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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Three essays on the structure of technical collaboration
by Colfer, Lyra J., Ph.D., Harvard University, 2010, 226; 3395418
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation presents three essays on the structure of technical collaboration in the development of new products and innovations. The first essay examines the mirroring hypothesis, or the claim that the structure of a product development organization "mirrors" the architecture of the product it develops. The mirroring hypothesis posits that independent contributors develop largely independent components, while richly interacting contributors develop richly interacting components. I report the results of a systematic review of the evidence on mirroring and draw from those results to explain when and how real-world organizations violate the mirroring hypothesis. I focus on the case in which independent contributors make richly connected contributions. To explain this phenomenon, I introduce the concept of actionable transparency. I also elaborate the more complex organizational patterns that emerge in lieu of genuine mirroring when people apply actionable transparency to "break the mirror."

The second essay examines the generality of the mirroring hypothesis in the context of open collaborative software development. Specifically, it investigates the question: "Are most open collaborative software development projects large enough to exhibit support for the mirroring hypothesis, insofar as it implies that projects with more, and more equally contributing, developers beget more modular codebases?" The study employs conventional statistical methods and focuses on the initial product releases of 142 C/C++ projects from SourceForge. Contra conventional wisdom, results indicate that mirroring is not a strong general property of open collaborative development, but rather that it is only present to any substantive degree in exceptionally large projects.

The third essay is co-authored. It presents quantitative and qualitative evidence regarding the evolution of technical collaboration networks. Specifically, it explores why the collaborative ties between inventors in Silicon Valley aggregated into one massive regional network more quickly than the ties of peers in Boston. In interviews with a theoretically motivated sample of inventors, we found that Silicon Valley inventors identified more specific examples of firm-spanning knowledge flows, but inventors in both regions reported similar experiences and attitudes more generally. Results suggest a unique institutional explanation: a single post-doctoral program at IBM explains about 30% of the Valley's early network aggregation.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Baldwin, Carliss Y., Seltzer, Margo I.
School: Harvard University
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-A 71/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Management, Technical Communication
Keywords: Collaboration, Mirroring, Modularity, Organization design, Product design, Socio-technical congruence, Transparency
Publication Number: 3395418
ISBN: 978-1-109-63615-4
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