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Tensions experienced and balancing strategies used in Agile Software Development environments
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Karlstad Business School (from 2013).ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4657-2832
2022 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

To achieve efficiency in rapidly changing environments, working methods that promote change and flexibility are needed. Thus, the Agile ways of working (i.e. Agile values, principles, and frameworks) are today the most common approach to developing software and something that is currently spreading to many other industries and organizations outside of the traditional IT sector. 

However, it is challenging to combine the business-driven need for predictability and planning with the Agile ways of working, e.g. changeability, self-management and step-by-step development and delivery; therefore, several tensions can arise at the team and organizational levels. Tensions can, for example, be experienced if the team members’ experiences are rooted in traditional project environments with stable processes and predefined requirements based on detailed planning. 

This dissertation aims to contribute to our knowledge of Agile Software Development (ASD) by examining the contradictions and tensions in ASD environments, as well as how to balance and react to these tensions. The dissertation responds to the great need for conceptual development in the field of Information Systems. The target groups are both researchers and practitioners.

The research reported on in this dissertation is based on one conceptual study and two empirical studies. The studies reported on in four appended papers jointly contribute toward answering three research questions (RQs):

RQ 1: What is the nature of the tensions experienced in ASD environments?

RQ 2: What are the sources of the tensions experienced in ASD environments?

RQ 3: What ambidextrous strategies can be used to both balance and react to the tensions found in ASD environments?

This dissertation brings together concepts from academic domains of knowledge (organizational theories of [paradoxical] tensions and ambidexterity and Activity Theory derived from socio-psychological theory) in order to provide a new insight into the complexity of ASD.

This dissertation contributes by discussing and visualizing how patterns of contradictions, categorized tensions and ambidextrous (i.e. the ability to manage two seemingly contradictory activities) strategies have been compiled and connected. This dissertation also contributes by describing how three models that can be used to develop the concept of “shared mental models”, which is so important to team-based learning. 

Abstract [en]

This dissertation aims to contribute to our knowledge of Agile Software Development (ASD) by examining the contradictions and tensions in ASD environments, as well as how to balance and react to these tensions.

This extended knowledge of ASD is important because ASD is today the most common way to develop software and it is currently spreading to many other industries and organizations outside the Information Technology sector.

However, recent research reports that it is challenging to combine the business-driven need for predictability and planning with the Agile ways of working, e.g., changeability, self-management and step-by-step development and delivery; therefore, several tensions can arise at the team and organizational levels. Tensions can, for example, be experienced if the team members’ experiences are rooted in traditional project environments with stable processes and predefined requirements based on detailed planning.

This dissertation comprises of three studies (one conceptual study and two empirical studies), which are reported on in four papers.

This dissertation contributes by visualizing how patterns of contradictions, categorized tensions and ambidextrous (i.e. the ability to balance between tensions) strategies have been compiled and connected. This dissertation also contributes by describing how three models that can be used to develop the concept of “shared mental models” which is so important in team-based learning. 

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlstads universitet, 2022. , p. 98
Series
Karlstad University Studies, ISSN 1403-8099 ; 2022:27
Keywords [en]
Agile Software Development, Contradictions, Paradoxical tensions, Ambidexterity, Grounded Theory, Activity Theory, Use case study
National Category
Information Systems, Social aspects
Research subject
Information Systems
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-92143ISBN: 978-91-7867-322-3 (print)ISBN: 978-91-7867-323-0 (electronic)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-92143DiVA, id: diva2:1705516
Public defence
2022-12-02, 11D257 Agardhsalen, 10:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2022-11-11 Created: 2022-10-24 Last updated: 2023-02-02Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Ambidexterity in Agile software development: a conceptual paper
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Ambidexterity in Agile software development: a conceptual paper
2021 (English)In: Journal of Organizational Effectiveness, ISSN 2051-6614, E-ISSN 2051-6622, Vol. 8, no 1, p. 16-43Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose The purpose of this study is to apply the concept of organizational ambidexterity as a conceptual lens to increase the understanding of tensions between exploitation (continuity) and exploration (change) in Agile software development (ASD) project teams, and particularly the balancing (ambidextrous) strategies utilized. Design/methodology/approach A conceptual framework was constructed from interdisciplinary sources on ambidexterity. A literature review of publications on ambidexterity in ASD was then performed, and the results from the selected publications were classified according to an extension of the conceptual framework. Findings Contextual ambidexterity in ASD is affected by the four basic coherent concepts: time, task, team and transition. The study found that most ambidextrous factors and strategies were task and team-related. In addition, a mixture of hard (performance) strategies and soft (social) strategies is needed in order for people/teams to (be able to) become ambidextrous. Practical implications To provide a better understanding of ASD, it is important to identify a broader set of ambidextrous factors and strategies that can impact ASD project teams. The expanded conceptual framework can serve as a basis for future empirical research and provide insights to practitioners on how to strengthen ambidexterity in ASD projects. Originality/value The contribution is of great importance for ASD research and practice, as ASD methods are a popular method for managing projects within ASD and in other nonsoftware organizations. In addition, as more and more organizations struggle to deal with rapidly changing environments, interest in the phenomena of paradoxical tensions and the strategy (ambidexterity) to deal with these tensions increase.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2021
Keywords
Agile software development, Plan-driven software development, Ambidexterity, Exploitation, Exploration, Paradoxical tensions
National Category
Information Systems
Research subject
Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-82518 (URN)10.1108/JOEPP-07-2019-0068 (DOI)000604720000001 ()2-s2.0-85098735861 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2021-01-21 Created: 2021-01-21 Last updated: 2022-10-24Bibliographically approved
2. Balancing between stability and change in Agile teams
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Balancing between stability and change in Agile teams
2021 (English)In: International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, ISSN 1753-8378, E-ISSN 1753-8386, Vol. 14, no 7, p. 1529-1554Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose – This study aims to create a better understanding of how practitioners implement and work Agile while balancing the tensions arising between stability and change.

Design/methodology/approach – A grounded theory approach was used to explore what happens in practice when software development teams implement and work Agile. The empirical data consists of twenty semi-structured interviews with practitioners working in fourteen different organizations and in six different Agile roles.

Findings – As a result, a substantive theory was presented of continuously balancing between stability and change in Agile teams. In addition, the study also proposes three guidelines that can help organizations about to change their way of working to Agile.

Research limitations/implications – The inherent limitation of a grounded theory study is that a substantial theory can only explain the specific contexts explored in that study. Thus, this study’s contribution is a substantial theory that needs to be further developed and improved.

Practical implications – The proposed guidelines can help organizations about to change their way of working to Agile. They can also assist organizations in switching from “doing Agile” to “being Agile”, thus becoming more successful.

Originality/value – The new perspective that this study contributes is the fact that our discovered categories show that several inherent processes are ongoing at the same time in order to balance the need to have both stability and change.

Keywords
Agile, Software development, Paradoxical tension, Grounded theory
National Category
Information Systems
Research subject
Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-85707 (URN)10.1108/IJMPB-12-2020-0366 (DOI)000691721300001 ()2-s2.0-85113867768 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2021-08-30 Created: 2021-08-30 Last updated: 2022-10-24Bibliographically approved
3. Tensions and ambidexterity: a case study of an agile project at a government agency
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Tensions and ambidexterity: a case study of an agile project at a government agency
2022 (English)In: International Journal of Information Systems and Project Management, ISSN 2182-7796, E-ISSN 2182-7788, Vol. 10, no 2, p. 5-23Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Today's dynamic business environment must continuously adapt its software development methods to changing technologies and new requirements on the part of customers. Therefore, Agile methods are being used more and more used because they emphasize both flexibility and the ability to change. However, at the same time, the business-driven need for predictability and control remains. The purpose of this case study is to explore and theorize on paradoxical tensions and ambidexterity during an Agile software development project at a government agency. The study empirically examines how tensions and the ambidextrous responses to these tensions are related to Agile values. Data was collected by conducting interviews and studying internal project documents. Four categories of tensions (learning, organizing, performing, and belonging) were used for analytical purposes. The findings suggest that most of the tensions perceived were in the categories of learning and performing. There are, furthermore, several connections between the ambidextrous responses to these tensions and Agile principles. A deeper understanding of Agile values and principles is required in order to make projects successful. The contribution made by the study, therefore, is of great importance because Agile methods are for leading projects, not only in Agile software development, but also in other industries and sectors.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sciencesphere, 2022
Keywords
agile software development, paradoxical tensions, ambidexterity, government agency
National Category
Business Administration Information Systems
Research subject
Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-91531 (URN)10.12821/ijispm100201 (DOI)000826383200002 ()2-s2.0-85134059772 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2022-08-19 Created: 2022-08-19 Last updated: 2023-11-21Bibliographically approved
4. Manuscript: Contradictions in an Agile project at a government agency an Activity Theory analysis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Manuscript: Contradictions in an Agile project at a government agency an Activity Theory analysis
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Information Systems, Social aspects
Research subject
Information Systems
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-92141 (URN)
Available from: 2022-10-07 Created: 2022-10-07 Last updated: 2022-11-29Bibliographically approved

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