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Explaining leadership in virtual teams: The case of open source software


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  • Giuri, Paola
  • Rullani, Francesco
  • Torrisi, Salvatore


This paper contributes to the open source software (OSS) literature by investigating the likelihood that a participant becomes a project leader. Project leaders are key actors in a virtual community and are crucial to the success of the OSS model. Knowledge of the forces that lead to the emergence of project managers among the multitude of participants is still limited. We aim to fill this gap in the literature by analyzing the association between the roles played by an individual who is registered with a project, and a set of individual-level and project-level characteristics. In line with the theory of occupational choice elaborated by (Lazear, E.P., 2002. Entrepreneurship. NBER Working Paper No. 9109, Cambridge, Mass; Lazear, E.P., 2004. Balanced skills and entrepreneurship, American Economic Review 94, pp. 208-211), we find that OSS project leaders possess diversified skill sets which are needed to select the inputs provided by various participants, motivate contributors, and coordinate their efforts. Specialists, like pure developers, are endowed with more focused skill sets. Moreover, we find that the degree of modularity of the development process is positively associated with the presence of project leaders. That result is consistent with the modern theory of modular production (Baldwin, C.Y., Clark, K.B., 1997. Managing in an age of modularity. Harvard Business Review September-October. pp. 84-93; Mateos-Garcia, J., Steinmueller, W.E., 2003. The Open Source Way of Working: A New Paradigm for the Division of Labour in Software Development? SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Studies. Open Source Movement Research INK Working Paper, No. 1; Aoki, M., 2004. An organizational architecture of T-form: Silicon Valley clustering and its institutional coherence. Industrial and Corporate Change 13, pp. 967-981).

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Information Economics and Policy.

Volume (Year): 20 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (December)
Pages: 305-315

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Handle: RePEc:eee:iepoli:v:20:y:2008:i:4:p:305-315

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Keywords: Open source software Technological innovation Human capital;


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  1. Edward P. Lazear, 2002. "Entrepreneurship," NBER Working Papers 9109, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Edward P. Lazear, 2004. "Balanced Skills and Entrepreneurship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 208-211, May.
  3. Juan Mateos Garcia & W. Edward Steinmueller, 2003. "The Open Source Way of Working: a New Paradigm for the Division of Labour in Software Development?," SPRU Working Paper Series 92, SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex.
  4. Masahiko Aoki & Gregory Jackson, 2008. "Understanding an emergent diversity of corporate governance and organizational architecture: an essentiality-based analysis -super-1," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(1), pages 1-27, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Andreas Freytag & Sebastian von Engelhardt & Christoph Schulz, 2010. "On the Geographic Allocation of Open Source Software Activities," Jena Economic Research Papers 2010-009, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Max-Planck-Institute of Economics.
  2. Engelhardt, Sebastian v. & Freytag, Andreas, 2013. "Institutions, culture, and open source," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 90-110.
  3. Michiel Bijlsma & Paul de Bijl & Viktoria Kocsis, 2009. "Concurrentie, innovatie en intellectuele eigendomsrechten in software markten," CPB Document 181, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
  4. Myriam Karoui & Aurélie Dudezert, 2010. "La collaboration centrée sur le partage de connaissances et de l'information au sein des équipes virtuelles : revue de littérature et perspectives de recherche," Post-Print hal-00509749, HAL.
  5. Myriam Karoui & Ali Gürkan & Aurélie Dudezert, 2010. "Virtual Team Collaboration: A Review of Literature and Perspectives," Post-Print hal-00509753, HAL.


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