Organizational Commitment Towards
Software Process Improvement
An Irish Software VSEs Case Study
Shuib Bin Basri
Computer and Information Science Department
Universiti Teknologi Petronas
Tronoh, Perak, Malaysia
Rory V. O’Connor
Lero, The Irish Software Engineering Research Centre
Dublin City University
Abstract— This paper presents a case study carried out in very
small companies which employees less than 25 people. This study
concerns a company’s software development process especially in
the issues of Software Process Improvement (SPI). SPI has
gained increasing importance in software engineering. However
recent studies show that the obligation and commitment towards
SPI especially in small companies are very weak and not serious.
This situation is usually related to insufficient resources either in
term of financial, human and time in this type of companies.
Therefore due to this situation, we would like to understand the
current situation of Very Small Enterprise (VSEs) acceptance
level towards SPI and the reasons are discussed. In this research
we carried out a survey which contains open and close ended
questionnaire in several Irish Software VSEs around Dublin,
Ireland. A quantitative analysis; which using a statistical
analysis, and qualitative analysis; which adopting the qualitative
content analysis method have been adopted throughout this
study. The results have indicated that the SPI initiatives in VSEs
are done in a small scale, informal and indirect. In addition the
results also indicate that commitment and involvement of peoples
in the organization are high toward SPI.
Improvement; SPI; Commitment; VSE; Survey Questionnaires
Software Process, Software Process
In software business, the pressure to produce a software
product that is relevant with the market needs and to stay
competitive is a great challenge. The productivity of the
organization is heavily founded on the effectiveness of their
software development process. Several researchers agreed
there are a very significant relationship between the quality
software process and producing a quality product  .
Therefore a lot of software companies have attempted to
improve their software process to gain these benefit. In
additional, in current dynamic software business environment,
improving the current software process is required by all
software companies in coping with the frequent change of
requirement and technology . However this situation gave
difficulties to the small companies which employ less than 50
employees which their resources, both financial and human, are
often limited, and the management, work and organizational
culture may be different from the large companies .
Considering their lack of resources especially in term of
employee and unique management, work and organization
culture, the organizational commitment in small software
companies for SPI has to be taken into account as an important
factor for successful improvement
implementation. Their commitment to improve their practices
in their development work and process are significant for the
SPI success. Moreover previous study in this issue currently is
more concentrating mainly on the large companies   and
least focus on small companies in general and very small
companies in particular. This has leaded the unclear situation in
this size of companies. Therefore in this paper, we will present
a case study of SPI commitment in Irish Software VSEs that is
companies who employ less than 25 people. The focus in this
study is considering the organization, management and
development team commitment towards SPI. In addition the
study is concerning the organization goal and planning issue in
VSE towards the study issues. Therefore, this paper aims at
presenting a more comprehensive perspective of software
VSEs commitment and planning towards SPI. The paper is
organized as follows: In Section 2, a brief background of VSEs
is presented. In Section 3, research background studies are
discussed. In Section 4, the research methodology is described.
In Section 5, the study finding and results is discussed. Finally,
in Section 6 we present some limitations and in Section 7, we
conclude and discuss the overall finding and issues.
VERY SMALL ENTERPRISES (VSES)
Most of the software industries especially in Europe, Brazil,
and Canada are fall under Very Small Entities (VSEs) which
employed less than 25 employees . In the context of
software companies in Ireland, shows that the majority of the
Irish software companies are fall under the indigenous
company categories , and the majority of these software
firms are employed between 10 to 99 employees . In
addition the average size of these indigenous companies is
about 16 employees . Furthermore the issues of limited
resources in VSEs always become a constraint in producing a
competitive product in today’s dynamic software business.
 stated that micro enterprise including VSEs whose have
limited resources, particularly in financial and human
resources, are practicing unique processes in managing their
business. These unique characteristics and unique situations
have influenced VSEs in their business style compare to large
companies . In addition, their constraints in financial and
resources also give an impact to companies’ process
infrastructures   such as limited training allocation,
limited allocation in performing process improvement, low
budget to response the risk and may other constraints.
Moreover due to the small number of peoples involved in the
project and the organization, most of the management
processes are performed through an informal way and less
documented. This situation shows that human-oriented and
communication factors are very important and significant in
VSEs  .
III. BACKGROUND STUDY
A. Why SPI?
The primary goal of software development has changed from
“conforming to plan” to “satisfying the customer- at time
delivery, not a project initiation” . Therefore software
industry must improve their development process in order to
be handle the rapidly changing environment and requirement.
In additional the involvement in SPI is belief could enhance
the quality of the development process and the quality of the
product developed using the process . In term of small
companies,  found that small companies are more
successful in producing a quality product if SPI fundamentals
are observed closely. Beside
implementation factors can cause the failure of a well planned
SPI initiative. Therefore action plans are needed after the
assessment, and SPI should be treated as a project .
Nevertheless, it is also important to ensure that the new
processes are institutionalized  and not affected with a
process erosion problem . Process erosion is a situation
where current software process is turning back to the old level
or the current software processes are become static .
Creating an SPI implementation methodology  and setting
realistic objectives which can be achieved in the foreseeable
future , will promote and provide coordination on these
critical issues 
that the variety of
B. SPI Influence Factors
In the literature there are 4 categories that could influences
organization in seriously involve in SPI as listed by Hall et al
namely the economic,
implementation factors :
Economic factor –  and  claimed that high
costs and inadequate resource have been found to be
the greatest impact to SPI success. This is also
supported by  who provided a convincing
argument of financial benefit of software process
improvement. In very small teams studied which
implemented SPI, found that over 12 months, monthly
cost decrease by 33% while monthly benefits increased
by 17% of their monthly value . Moreover the late
impact of SPI programs on projects as a very important
issue. They stressed that action time frames must plan
carefully in which an assessment should cover a three
to five months in average . They added that
people, organization and
planning that have a longer time period will made a
management tends to lose patience and practitioners
lose their interest in SPI.
People factor – The contribution software development
team in software development project and SPI have
been discussed seriously in literature. The success of
software project and process is determined by the
interest of software team on the project and process
itself . In specific the small firms rely greatly on
key individual, human factors is particularly important
to them . In detail that in small software
organization; the influences of key individuals, such as
the company founder or a talented are not enough
without sufficiently educated developer . He added
that the reluctant of the key player in small
establishments can effectively sabotage the chance the
success of improvement scheme. Moreover staff
participation also is essential in improvement activities
and should be involved in improvement initiative
because they have detailed knowledge and firsthand
experience of strength and weakness of the current
Organisation factor - The ability to manage
organizational change as a prerequisite for meeting
competitive demands is very important. Several
authors emphasize that
management is one of the key issues to achieve success
in software process. In this issue the developer opinion
and management commitment plays a vital role in the
implementation of the SPI programs  .
Moreover the lack of
commitment is the first trap to avoid when starting to
improve software process. Even in software project the
lack of management commitment to the project is
considered to be risk number one .
Implementation factor - There are variety of
implementation factors can cause the failure of a well
planned SPI initiative. According to , an action
plans are needed after the assessment and SPI should
be treated as a project. It is also important to ensure
updated software development
institutionalized in organization . This action will
help to prevent the developer turning back to the not
updated process  .  agreed that there is a
need to create a SPI implementation methodology that
guides SPI practitioners in implementing SPI
initiatives. In addition, SPI also should have realistic
objectives which can be achieved in the foreseeable
future and it is important that improvement objectives
should be ambition and the SPI goals were well
understood  .
IV. RESEARCH STRATEGY
In order to carry out this study, we developed and
distributed a survey questionnaire to the Irish software VSEs
around area of Dublin, Ireland. These companies were selected
using personal contacts of the researchers and were all directly
involved in software product development, for a variety of
The development of the survey questionnaire have adopted
the Goal, Quality and Metric (GQM) approach  in order to
ensure the survey validity and suitabilility. The survey consists
of 12 close-ended questions that use 5 – point response scale.
The close-ended questions examined the level of agreement of
the related SPI process and activities as proposed in the
literature, applied in their organization. Moreover in order to
gain more input from the respondents regarding the study
issues, several open ended question that related to the close-
ended question have been asked in the survey. The purpose
was to understand more thorough respondents’ experiences and
understandings in their organization. The process took some
time to receive back the completed questionnaires from the
respondents. Therefore we regularly contacted the respondents
via email and phone in order to ensure their reply.
Each received and completed questionnaire were complied
and analysis. The close-ended questionnaire were grouped
according the issue and analyze using a statistical analysis.
Three main statistical analysis were run in processing the data,
which are the frequency, mean and descriptive analysis. For
this purpose we use a statistical tool (SPSS) in processing the
data. Meanwhile, on the open ended data, we analyze and
categories the data according to the category that this study
intends to understand. The answers were group, coded and list
into a table in respect to the study category issues. In overall
we adopted the qualitative contents analysis approach in
analyzing the open-ended answer . In additional we have
merged the both analysis result in order to gain more
understanding and validate the results. Moreover, in order to
produce details analysis result, we have divided the survey
respondents into 2 main group namely the Micro VSE (1-9
employees) and Larger VSE (10-25 employees) .
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSIONS
SPI –Process Improvement and Assessment
In analyzing the close-ended data in the survey
questionnaire, we have regrouped the questions according to
the categories of analysis as shown in table 1.
PROCESS IMPROVEMENT AND ASSESSMENT
The software process changes / evolves overtime 1-5
Management regularly assess software development process
When software processes are updated / changed, software
developer always follow the new process.
We are follow an ‘agile’ type of software development
The results from the analysis as shown in table 2 indicated
that in general respondents are agreed that their software
development processes rapidly change and evolve overtime.
They also claimed that their development process are regularly
assesses and staffs always followed or applied the latest
development process method. Table 2 also indicates that
respondents claimed that they are following an agile
development philosophy in their development process.
SPI- PROCESS IMPROVEMENT AND ASSESSMENT
Micro VSE Mean
In relation to the above, the analysis on the open ended
question that related to the same issues has highlighted that
90% of respondents felt that their development process evolve
overtime. They stated that following the best practice, client
requirement, team size growth, new idea and keep up with the
technology change are the reasons for the improvement and
evolution of development process. The following two extracts
below from the open-ended questions give an indication as to
how the development process have been improved and evolved
with a company.
“Software process change is due to growth of the organization.
We started out as 2 people 4 years ago and now have 11, so
things had to change along the way”
“It will evolve as we grow in size and get more applications in
“Not really. We still do the same basic thing in software
process; we change some aspects of how we work. It’s a little
bit ad-hoc... We follow agile method… I suppose”
Moreover that in question on related to the process loss
issues shows that almost all or 80% of respondents’ claimed
that their software development processes are not affected by
the process loss problem. They claimed that by using standard
development tools, similar development process, having
frequent guidance and mentoring activities, active in
knowledge sharing and proactive coaching could avoid the
process loss problems in software development process. The
following quotes from the open-ended questions explain this
“As a manager, I don't believe in using the latest and greatest
techniques for the sake of it. We'll use something that fits our
team dynamics and we'll spurn something that doesn't…
whether that counts.”
“Our document process mostly electronically…we always
sharing knowledge informally. Since this is family business, we
always having informal regular meeting”
“Not really, we still do the same basic things in our software
development method. We change some aspects of how we work.
It’s a little bit ad-hoc... Agile method… I suppose”
However the respondents also admitted that “laziness”
attitudes among the staffs and practicing informal and rapid
changes in software development process are among the factors
that could lead the process loss problem in software
SPI–People and Management Involvement and
The questions on this part are stress particularly on the level
of team involvement in planning and setting the development
process and procedure in the software development projects as
shown in table 3 and 4.
PEOPLE INVOLVEMENT AND COMMITMENT
Software development staff are directly involved in planning
and improving software development processes
Software developers have freedom in planning and managing
Software development staffs are actively involved in setting
goals for SPI activities.
Software development staff are actively involved in creating
process and procedure for software development
MANAGEMENT INVOLVEMENT AND COMMITMENT
Software development staff regularly receives guidance and
support from management.
Software development staff are highly motivated.
Software development staff receive recognition for their work 1-5
Senior management actively supports SPI activities.
The results from the analysis as shown in table 5 and 6
indicates that the respondents were agreed that the level of
development team involvement in software development
process and planning are very significant. This could be
identified with the average mean score for this question is
relatively high. Moreover table 5 also clarified that even
though the development staff working autonomously but they
are also actively involved in setting goals, planning and
procedures in the company’s software development process.
Meanwhile, table 6 shows the level of management
commitment in the improving current software development
process. From this table, researchers could indicate that the
management has provided their full support in SPI process.
This situation is shown in the total mean score for each
questionnaire on this issues which more on the positive rather
than negative. Therefore, this gives an indicator of the
seriousness and high commitment of management in software
SPI- PEOPLE INVOLVEMENT AND COMMITMENT
SPI- MANAGEMENT INVOLVEMENT AND COMMITMENT
From the feedback indicated by the respondents as in
questionnaire, we could understand more details about the
above issues. Answers quotes below are explained how serious
staffs are involved in software development process.
“Explicit requests for input and feedback on any
thoughts/ideas for changing the way things are done”
“I welcome input from developers on what we are doing and
how to make it better”
“Direct on the best way to develop, easiest processes”
The results in this part of analysis gave a pattern and
indication that in VSEs development and management team are
very supportive and serious in improving their development
process in order to produce a quality product
SPI – Goal and Planning
In order extend our understanding on software development
process activities in VSEs. We have grouped all the questions
that are more specific towards the companies’ goal and
planning toward SPI as shown in table 7.
SPI – GOAL AND PLANNING
We have established Software Process Improvement (SPI)
There is a broad understanding of SPI goals and policy within
Our SPI goals are closely aligned with organizational business
We have a good balance between short term and long term SPI
Software development staffs always understand projects goals.
Table 8 indicates that the respondents were agreed that in
general they are clear about the specific goal of the companies’
software development projects. This can be identified with the
high score in mean analysis regarding these issues. However,
table 8 also highlighted that VSEs do not have a proper plan
and well understand on software process improvement issues.
In details, the analysis in table 8 shows that all respondents
agreed that the companies do not have a proper SPI goal either
for short term or long term. They also admitted that the
companies SPI goals are not aligned with their business goals.
It is also indicates that the size of the companies give an
influences in setting and planning companies SPI goals and
TABLE VIII. SPI- GOAL AND PLANNING
Micro VSE Mean
The comparison between table 2 and table 8 provides an
indication that in VSEs the improvement process has been
done in a rapid way but in a small scale and informal process.
It is also showed that VSEs did not have a specific procedures
or documented specific plans in improving their development
process but more toward informal and direct improvement of
the process. These findings also aligned with the first stage
analysis which stated that the improvement processes are
performed in an informal way or have been done at a small
scale but in a rapid process.
As with any research project we have identified some
limitation and constraints within the study. In conducted the
data collection process, the researchers encountered some
difficulties getting a full commitment and good response from
the identified Irish Software VSEs. Limited number of staff,
busy with current project, economy situation, project deadline,
low level of interest and inappropriateness are among the
reasons given by those companies. However, a low return rate
of the questionnaire is a well known and understood research
problem and is not specific to this study. In addition the issue
of generalisability is common to many research studies of this
type. The small research sample size does some limitations in
the research results. However appropriate companies did
respondent and this research has produced a valid indicator of
results that are present in the VSE environment as a whole, as
demonstrated from the consistent research results which were
produced in the analysis process.
VII. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
In the study present, the commitment of Irish Software
Development VSEs was study and analyzed. According to the
findings indicated that respondents are agreed that their
software development process frequently change and evolved
over time. They also agreed that they regularly assess and
update their development processes. However the finding
showed that the changed and evolved processes are informal,
indirect and very reactive which depends or is linked to
customer requirements, developers’ initiatives and technology
changes. In term of development process methodology, 100%
of respondent stated that they had adopted an agile
development approach philosophy in the company’s projects.
This could be identified from the analysis which showed that
the development processes
communication. Overall although the results showed the high
informal and indirect culture in VSE in most of their
are very informal,
in oriented active
development activities, the results also indicate that VSEs
commitment towards SPI is very high and positive. Meanwhile,
with regards the future work, we plan to wider our research
participation through identifying more VSEs which located in
Ireland in order to understand the issue more detail and to
identified the constraints that prevent them from actively
involved in SPI. In additional, since the majority of software
development companies in Malaysia are also fall under the
small and medium size category , we plan to replicate the
same study in order to see if there any comparison with the
existing results. This could enhance our understanding
regarding this issue and could be relate with the Global
Software Development (GSD) issues.
This work was supported, in part, by Science Foundation
Ireland grant 03/CE2/I303_1 to Lero - the Irish Software
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