The human side of Software Engineering Teams: an Investigation of Contemporary Challenges

Marco Hoffmann, Daniel Mendez, Fabian Fagerholm und Anton Luckhardt

Transactions on Software Engineering,

Februar 2022 · DOI: 10.1109/TSE.2022.3148539


There have been recent calls for research on the human side of software engineering and its impact on various factors such as productivity, developer happiness and project success. An analysis of which challenges in software engineering teams are most frequent is still missing. We aim to provide a starting point for a theory about relevant human challenges and their causes in software engineering. We establish a reusable set of challenges and start out by investigating the effect of team virtualization. Virtual teams often use digital communication and consist of members with different nationalities. We designed a survey instrument and asked respondents to assess the frequency and criticality of a set of challenges, separated in context "within teams" as well as "between teams and clients", compiled from previous empiric work, blog posts and pilot survey feedback. For the team challenges, we asked if mitigation measures were already in place. Respondents were also asked to provide information about their team setup. The survey also measured Schwartz human values. Finally, respondents were asked if there were additional challenges at their workplace. We report on the results obtained from 192 respondents. We present a set of challenges that takes the survey feedback into account and introduce two categories of challenges; "interpersonal" and "intrapersonal". We found no evidence for links between human values and challenges. We found some significant links between the number of distinct nationalities in a team and certain challenges, with less frequent and critical challenges occurring if 2-3 different nationalities were present compared to a team having members of just one nationality or more than three. A higher degree of virtualization seems to increase the frequency of some human challenges.