Context: Root cause analysis (RCA) is a useful practice for software project retrospectives, and is typically carried out in synchronous collocated face-to-face meetings. Conducting RCA with distributed teams is challenging, as face-to-face meetings are infeasible. Lack of adequate real-time tool support exacerbates this problem. Furthermore, there are no empirical studies on using RCA in synchronous retrospectives of geographically distributed teams.
Objective: This paper presents a real-time cloud-based software tool (ARCA-tool) we developed to support RCA in distributed teams and its initial empirical evaluation. The feasibility of using RCA with distributed teams is also evaluated.
Method: We compared our tool with 35 existing RCA software tools. We conducted field studies of four distributed agile software teams at two international software product companies. The teams conducted RCA collaboratively in synchronous retrospective meetings by using the tool we developed. We collected the data using observations, interviews and questionnaires.
Results: Comparison revealed that none of the existing 35 tools matched all the features of our ARCA-tool. The team members found ARCA-tool to be an essential part of their distributed retrospectives. They considered the software as efficient and very easy to learn and use. Additionally, the team members perceived RCA to be a vital part of the retrospectives. In contrast to the prior retrospective practices of the teams, the introduced RCA method was evaluated as efficient and easy to use.
Conclusion: RCA is a useful practice in synchronous distributed retrospectives. However, it requires software tool support for enabling real-time view and co-creation of a cause-effect diagram. ARCA-tool supports synchronous RCA, and includes support for logging problems and causes, problem prioritization, cause-effect diagramming, and logging of process improvement proposals. It enables conducting RCA in distributed retrospectives.
Lehtinen, T. O. A., Virtanen, R., Viljanen, J. O., Mäntylä, M. V., Lassenius, C. "A Tool Supporting Root Cause Analysis for Synchronous Retrospectives in Distributed Software Teams", Information and Software Technology, accepted Dec 2013