White Paper: Sustaining Agility: Organizational Change, Factors and Theoretical Lenses

24 Sep 2023

Sustaining Agility: Organizational Change, Factors and Theoretical Lenses

Research from Agile Research Network 

Abstract:

Agile organizations have to deal regularly with change and at the same time adapt to sustain agility. In this paper, we present an initial study to identify factors considered when changes need to be made to sustain agility. We used a novel data collection approach, critical decision method (CDM), and investigated three theoretical lenses, paradox theory, situation awareness and shared mental models, to explore the kind of practical consequences they help to uncover. This paper presents the findings of this initial study together with reflections on the data collection method and the three theoretical lenses. Three key dimensions relevant to sustaining agility emerge from the use of these theoretical lenses: teams vs organization; understanding the environment vs the impact of change internally; and understanding “now” vs looking into the future.

Introduction

Agile methods have been practiced for many years, and the challenges agile practitioners face have evolved over time. Initial concerns focused on how to adopt agile software development, and later, on how agile can be scaled to large IT projects [1]. More recently, challenges have moved towards business agility transformation [2], and how to remain agile in the long term [3, 4]. This paper focuses on this last concern, which we refer to as “sustaining agile”, i.e. the continuous process of maintaining and improving agility within an organization.

An organization that has transformed to agility, or in which only some part(s) of it have adopted agile practices may face different issues around sustaining agile [2] than one that has been agile from its inception. An organization that has adopted agile working from its inception may find the question of how to sustain agile puzzling because a key characteristic of agility is continuous adaptation and improvement, and one of the agile principles refers to sustainable pace: “The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely”. However, by sustaining agile we are not referring to the continuous ongoing flexible adaptation of agile work but to how agile organizations deal with potentially disruptive change, yet continue to be agile.

Studies on organizational change tend to be long term, involving many participants and huge amounts of data collection and analysis. On the other hand, short interview studies can be limited in their depth of insight. To overcome these extremes, we set out to explore a different data collection approach, and to investigate the theoretical frameworks that might shed light on the question of how organizations sustain agility through disruptive change. We also wanted to identify concrete factors, specific examples and practical recommendations that practitioners demand [5]. To that end, we have conducted an initial study to identify factors considered when an organization needed to put effort into sustaining agility. We used a novel data collection approach, critical decision method (CDM) [6], and investigated three theoretical lenses, paradox theory [7], situation awareness [8] and shared mental models, [9] to explore the kind of practical consequences they help to uncover. This paper presents the findings of this initial study together with reflections on the data collection method and the three theoretical lenses; it contributes to the research on sustaining agile by identifying an initial set of factors considered when changes need to be made, and by proposing a data collection approach that focuses on real practice and is more targeted than the typical longitudinal studies.

First Published 20 May 2023 on SpringerLink 

References

  1. Freudenberg, S., Sharp, H.: The top 10 burning research questions from practitioners. IEEE Softw. 27(5), 8–9 (2010)
  2. Strode, D., Sharp, H., Barroca, L., Gregory, P., Taylor, K.: Tensions in organizations transforming to agility. IEEE Trans. Eng. Manag. 69(6), 3572–3583 (2022)
  3. Gregory, P., Barroca, L., Sharp, H., Deshpande, A., Taylor, K.: The challenges that challenge: engaging with agile practitioners’ concerns. Inf. Softw. Technol. 75 (2016)
  4. Gregory, P., Strode, D.E., Sharp, H., Barroca, L.: An onboarding model for integrating newcomers into agile project teams. Inf. Softw. Technol. 143, 106792 (2021)
  5. Shull, F.: Who needs evidence, anyway? IEEE Softw. 24(5), 10–11 (2007)
  6. Hoffman, R.R., Crandall, B., Shadbolt, N.: Use of the Critical Decision Method to elicit expert knowledge: a case study in the methodology of cognitive task analysis. Hum. Factors 40, 254–276 (1998)
  7. Smith, W.K., Lewis, M.W.: Toward a theory of paradox: a dynamic equilibrium model of organizing. Acad. Manag. Rev. 36(2), 381–403 (2011)
  8. Klein, G.: Analysis of situation awareness from critical incident reports. In: Endsley, M.R., Garland, D. (eds.) Situation Awareness Analysis and Measurement, pp. 51–72. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah (2000)
  9. Yu, X., Petter, T.: Understanding agile software development practices using shared mental models theory. Inf. Softw. Technol. 56(8), 911–921 (2014)

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