Open Source software (OSS) has been highly prevalent in both practice and research. Given the value and effectiveness of OSS development to date, practitioners are keen to replicate these practices inside their respective corporations. This application of OSS practices inside the confines of a corporate entity has been coined Inner Source Software (ISS).
While ISS presents many benefits, little is known about the opposing tensions that arise as a result of transitioning from a closed to an open software development environment. Such environments are increasingly under pressure to embrace more open and collaborative principles internally, while simultaneously managing operations in a tight and controlled manner. Our team at Lero, the Irish Software Research Centre (www.lero.ie) are leaders in both OSS and ISS research. As part of one recent study, we were interested to examine the impact of adopting ISS practices and to learn how an organizations environment adopted or responded to such changes. We were interested to learn how both management and developers reacted to the adoption of ISS. To do so, we conducted 20 interviews with international ISS expects across 15 global organisations.
Across all interviews, the concept of ’tensions’ emerged as a core factor. We described these as organisational tensions – something considered to be highly complex and has been interpreted in many different ways, it remains something that is not well understood in the software engineering domain. In our article entitled “Examining the Impact of Adopting Inner Source Software Practices” we refer to tensions as being concerned with the choice between alternative forms of management practice. We also argue that understanding the nature of tensions is crucial for the planning of new software practices which forms the basis of this empirical study. It is also important to distinguish that tensions can be either disruptive where for example they can lead to some form of breakdown, or they can be beneficial, by fostering competition and challenges with management involved in the process of continually resolving tensions.
We uncover 13 core tensions that arise from the adoption of open principles in closed software practices. Based on these results, we present new insights on the implementation of strategies to overcome competing tensions from openness in software development. We present some recommendations, which also call for fundamentally new research directions.
In our findings, we could categories the insights into ‘OSS principles within a closed software environment’ and ‘management of ISS: from a traditional approach to an open management approach’. Across the OSS principles within a closed software environment category, we list the following sources of tensions (more details on tensions provided in the article):
- Inner Source Philosophy
- Code Ownership
- Commitment to Projects
- Risk of Change
- Inner Source Practice
- Concept of Business Value
- Evidence of Performance
Across the management of ISS: from a traditional approach to an open management approach category, we list the following sources of tensions (again, more details in the article):
- Transparency of Practice
- Trust in Committers
- Motivation of Teams
- Scaling Practice
- Need for Incentivisation
- Accountability and Responsibility for Productivity
We present some recommendations, which also call for fundamentally new research directions. For example, the implications around these tensions also highlight both the constructive and deconstructive role that competing tensions play in hampering or driving ISS practices. We propose strategies to address the 13 tensions identified in the literature (relating to performing, organising, belonging, and learning). We provide specific insights on the 13 core tensions that surfaced from our findings in the article and we offer four broad management strategies which can address these tensions: (i) learning, (ii) incentivisation, (iii) knowledge sharing and (iv) software analytics. In addition, these findings provide new insights in developing a research roadmap to address the critical shortcomings across ISS literature and practice.
To complement these research efforts in ISS, my colleague Dr. Henry Edison led an article entitled “An Investigation into Inner Source Software Development: Preliminary Findings from a Systematic Literature Review”. This article identifies how organisations have found ways to directly benefit from revenue streams as a result of leveraging open source practices internally, yet the current research on ISS is scattered among different areas. The article argues that gaining clarity on the state-of-the-art in ISS research is challenging. In particular, this article present part of a wider systematic literature review on ISS. The article presents a systematic literature review that identifies, critically evaluates and integrates the findings of 29 primary studies on inner source. Case study approach is the common research approach undertaken in the area. We also identified 8 frameworks/methods, models and tools proposed in the literature to support inner source, as well as a set of benefits and challenges associated with inner source. We have build ion this review work to perform deeper analysis and synthesis on the empirical research on inner source software development (currently under review).
Our Lero team are leading research developments in Inner Source and our cluster lead on Agile and Open Innovation at Lero@NUIG, Dr. Lorraine Morgan is hosting an InnerSource Commons Spring Summit 2019 at the National University of Ireland, Galway on 9th to 11th April 2019. This event draws leading experts on Inner Source from across global organizations and universities into this event. Details of the agenda are available here and you can also register for the event here. We would welcome you to attend this event!
If you have any questions or interested in collaborating on any research developments in these or related areas, please feel free to contact Prof. Kieran Conboy (Principal Investigator in Lero). If you have queries in relation to this article, you may contact me, or other queries you can contact any member of our team.
Dr. Noel Carroll is a lecturer of information systems at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and works with Lero– The Irish Software Research Centre. Carroll received his Ph.D. from the University of Limerick, Ireland.
His research interests include ways to support organizations in developing large-scale transformation strategies. He has edited special issues, published, chaired,
and reviewed for leading international journals and conferences in his field.