivity for MRs completed by individual developers, whereas diverse experience in related systems plays a larger role in improving productivity for MRs and system releases completed by groups and organizational units. Diverse experience in unrelated systems has the least influence on productivity at all three levels of analysis. Our findings support the existence of learning curves in software development and provide insights into when specialized or diverse experience may be more valuable.
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