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Towards organisational learning enhancement: assessing software engineering practice

Sufian Fannoun (Department of Computer Science, University of Chester, Chester, UK)
John Kerins (Department of Computer Science, University of Chester, Chester, UK)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 17 December 2018

Issue publication date: 8 February 2019




Issues surrounding knowledge management, knowledge transfer and learning within organisations challenge continuity and resilience in the face of changing environments. While initiatives are principally applied within large organisations, there is scope to assess how the processes are handled within small and medium enterprises and consider how they might be enhanced. This paper aims to present an evaluation of practice within an evolving software development unit to determine what has been learned and how the knowledge acquired has been used to further organisational development. These results provide the basis for the design and implementation of a proposed support tool to enhance professional practice.


A small software development unit which has successfully delivered bespoke systems since its establishment a number of years ago was selected for analysis. In-depth interviews were carried out with each member of the unit to elicit an understanding of individual and collective development. Interview data were recorded and transcribed and subjected to qualitative analysis to identify key themes underpinning knowledge acquisition and utilisation. Samples of project documentation were scrutinised to corroborate interview data. After analysing the data, a focus-group meeting was held to validate the results and to generate further insights into learning within the unit.


Qualitative analysis of the data revealed key changes in thinking and practice within the unit, as well as insight into the development of individual and collective contextual knowledge, tacit understanding and learning. This analysis informed the proposal of a bespoke, lightweight, Web-based system to support knowledge capture and organisational learning. This approach has the potential to promote resilience and enhance practice in similar small or start-up enterprises.

Research limitations/implications

Purposeful sampling was used in selecting a small software development unit. This enabled in-depth interviewing of all six members of the organisation. This offered a rich environment from which to derive awareness and understanding of individual and collective knowledge acquisition and learning. Focussing on a single small enterprise limits the extent to which the findings can be generalised. However, the research provides evidence of effective practice and learning and has identified themes for the development of a support tool. This approach can be extended to similar domains to advance research into their learning and development.

Practical implications

Results of the work undertaken so far have generated promising foundations for the proposed support tool. This offers software developers a potentially useful system within which they can reflect upon, and record, key learning events affecting technical, managerial and professional practice.


Small enterprises have limited resources to support organisational learning. The qualitative research undertaken so far has yielded valuable insight into the successful development of a single software development unit. The construction of a support tool to enhance knowledge acquisition and learning has the capacity to consolidate valuable, and potentially scarce, expertise. It also has the potential to facilitate further research to determine how the prototype might be extended or revised to improve its contribution to the unit’s development.



The work presented in this paper is built on previous published work at


Fannoun, S. and Kerins, J. (2019), "Towards organisational learning enhancement: assessing software engineering practice", The Learning Organization, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 44-59.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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