A Framework for Analyzing Structural Mechanisms Deployed to Support Traditional and Agile Methods: Making Sense of “Democratization” in the Software Development Workplace

A Framework for Analyzing Structural Mechanisms Deployed to Support Traditional and Agile Methods: Making Sense of “Democratization” in the Software Development Workplace

Michal Dolezel, Alena Buchalcevova
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4165-4.ch011
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People rely on structures to make their worlds orderly. This chapter conceptually probes into the problem of the differences between organizational structures deployed in traditional and agile environments. The authors develop an argument that all common forms of organizational entities can be classified by involving a two-dimensional classification scheme. Specifically, they constructed a typology to examine the issues of formal vs. informal authority, and disciplinarity vs. cross-functionality in terms of their significance for traditional and agile software development workplaces. Some examples of concrete organizational forms—including traditional project team, independent test team, self-organizing agile team and developers' community of practice—are discussed. In sum, they argue that by employing this classification scheme, they can theorize the nature of the on-going structural shift observed in conjunction with deploying agile software development methods. They acknowledge that the structures have fundamentally changed, terming the move “democratization” in the software development workplace.
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Over the last two decades, Agile Software Development Methods (ASDMs) have rapidly grown in popularity. While ASDMs were originally coined by a group of “organizational anarchists” (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001) who wanted to “undo the damage that waterfall had done to … [the software development] profession” (Schwaber, 2013), the methods seem to be nowadays widely accepted as the mainstream way of software development. The shift from the plan-driven methods to ASDMs can be characterized as a move from the rigorous and well-defined processes towards rapid, people-oriented and customer-centered software practices (Cohn, 2010). Indeed, the shift was supposed to also bring some fundamental changes in the overall philosophy and value-orientation with regard to software development activities. These changes were exemplified in the Agile manifesto and its twelve principles (Fowler & Highsmith, 2001). However, despite the huge attention which the Agile manifesto attracted in the past decade, the question whether it is yet making a real, on-going impact remains open. In our view, this may be due to the essential fluidity of the Agile manifesto, despite the fluidity being intentional (Hohl et al., 2018).

In contrast to being fluid and uncertain, in many aspects of their everyday lives people naturally tend to look for tangible guiding principles and structures. In that sense, social psychologists argue that “structure provides people with the means to achieve their desired ends”, as “[w]hen the world is orderly and structured, people can make sense of events” and predict the future (Laurin & Kay, 2017). Notably in the world of work, structures play an important role. In this context, a structure means a generic mechanism allowing workers to get their work done. In particular, organizational structures, which are typically over-simplistically represented by corporate organizational charts, are frequently used in practice and examined by management scholars (Daft et al., 2010; Pugh et al., 1969). It is reasonable to expect that software teams are no exception in their need for a structure.

Apparently, due to ASDMs in general, and scaled agile frameworks in particular, the commonly used approaches to organizational structuring within the software world have changed during the last decade or so. It appears that software practitioners hold that the structures which previously worked in plan-driven settings (e.g. silo-ed functional teams) are now partly or fully dysfunctional in agile settings (Noordeloos et al., 2012). Also, emerging structuring mechanisms such as cross-functional teams, communities of practice (Cohn, 2010), agile centers of excellence (Knaster & Leffingwell, 2019), agile chapters and guilds (Smite et al., 2019) etc. have appeared in the organizational repertoires of software development enterprises. One of key drivers for the adoption of these structures seem to be the growing popularity of scaled agile frameworks. These frameworks now play a dominant role by demonstrating how to conduct and structure software development activities in an agile manner at a large scale (Ebert & Paasivaara, 2017; Kalenda et al., 2018). In some of these frameworks, it is possible to find a prescription of the role delineation to be implemented (Smite et al., 2019), which is an important structural aspect of modern organizations (Daft et al., 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Democratization: A metaphorical term used to characterize the move from traditional to agile organizational structures and management principles (here examined within the context of software development activities).

Typology: A form of classification schema with possible theoretical implications.

Structure: An arrangement that is to introduce stability and/or order.

Functional Orientation: An organizational principle that follows the idea of intensifying alike competencies in terms of their segregation from competencies of a different nature (e.g. software analysis from software testing).

Rational-Legal Authority: A form of authority that stems from a formal position or standing.

Ad-Hoc Authority: A form of authority enacted and exercised without a formal basis.

Cross-Functionality: An organizational principle that follows the idea of putting diverse competencies and expertise together, expectedly resulting in a synergistic effect.

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