Sawyer & Annabi (2006) – (Software Development) Methods as Theories


Sawyer, S. B., & Annabi, H. (2006). Methods as theories: Evidence and arguments for theorizing on software development. In IFIP International Federation for Information Processing (Vol. 208, pp. 397-411). (IFIP International Federation for Information Processing; Vol. 208).


Above is the “real” citation. I’m actually reading (and citing) a slightly different version found here.

Regarding software development, Sawyer & Annabi (2006) claim:

Software development methods are explicit representations of:
(1) how people should behave,
(2) how groups of people should interact,
(3) the tasks that people should do,
(4) the order of these tasks,
(5) the tools needed to achieve these tasks,
(6) the proper outcomes of these tasks (including means and ways to evaluate these outcomes) and
(7) the means to make this all happen.
The relations among these concepts are further set in (8) specific contexts, implying that the exact nature of such relations are contingent to some degree on the larger social milieu (p. 4).

Using identity theories, we understand the behavior of individuals on software development teams are due to their identities. For most, this would presumably include an identity associated with their “software developer” role. While some frameworks attempt to examine group behavior, identity theories instead focus on the individual’s identity as a member of the group and their internalization of the social meaning they assign to that group (an individual’s group identities). This does not actually define which groups may be interacting, so it isn’t possible to determine what group identities may be at play for these individuals. These views encompass items 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the list above.

Item 5 implies a relationship between the standard of the software developer identity and the tools of the trade. Through the identity theory lens, it is possible to see tool selection and use as a function of the software developer role identity or to see it as self-identification with the tool (a material identity). Item 6 involves evaluation of outcomes, which is a behavior that would be associated with one or more of the individual judge’s identities. Item 7 is about incentives: “The structures put in place to encourage positive, and discourage negative, behaviors and interactions” (p. 4). Incentives can activate identities and change their salience, producing changes in individual behavior.

Item 8 makes plain that the specific standard of each of these identities is formed within a social context, and that identity standards should be expected to differ at least slightly from individual to individual, as expected. It also means that different identities may become salient in these different contexts. We cannot expect that a software developer identity is the salient identity during

In this short excerpt, we have software development methods expressed indirectly in terms that imply their sources are role identities, group identities, and material identities. Software methods are a reflection of the societal meaning that each individual project team member internalizes to create their own identities, and expose common elements of identity standards.

What seems to be missing is any relationship to the IT under development, though perhaps that is considered part of the context of the development and part of item 8. Are software development methods also an explicit representation of the way in which project team members believe such projects should be when finished? Does software development behavior change based on what is being produced, and the relationships that each member of the team have with the product under development?

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