Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Managing Software Engineering Student Teams Using Pellerin's 4-D System

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Managing Software Engineering Student Teams Using Pellerin's 4-D System

Article excerpt


The ability to work effectively in a team is an essential skill for computer science graduates. The accreditation body ABET listed the "ability to function effectively on teams to accomplish a common goal" as a required student outcome objective (ABET, 2014). Yet, building successful teams is not intuitive. Facilitating a team-building educational experience to introduce the benefits and skills needed for successful teams can be challenging. A limited schedule of course terms further complicates facilitating this experience. In recognizing the benefits of teamwork, both business and academic professionals have researched various ways to better develop more productive team collaboration. In this article, we discuss our use of Pellerin's Four Dimension Leadership System (4-D) as a way to manage teams in a classroom setting. We found that this approach for team management in a classroom setting led to qualitatively fewer incidents, better projects, and greater group cohesion.

The 4-D System is a team building process developed to improve communication and effectiveness among technical teams. Charles Pellerin, author of the 4-D System, was a Director of Astrophysics at NASA and discovered the importance of personality traits and their influence on well performing teams through the infamous failure of the Hubble telescope mirror (Pellerin, 2009). NASA attributed the Hubble incident to a leadership failure. Pellerin conducted his own extensive analysis on the problems related to the Hubble incident in the years that followed. His investigations led to proposing possible solutions or alternatives to team management. His particular focus was on team building with scientists, engineers, and computer scientists who notoriously resist traditional "touchy-feely" methods. The result of this work was the development of the 4-D teambuilding model (Pellerin, 2009). The 4-D process has boosted the performance of large-scale team projects including complex NASA project teams. For example, Pellerin estimates that execution of the 4-D assessment for a NASA team had a cost of $60 per employee per year with a possible increase in productivity of up to $40,000 per employee per year (Pellerin, 2009).

Our software engineering capstone course involves a large two-semester team based project. Starting in 2009, we have used the 4-D System in this course. The decision to use the 4-D System came after years of the instructor observing incidents of teams being unable to work together effectively. Typically, the incidents occurred within the teams as the due date for projects approached. Due dates are particularly stressful because the project concludes in the spring which serves as the graduation semester for nearly all students. The 4-D System combines both individual personality traits with an understanding of the task characteristics of software engineering. In addition, it includes periodic assessments to provide feedback at both the team and individual levels. Periodic assessment also allows the opportunity for changes in the style of team dynamics as the project progresses. A single instructor has been responsible for this course both before and after the decision to use the 4-D System. This offers a unique and consistent insight into the benefits and drawbacks of 4-D.


Social science has studied the characteristics of team interaction and development for many years. Software development teams and projects have applied findings from social science research. Wiesche and Krcmar presented a structured literature review of this research and its impact on software development performance (Wiesche and Krcmar, 2014). In reviewing literature from computer science, they considered both personality models and software project management tasks. We look at the top four psychological models applied in the literature investigating software development as suggested by Wiesche and Krcmar. …

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