Resolving the what’s-what : applying an ontological win-win model to requirements negotiation

  • Mohammed Alharthi

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Negotiation between software firms and client firms often runs aground, as different understandings between the parties interfere with smooth decision-making. Current approaches to negotiation include win-win techniques to try to minimize this interference, but heavy reliance on dictionary-styled lexicons to try to harmonize definitions often inject as much additional complexity into the negotiating process as they seem to resolve. The win-win negotiating model offers an iterative process for pursuing negotiation based on a philosophy by which both parties expect to benefit from the interaction, rather than treating negotiation as a zero-sum game. The method emphasizes building a common lexicon both prior to and during actual negotiations. There is already widespread evidence of the effectiveness of taking a concerted approach to negotiation based on win-win concepts. As a line of research with a separate history, ontological models have evolved as a way to depict knowledge in as few categories as possible. Although this research has its roots in epistemology and is therefore a philosophical subfield, it has demonstrated practical utility as a way to clarify understanding of complex concepts between parties starting from distinct frames of reference. When applied to practical matters, the adoption of an ontological model in visual form is a philosophically informed way to reduce complex project criteria to logical imagery and thereby facilitate the development of a common understanding between stakeholders in a given project framework. The research reported here therefore introduces a new approach to negotiation, called ontological win-win, which uses visual forms based in theory to accomplish the same goal, but without the pressure to overdevelop definitional lexicons. This model combines the rational structure of the win-win model and the intuitive structure of the visual ontology. Using a mixed-methods design consisting of a controlled experiment and qualitative analysis, this study then assesses the difference in efficiency and effectiveness in negotiation between the standard win-win and ontological win-win models, in the noted context. The experiment employs teams of students who have studied or had experience in software engineering or project management, assembled to undertake a simulation of requirements negotiation. In each experimental setting, one student team assumes the role of a software engineering team, and the other that of a client company’s project management team. The teams receive tables and descriptions of software capabilities and project specifications, respectively, on which they first partially expand based on their own knowledge and experience in the field. This manipulation encourages the respective teams to adopt distinct frames of reference, which they must then reconcile during negotiation. The quantitative component of the analysis used surveys to measure effectiveness and efficiency in information exchange, along with quality of information. The qualitative component consisted of a thematic analysis of interview material from selected participants, which the researcher interpreted in part by tabulating frequencies of response in identifiable categories of effectiveness, efficiency, and quality. The research revealed the potential for visual ontologies to function more clearly and smoothly as mediating tools in requirements negotiation than win-win approaches, specifically in the domain of information quality. Based on the quantitative facet of the study, both models proved equally useful as ways to support group information exchange efficiency and effectiveness, but qualitative results further revealed fewer sources of conceptual frustration associated with ontological win-win, compared to standard win-win. The advantages of the new model were strongest in terms of supporting information clarity, goal achievement, and true win-win objectives. The study concludes with recommendations for future research and practice. These findings are important to the theory of negotiation because they highlight the role of intuition in the inter-team communication process. They likewise contribute to practice by offering a tool that negotiators can immediately put to use for their own purpose.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJohn Campbell (Supervisor) & Masoud Mohammadian (Supervisor)

    Cite this