Carnegie Mellon University
April 10, 2014

ISR faculty members receive the Allen Newell Award for Research Excellence

ISR faculty members Jim Herbsleb and Kathleen Carley and COS alumni Marcelo Cataldo and Patrick Wagstrom received the Allen Newell Award for Research Excellence for their research on Socio-Technical Congruence.

The Allen Newell Award for Research Excellence is awarded by the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. It recognizes an outstanding body of work that epitomizes Allen Newell's research style as expressed in his words:

"Good science responds to real phenomena or real problems." "Good science is in the details." "Good science makes a difference."

The award was given for a body of research on collaborative software development. The team devised methods for computing "coordination requirements," i.e., who had to coordinate with whom to accomplish a given work activity, and congruence, i.e., how well the required coordination matched actual coordination behaviors. Using data from commercial development projects, they showed that congruence had a major impact on work output.

As described by Alan MacCormack of Harvard Business School:

"I believe this stream of work has been influential to the academy in three ways. First of all, the work makes a very strong methodological contribution, in finding a way to link measures of technical architecture (which in and of themselves are hard to construct) with measures of the social structure inside organizations. As someone who works in the same field, I can tell you that this is extremely difficult to do, given you have to satisfy two rather opinionated groups of researchers - computer scientists and social scientists! Second, the work makes a profound managerial contribution, in showing a direct and significant link between levers that are under managerial control (communication, managerial hierarchy etc.) and the performance of the resulting technical artifacts that they produce. For many years, scholars have hypothesized such a link must exist, but robust empirical confirmation has proved elusive. Finally, the work makes a distinct academic contribution, in reshaping the agenda for future research by establishing this critical result, and providing methods for exploring it further. In particular, having established that organizational choices shape technical outcomes, we can now focus on a deeper set of questions, surrounding the most important contingencies that mediate this relationship. For example: Which is stickier in the short/long term - organizational or technical structure? How can we change these structures to improve performance, given the legacy designs that are in place? And what will be the impact of new tools, for both organizing (e.g., chat and messaging) and architecting (e.g., aspect oriented design) on this relationship?

"In sum, this research has both delivered a set of very exciting results, and has opened up a very rich field for future study that cuts across the traditional disciplinary lines of computer science and management."