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Constructing a Theory of Agile Governance: a step towards Business Agility

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Context: Competitiveness is the key to a sustainable development and it demands agility at the business and organizational levels, which in turn requires a flexible and customizable Information Technology (IT) environment, as well as effective and responsive governance in order to deliver value faster, better, and cheaper to the business. Objective: This paper describes the ongoing research design we conduct to analyze and understand better this context, and whose expected result will be a theory of agile governance to help researchers and practitioners apply agile capabilities on governance issues in order to achieve organizational performance and business competitiveness. Method: We conducted a systematic literature review on the state of the art of agile governance, together with a meta-ethnography study on professional social networks related to governance, and we are applying the phenomenology and grounded theory approaches to the collected data. Results: We have identified 16 emerging categories, organized into four major thematic groups, based on the patterns identified in the collected data. As a result, we could offer a convergent definition for agile governance, six meta-principles, and a map of findings organized by topic and classified by relevance and convergence, detailed in other paper under publishing process. Conclusion: We found evidence that indicates agile governance as a relatively new, wide and multidisciplinary area focused on organizational performance and competitiveness that needs to be more intensively studied and might have its boundaries better defined. We are currently making improvements and additions to the methodological approach for exploratory qualitative studies.
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1
Constructing a Theory of Agile Governance: a step towards
Business Agility
Alexandre J. H. de O. Luna1,2, Philippe Kruchten2*, Hermano Moura1+
1 Informatics Center (CIn). Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE). Av. Jornalista
Anibal Fernandes, s/n, Cidade Universitária, 50740-560, Recife, PE, Brazil.
2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). The University of British
Columbia (UBC). 2332 Main Mall. Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada.
+Supervisor, *Co-supervisor.
ajhol@cin.ufpe.br, pbk@ece.ubc.ca, hermano@cin.ufpe.br
Abstract. Context: Competitiveness is the key to a sustainable development and it
demands agility at the business and organizational levels, which in turn requires a
flexible and customizable Information Technology (IT) environment, as well as effective
and responsive governance in order to deliver value faster, better, and cheaper to the
business. Objective: This paper describes the ongoing research design we conduct to
analyze and understand better this context, and whose expected result will be a theory of
agile governance to help researchers and practitioners apply agile capabilities on
governance issues in order to achieve organizational performance and business
competitiveness. Method: We conducted a systematic literature review on the state of
the art of agile governance, together with a meta-ethnography study on professional
social networks related to governance, and we are applying the phenomenology and
grounded theory approaches to the collected data. Results: We have identified 16
emerging categories, organized into four major thematic groups, based on the patterns
identified in the collected data. As a result, we could offer a convergent definition for
agile governance, six meta-principles, and a map of findings organized by topic and
classified by relevance and convergence, detailed in other paper under publishing
process. Conclusion: We found evidence that indicates agile governance as a relatively
new, wide and multidisciplinary area focused on organizational performance and
competitiveness that needs to be more intensively studied and might have its boundaries
better defined. We are currently making improvements and additions to the
methodological approach for exploratory qualitative studies.
Keywords Information Systems, Agile Governance, IT management, Organizational
behavior, Software Engineering.
1. Introduction
Governments and corporations are increasingly realizing the emerging importance of Information and
Communication Technologies (ICT) as catalyst factor of the driving aspects of change, renewal and
implementation cycle of their business. These organizations are deepening the perception about how the
Information Technologies (IT
1
) capabilities are becoming key factors of success in the evolving of their market
competitiveness and the achievement of their institutional mission [Gallagher and Worrell 2007; Tallon 2008].
1
“IT” and “ICT” in this study will be used as synonyms, and understood as the means by which are covered the infrastructure, services
and software as well as the organizational capabilities established to support the business.
2
In recent years, IT has seen an increase in investment and research focus in both the academic and the
professional environments. These initiatives have entailed efforts to improve management models and to
implement practices that make enterprises more competitive.
Competitiveness is related with the idea to make more, better and faster, with less resources [Janssen and Estevez
2013]. At the same time, governance is closely related with the ability to steer (to guide, to govern) an
organization, which may be a company, a government or a society [Bloom 1991]. In other words, governance is a
key driver to “make things happen” on organizational environment. On the other hand, to achieve good governance
demands capabilities such as flexibility, responsiveness and adaptability, as well as an effective and responsive
sense of coordination across multiple business units. Actually, these capabilities belong to the agility paradigm in
consonance with several authors, such as [Matt 2007], [Chen et al. 2008], [Li 2010].
Moreover, Kruchten [2011] define agility as: “the ability of an organization to react to changes in its
environment faster than the rate of these changes”. In fact, this definition uses the ultimate purpose or function of
being agile for a business, unifying and standardizing agile and lean approaches as simply "agile", rather than
defining agility by a labeled set of practices or by a set of properties defined in opposition to the agile manifesto
approach [Beck et al. 2001]. Going beyond, a “good governance” requests particularly “organizational agility”,
which is stated by Thomsett [2013] as: “the ability of an organization to respond quickly and effectively to
unanticipated events in its environment”.
As a result, agility became an important business aspect, and according to Luftman et al. [1993], business agility
is: "the ability to change the direction of the environment and respond efficiently and effectively to that change".
In consonance with this definition, we distilled a new definition to business agility for use in this study as: “the
ability to deliver value
2
faster, better, and cheaper to the business”.
In line with these concepts, agile governance becomes the application of agile capabilities
3
on governance
issues
4
in order to improve business agility, what we believe that can result in significant economic outcomes for
companies and governments. In the subsequent sections this paper gives an overview of the related theoretical
background, the methodology adopted to elaborate and evaluate the theory, as well as preliminary and expected
results.
2. Background and Related Work
In this scenario, IT governance, through which corporate governance
5
is applied, has emerged as an option to the
effective management and control of IT services in organizations, ensuring the payback of investments and the
improvement and innovation of business processes [IT Governance Institute 2001].
Through the influence of factors related to market regulation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act [Congress of the
United States of America 2002] and the Basel Accords [Bank for International Settlements 2010], the use of
governance is also motivated by other objectives, such as: i) reducing the costs of business unavailability; ii)
assurance of continuity of business processes; iii) guarantee of IT investments payback; and, iv) increasing
organizational competitiveness [Weill and Ross 2004].
Ribeiro and Barata [2011] pointed out that to face competition, enterprises have adopted more efficient
organizational dynamics that enable them to respond to socio-economic pressures while tackling profitable but
volatile business opportunities. This led to the emergence of several types of networked interactions: supply
chains, extended enterprises, virtual enterprises, collaborative networks, among others. Overall, agility is
fundamental as the establishment of such networked organizations is not trivial. Partners will share profits, risks
and responsibilities and ultimately the performance and success of the entire structure will always be dragged
down by the less agile participant [Brown et al. 2013; Royce and Cantor 2013].
In practice, the design and maintenance of the IT systems for enterprise agility can be a challenge when the
competitiveness of organization’s products and services is depending of the application of models and frameworks
that have no guidance details of how to implement and deploy the necessary management instruments and
governance mechanism [Luna et al. 2013]. Consequently, the challenges become even greater when dealing with
these matters on a global software development and distributed environment, where cultural differences, awareness
and communication style, if not treated properly can lead to conflicts. Arguably, in Global Development
Environments governance issues are even more relevant and necessary, as well as its implementation even greater
challenging [Dubinsky et al. 2011].
Several authors [Luna et al. 2010; Qumer and Henderson-Sellers 2008; Roosmalen and Hoppenbrouwers 2008;
Sun et al. 2005] have pointed out the lack of methods, techniques and tools to help people and enterprises to
achieve the business goals, means by the governance issues, in an agile way independent from the business area.
2
“An informal term that includes all forms of value that determine the health and well-being of the firm in the long run.” [BD 2013]
3
“The power or ability to do something.” [OED 2013]
4
“An important topic or problem for debate or discussion.” [OED 2013]
5
“is the set of processes, policies, rules, laws and institutions that affecting the way as a corporation is directed, administered or
controlled” [Cadbury 1992]
3
At same time, many authors [Banihashemi and Liu 2012; Bartenschlager and Goeken 2010; Heston and Phifer
2011; Radnor and Johnston 2013] claim that the governance practices, models, guides and frameworks are most of
them bureaucratic, time consuming and having no guidance details of how to implement and deploy the necessary
management instruments and governance mechanism, such as ITIL [Mendel 2004], COBIT [Gerke and Ridley
2009], among others. These processes, models, guides and practices will be denominated conventional or
traditional governance”, by this study, according the shortcomings identified in their context.
Over the last few years, Agile methodologies [Dybå and Dingsøyr 2008] have been gaining traction in industry
and adding competitiveness and dynamism to the process of software development, through initiatives where the
principles of communication and collaboration are essential Dubinsky and Kruchten [2009]. Moreover, Dubinsky
and Kruchten [2009] and Dubinsky et al. [2010] highlight that Software Development Governance (SDG) has
emerged in the last few years to deal with establishing the structures, policies, controls, and measurements for
communication and for decision rights, to ensure the success of software development organizations.
Recently, agile governance has been proposed [Cheng et al. 2009; Luna et al. 2010, 2013; Qumer 2007] which
provides the wide application of principles and values of Agile Software Development [Beck et al. 2001] to the
conventional governance processes. Luna [2009] has developed a framework for agile governance, in order to
implement and improve governance in organizations, called MAnGve. This framework is focused to the
deployment process, as a catalyzer to accelerate the deployment of governance. The MAnGve framework is
designed to mitigate the lack of practical focus found in conventional governance models [MAnGve 2009]. The
MAnGve is a framework based on an agile life cycle, seeking to translate the principles, values and practices from
Agile Software Development to IT governance paradigm. However, altogether the agile governance phenomena
still remained unexplored in depth.
3. Methodological Framework
Considering the positive experience of several organizations working in the field of Software Engineering and the
significant contribution that Agile Methodologies have brought to their software development processes [Ambler
and Lines 2013; Kruchten 2011]. Likewise, taking in mind that no systematic review of agile governance has
previously been found, we conducted a systematic literature review about the state of the art of agile governance
(SLR-AG) in order to understand better the agile governance phenomena. Additionally, we have also intended to
investigate how the domain of agile governance has evolved in the world through analysis of some key constructs,
such as: genesis, shortcomings, evolution, trends, concepts, principles, etc.; as well to derive implications for
research and for practice.
When we started our doctoral research under this same context and motivation, we intended to propose a model
for Agile Governance paradigm. However, after two years refining the knowledge available about this topic and
conducting the aforementioned systematic review (SLR-AG), we realize two major viewpoints: (1) the paradox of
the emerging phenomenon
6
: If any system that can be object from a model is contained into a phenomenon,
which the researcher do not know, neither understand (yet), how can he or she characterize the boundary
conditions to define the system that will be the reference to propose the model?”; (2) domain development level:
based on the findings from the SLR-AG and in line with Edmondson and McManus [2007], we point out: (i) we
think precipitated and inconsistent propose a model for agile governance in this stage of development, because the
research design of this study has to adapt itself to the current state of theory and research, which is evidently
nascent; (ii) as a result, the development level demands for exploratory qualitative studies, originally open-ended
data that have to be interpreted for meaning; and, (iii) likewise, we are handling with a nascent field of study where
all set of knowledge should be organized, connected and systematized in some kind of conceptual framework or
theory, then to serve as a basis for future work, such as: models, applications, etc.
3.1. Research Problem
From the described scenario in the previously section, we can identify the following research problem:
Based on the presented context and on the fact that agile governance is a nascent, wide and multidisciplinary
domain, focused on organizational performance and competitiveness: these phenomena need to be more
intensively studied, analyzed, described and might have its boundaries better defined, as well as it should be
organized, connected and systematized in some kind of conceptual framework or theory. This problem is
compounded by the fact that, we did not find evidence in the literature about the existence of a theoretical
approach that can help people and enterprises to analyze and describe agile governance [Luna et al. 2014].”
3.2. Justification
Grounded on these understandings, our judgment leads us to consider the exploration and comprehension of these
phenomena as a higher priority of this domain, justified by the development stage of this field of study and by the
6
When we met this paradox in our work, we faced it not only as a specific paradox emerging from our research, but we deduced it as
a broad paradox of Information Systems, addressing to the relationship between models, systems and phenomena in study. As we did
not find any reference about similar paradox related to those aspects, we named it as a new one.
4
philosophical paradox faced. As a result the proposition of a theory for agile governance seems as a more
auspicious product for this study, meeting the claims from the findings of the SLR-AG and providing a theoretical
approach that can help researchers and practitioners to apply agile capabilities on governance issues in order to
achieve organizational performance and business competitiveness. We believe that improving the competitiveness
of governments and companies through the improvement of their IT governance and IT management shall result in
significant economic outcomes.
An initial premise for this research is that different types of theory exist in Information Systems and that
all can be valuable. However, the existence of a theory that addresses Agile Governance issues was not found
before or during the development of this study. Considering the wide and multidisciplinary nature of this domain
pointed out by the SLR-AG, we believe that a meta-theory
7
should be a legitimate classification for this theory,
according to the level of generalization intended [Gregor 2006].
3.3. Research Objective
The major objective of this study is to address these challenges by providing a theoretical approach that can help
researchers and practitioners to apply agile capabilities on governance issues in order to achieve organizational
performance and business competitiveness. Specifically, a meta-theory for analysis and description [Gregor 2006],
which can be used to describe what agile governance is, as well as help to interpret and understand how agile
capabilities can be applied upon governance issues in order to achieve business agility, guided by the following
major research question:
How a theoretical approach can be applied to analyze and describe what is agile governance in order to
help people to combine agile capabilities with governance issues to achieve business agility?”
3.4. Research Method
In consonance with the current state of theory and research in the agile governance domain, the design of our
research demands for an exploratory and qualitative study that have to be interpreted for meaning [Edmondson
and McManus 2007]. This is also coherent with the finality of propose a theoretical approach that can help
researches and practitioners to apply agile capabilities on governance issues to achieve business agility.
Grounded theory has arisen as one of the best-known method to produce theories [Glaser 2002]. Gregor [2006]
highlights that some examples of grounded theory can also be examples of Type I theory (Theory for Analyzing),
where the grounded theory method gives rise to a description of categories of interest. In addition, Suddaby [2006]
points out that where researchers have an interesting phenomenon without explanation and from which they seek
to “discover theory from data” is the context when grounded theory is most appropriate. The exact situation
experienced by this study. Indeed, this approach has been widely employed for the development of recent theories
in IS, such as: [Adolph et al. 2012], [Dorairaj et al. 2011].
Table 1 Classification of Methodological Approach. SOURCE: own elaboration.
Methodological Approach
Description and References
About the objective
Exploratory [Marconi and Lakatos 2003]
About the technical procedure
Exploratory Literature Review [Schuetzenmeister 2010]; Systematic Literature Review
[Dybå and Dingsøyr 2008; Kitchenham et al. 2007]; Bibliometrics and Scientometrics
[Weingart 2005]; Phenomenology [Creswell 2012]; Grounded Theory [Corbin and
Strauss 1990; Eisenhardt 1989; Pandit 1996]; Meta-ethnographic and qualitative Meta-
analysis [Noblit and Hare 1988]; Expert’s Survey [Groves et al. 2013]; Scenario Analysis
[Antón et al. 1994]; Angen’s theory assessment approach [Angen 2000]; and, Theory
comparison [Eisenhardt 1989; Glaser and Holton 2007].
About the nature of variables
Qualitative [Creswell 2002, 2012]
About method approach
Inductive [Jebreen 2012]
About methods of procedure
Comparative and Structuralist [Gauch Jr 2003; Gower 2002]
At this point of our rationale, it is important to contextualize that we have been working on this domain at least
for six years: we produced a master degree dissertation and publish a book about agile governance. In complement,
over the last two years we conducted the systematic review, described at the beginning of the section 3, to
investigate the state of the art of this domain. As a consequence of these experiences a set of knowledge intuitions,
discoveries and insights about this topic were accumulated, condensed and crystalized by means of an inductive
approach [Jebreen 2012], supported by procedures comparative and structuralist [Gauch Jr 2003]. This approach
is quite congruent with the approach proposed by grounded theory [Corbin and Strauss 1990]. At the same time,
these experiences will be fairly relevant in the process that will follow from now on.
If on one hand, these previous experiences condensed on the personality, experience, and character of the
researcher can be seen as an important component of the research process and should be made an explicit part of
7
Meta-theory is at a very high level of abstraction and provides a way of thinking about other theories, possibly across disciplines
[Gregor 2006].
5
the analysis [Strauss and Corbin 1998]; on the other hand, this approach must be adopted carefully on these
preexistent concepts to do not “violate the notion of theoretical emergence”, avoiding that preconceived notions of
what is likely to be observed in the phenomena in study, which may reflect on what will "be seen" about the
intended categories and overlooked more emergent ones [Suddaby 2006].
Considering the factors and concerns we have just exposed, we decided to apply phenomenology and grounded
theory approaches compounded with other methods, techniques and procedures to complement and reduce the
likelihood of bias of this study, as depicted in the Table 1. The following subsection will detail the study design
pointing out where will be employed each method, procedure and technique.
3.5. Study Design and Evaluation
To simplify the understanding of the methodological approach the study design was structured in five stages as
depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Study Design. SOURCE: Adapted from [Adolph et al. 2012; Dorairaj et al. 2011; Monasor
et al. 2013].
At the stage 1 we develop a Systematic Literature Review [Dybå and Dingsøyr 2008; Kitchenham et al. 2007] to
investigate the state of the art of agile governance domain, establish the relevance of this work and frame this
study, identifying the adequate approach for the following stages of this research. At this stage Bibliometrics and
Scientometrics [Weingart 2005] were important to establish the relevance of the selected studies in the literature
for the review process and also to help in the synthesis procedures. As a result, we generated a set of findings that
crystalize a representative sampling from the phenomenon under study, which we called Body of Knowledge
(BOK). From this BOK emerged during the synthesis process, using meta-ethnographic and qualitative meta-
analysis methods [Noblit and Hare 1988], a new convergent meta-concept for agile governance, a mapping of
findings organized in four major thematic groups and 16 categories, as well as six meta-principles and some
directions for research and practice. These directions for research and practice not only confirmed the alleged
importance of this research, as well as gave us the guidance for the next steps of this work, allowing to define the
final study product and to consolidate the study design to achieve the research aims.
In stage 2 we identify and consolidate the emerging theory’s core-components and test the hypotheses suggested
by the emerging relations between the categories already identified in the previous stage, and the new categories
and connections that can emerge during this stage, adopting a similar approach to grounded theory described by
[Corbin and Strauss 1990; Eisenhardt 1989; Pandit 1996] and the meta-ethnography approach described by Noblit
and Hare [1988]. The procedures in this stage are guided, but not limited to the following case study databases: the
BOK (generated during the stage 1), and an ensemble of social networks composed by researchers and
practitioners in governance, management and agile methods. As a result, we expect identify a set of emergent
concepts and categories, and a list of meta-values, as well as organizing them through ontology to make up the
emerging theory.
6
In stage 3 we will conduct a Survey [Groves et al. 2013] with experts (researchers and practitioners) on this
topic, utilizing a mix of closed-end and open-ended questions that have to be interpreted for meaning. This stage
aims to appraising the consistency and check the constitution of the emerging theory, through the application of
grounded theory upon the responses, and supplementing the information obtained with interviews when necessary.
In stage 4 we will assess the emerging theory applying Scenario Analysis [Antón et al. 1994], through the
development of a set of scenarios collected from real case studies and/or historical facts, to analyze the theory
behavior and intrinsic properties, such as: generalization, causality, explanation and prediction. At the same time
we will apply the Glaser’s criteria [Glaser 1992] to evaluate the theory’s credibility
8
and Angen’s approach [Angen
2000] to conduct a validation from the ethical and substantive
9
perspectives.
Finally, in stage 5 we will conduct an Exploratory Literature Review [Schuetzenmeister 2010] to identify other
theories in IS area, after the theory had emerged and stabilized, and pull in extant theory to compare and contrast
with the proposed theory [Glaser and Holton 2007], also to examine what is similar, what is different, and why, in
order to enhances the internal validity, generalizability, and theoretical level of the theory building [Eisenhardt
1989].
4. Current status of research
We conducted a systematic review about the state of the art of the agile governance up to and including 2013. On
that sampling, our search strategy identified 1992 studies in 10 databases, of which 167 had the potential to answer
our research questions. We organized the studies into four major groups: software engineering, enterprise,
manufacturing and multidisciplinary; classifying them into 16 emerging categories. As a result, the review provides
a convergent definition for agile governance, six meta-principles, and a map of findings organized by topic and
classified by relevance and convergence. Those complete results from the systematic literature review are under
publishing process in [Luna et al. 2014], and could not be detailed on this paper.
Table 2 Research Schedule. SOURCE: own elaboration.
2
0
1
4
2
0
1
5
01
02
03
04
05
06
07
08
09
10
11
12
01
02
03
04
05
06
-
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
Our review confirms that agile governance has a wide spectrum of interest for executives from any business area,
professionals, researchers and practitioners by treating, in essence, aspects such as: organizational performance and
competitiveness, as well as it can be verified by the categories and major groups that emerged from these review
findings. The entire conclusions, discussions and implications for research and practice from the SLR-AG will be
detailed in a subsequent paper. The Table 2 depicts the current status of work and the research schedule.
5. Conclusion and Expected Contributions
This paper described the study design of our ongoing research; the preliminary results are promising, and should
generate a meta-theory for agile governance, comprising: a meta-concept, meta-principles, meta-values, meta-
categories, categories and ontology relating these components to explaining causality or attempting predictive
generalizations among them. Besides, the adoption of the Greek prefix “meta” to characterize the theory and its
meta-components is in order to encompass the multidisciplinary attributes of the phenomena in study, providing
a way of thinking across the disciplines that compose the agile governance phenomena, trying to cover their broad
nature.
Other expected contributions are: (1) advance the state of the art of agile governance and some directions for
research and practice; (2) a detailed analysis about the theory structure; (3) a detailed analysis about the theory
behavior in different scenarios, considering the exploration of its properties, such as: generalization, causality,
explanation and prediction; (4) a detailed analysis about the theory comparison to extant theory to further elaborate
the theory proposed; (5) a detailed description of the methodological approach and process adopted for theory’s
development; (6) a scientific approach that can help researchers and practitioners to advance methodology for
8
[Glaser 1992] suggests credibility of a grounded theory can be evaluated through four criteria: fit, work, relevance and modifiability.
9
A substantive approach to validation indicates researchers need to document the chain of interpretations in order for others to judge
the trustworthiness of the meanings arrived at in the end [Angen 2000].
7
combining diverse study types, as well quantitative and qualitative research. This approach can inspire
researchers and practitioners in future qualitative researches.
The authors believe that not only Information System area or software development organizations, but also whole
the IT industry will benefit from the results of this research. In fact, improving the competitiveness of governments
and companies through the improvement of their governance and management shall result in significant economic
returns. In a broader context, it will help any kind of organization to deliver value faster, better, and cheaper to the
business.
Acknowledgment
The authors acknowledge to CAPES, Brazil’s Science without Borders Program and CNPq by the research support. We are grateful to
Miguel Jiménez Monasor (University of Limerick, Ireland), Dr. Aurora Vizcaíno Barceló (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)
for having kindly provided their study design as a reference and give many valuable feedbacks about this issue. Special thanks to Dr.
Alberto Avritzer (Siemens, USA), Dr. John Noll (University of Limerick, Ireland), Dr. Tony Clear (Auckland University of Technology,
New Zealand), Dr. Sarah Beecham (University of Limerick, Ireland), Dr. Juho Mäkiö (Karlsruher Institute of Technology, Germany),
Dr. Julian Bass (Robert Gordon University, UK), Dr. Lars Bendix (Lund Institute of Technology, Sweden) and Siva Dorairaj (Victoria
University of Wellington, New Zealand) for their helpful feedback, suggestions and warnings about our original study design, during
the 8th IEEE International Conference on Global Software Engineering (ICGSE2013).
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