Do software engineers benefit from source code navigation with traceability? -- An experiment in software change management
For decades now, mainstream development environments provide the same basic automations for navigating source code: mainly searching and the tree exploration of files and folders. This may imply that other automations have little additional value or too steep a learning curve for mainstream adoption. This paper investigates whether source code navigation enriched with traceability benefit basic maintenance tasks such as changing features and fixing bugs in code. To test this, we conducted a controlled experiment with 52 subjects performing real maintenance tasks on two third-party development projects: all with the same navigation tool but half of the tasks with and the other half without traceability navigation. We found that the existence of traceability profoundly affected the quality of the change tasks and fundamentally changed how software engineers navigated through source code. We show that software engineers benefit instantly from traceability, without training, which is to show that the current automations available to software engineers are by no means sufficient or the only easy ones to use.