The Confederacy of Heterogeneous Software Organizations and Heterogeneous Developers: Field Experimental Evidence on Sorting and Worker Effort

27 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2011

See all articles by Kevin Boudreau

Kevin Boudreau

Northeastern University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: July 28, 2011

Abstract

Software development occurs in a patchwork or “confederacy” of different types of institutions (universities, small start-ups, multinational enterprises, government agencies, etc.) utilizing varied work approaches. Here we speculate on one possible explanation for this organizational heterogeneity: it may reflect inherent heterogeneity of the software workforce, in terms of which kinds of organizations individual workers prefer to work within (“institutional preference”). We take very preliminary steps towards investigating this possibility by devising a novel 10-day field experiment to estimate the differences in behavior that are created by sorting workers into their preferred institutional regimes versus having them unsorted. The experiment involved assigning 1040 elite software developers to either a competitive or a cooperative work regime to create software for NASA’s Space Life Sciences Directorate. Half of the subjects - the “sorted” group - were assigned according to their institutional preferences; the other half - the “unsorted” group - were assigned without regard to their preferences. Assignment was done in a manner that sorted and unsorted groups had identical distributions of raw problem-solving ability. We find a remarkably large effect of institutional preference-based sorting on the effort exerted. Sorting on institutional preferences roughly doubled effort within the competitive regime and increased effort by roughly half in the cooperative regime, while accounting for incentives. Our experimental approach and results indicate the importance of accounting for worker preferences in creative activities that drive the rate and direction of inventive activity in the economy.

Keywords: Organizational heterogeneity, sorting, software

JEL Classification: 031, D03, L0

Suggested Citation

Boudreau, Kevin and Lakhani, Karim R., The Confederacy of Heterogeneous Software Organizations and Heterogeneous Developers: Field Experimental Evidence on Sorting and Worker Effort (July 28, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1898277 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1898277

Kevin Boudreau (Contact Author)

Northeastern University ( email )

805 Columbus Ave, Interdisciplinary Sci & Eng Bldg
Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.kevinboudreau.com

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
109
Abstract Views
1,233
rank
255,471
PlumX Metrics