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Antecedents of Preference for Agile Methods: A Project Manager Perspective

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Antecedents of Preference for Agile Methods: A Project Manager Perspective
David Bishop, D.Sc.
Dakota State University
dave.bishop@dsu.edu
Pam Rowland
Dakota State University
pam.rowland@dsu.edu
Cherie Noteboom, Ph.D.
Dakota State University
cherie.noteboom@dsu.edu
Abstract
Using a Grounded Theory approach, this research
reveals a view from a project manager’s perspective on
the factors influencing preference for agile methods.
Fifteen managers were interviewed and theoretical
constructs developed reflecting the factors influencing
their preference. Positive, negative and contingent
factors emerged from the data. The core category
discovered is pragmatism. Project managers exercise
pragmatic assessment when expressing their preference
for agile methods. Seven factors that positively influence
preference are identified and discussed, along with two
negative factors and two contingent factors.
1. Introduction
The use of agile development methods in software
development and project management is popular in a
world demanding support for constant change and
innovation. The use of agile methods is still on the rise.
The 2016 VersionOne State of Agilesurvey shows
that while 94% of respondents’ organizations practice
some agile, 60% of the teams in those organizations are
not practicing agile [1]. The statistics indicate agile is
widely used, but there is still significant opportunity for
further adoption within organizations.
The variation in manager preferences for various
development methodologies is significant. A portion of
the preferences is attributed to several characteristics of
methodologies. The fit of the solution, the
circumstances of the problem, and the nature of the
challenge, influence the effectiveness of a methodology.
Agile development is defined as an excellent fit when
circumstances require that the project is ambitious, there
is a need for modifying deliverables with frequent input
from the customer, and where rapid delivery is
necessary [2]. In addition, the agile development
method lends itself to iterative and incremental
development, customer collaboration, and frequent
delivery [3]. Speed, efficiency, collaboration and
change management are considered key attributes of
agile development [4].
There is a lack of understanding of manager
preference for agile development methods. The goal of
this study is to contribute to the literature by identifying
factors that influence managerial preferences for agile
software development. The investigation will consider
project manager preferences for development
methodologies with an open lens to fully understand the
influences and perceptions of the managers.
We will first provide initial background on the topic,
then discuss the research design. Following this will be
a detailed description of the findings. We will conclude
with a discussion of the research and future directions.
2. Background
There have been theoretical developments to extend
agile development principles to a variety of different
contexts such as large and dynamic software
development projects [5], distributed software
development projects [6], data warehousing and
business intelligence projects [7], and game
development projects [8]. The literature on agile project
management has focused on comparing traditional plan-
driven approaches with incremental approaches [9-11].
These papers focus on the practices and processes
emphasizing the benefits of the agile approach. The
authors identify ways for managers to evaluate the use
of agile method. It is unclear how project managers
form their preference for or against agile methods.
Research on understanding project managers’ attitudes
toward agile development methods is limited. The
question of factors influencing project manager
preference for agile methods has not been fully
addressed in the literature. This is an important research
question to study as managers rationalize their choice of
methods seeking to improve project performance and
team effectiveness.
Research suggests that the adoption of agile is driven
by several influential factors such as project size,
application criticality, complexity, employee skillset,
and company culture [12-14]. The emphasis of agile
development is on teams and team interactions and
dynamics. Management is defined as a process of
planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. Within
agile development, the traditional role of the project
manager changes from command and controlto more
of a coach or facilitator[14]. The project manager
now has the responsibility of managing the collaborative
efforts of the team without stifling their creativity.
Managers need to be flexible to leverage each team
member’s expertise [15]. This focus is significantly
different than traditional systems where the focus was
Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences |2018
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10125/50567
ISBN: 978-0-9981331-1-9
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Page 5435
on the process. Taylor’s research focused on
understanding how agile techniques shaped the
practices of project managers, and how they dealt with
conflict [16]. Her findings focused on how change in
methods influence human experience and can cause
some conflict. She also identified how project managers
should relinquish some control when using agile.
Organizational cultures and management have an
influence on development methods. Research has been
extensively conducted on the tensions and trade-offs
between stability and agility in organizational
management [17-19]. The literature on organizational
theory and learning gives solid reasoning for providing
an organizational climate conducive to adapting to
change. This adaptation is positively associated with
superior performance [18, 19].
Vinekar, et al. summarized the opposing
characteristics of agile and traditional development
methods as related to management [14]. Table 1 shows
this comparison.
Agile
Traditional
Management
and
organizational
characteristics
Leadership
and
collaboration
Command and
control
Cooperative
Autonomous
Flexible
Disciplined
Manager as
facilitator
Manager as
planner
Tacit
knowledge
Explicit
knowledge
Team reward
system
Individual
reward system
Table 1 - Agile and traditional methods
comparison
Bishop, Deokar and Sarnikar have investigated
preference from a software developer’s perspective
[20]. The current research seeks to extend that research
into the area of management preference for agile
software development methods. Consequently, our
research seeks to identify influential factors in project
manager’s preference (or lack of preference) for the
agile software development method. This desire led us
to our research question: What are the factors that
influence software development project managers’
preference for or against agile methods?
3. Research design
Since the goal is to develop empirically based
theory, we chose the grounded theory form of
qualitative research. This method is well established in
the field of Information Systems [21, 22].
Unlike quantitative methods, where a representative
random sample of a population is critical, grounded
theory uses theoretical sampling [23-25]. Theoretical
sampling seeks data from sources that will provide rich
information regarding the emerging categories and
theory rather than sources strictly intended to be
statistically representative of the target population [26].
We have performed a preliminary literature review
to orient our research to the literature. In keeping with
grounded theory principles, we have engaged the
literature review while attempting to avoid theoretical
expectations and bias [27].
3.1 Data collection
For data collection, we developed a list of semi-
structured interview questions, as well as an initial list
of managerial contacts. To develop our list of
participants, we started with our own professional
network of project managers who have agile experience.
After interviewing a participant, we would ask them for
additional contacts who might be able to contribute to
our study. This technique of identifying participants is
sometimes called the snowball technique or chain
referral technique. Although this approach may have
issues, if managed appropriately it can be useful for
qualitative research [28].
We performed interviews of these contacts, digitally
recorded the interviews, and transcribed the recordings
into written documents. Fifteen participants were
interviewed from across the Midwest and Western
United States. Companies ranged from small to Fortune
50-sized organizations. The interviews resulted in 345
minutes of recordings which were transcribed into 132
pages of narrative. The participant demographics are
summarized in Table 2.
Company
Size
Business Type
P1
55
Consulting
P2
9
Services
P3
97
Financial
Services
P4
50
Consultant
P5
1,000
Financial
Services
P6
10,000
Education
P7
130
Consulting
P8
130
Consulting
P9
75
Consulting
P10
114,000
Multi-National
Technology
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Company
Size
Business Type
Gender
P11
130
Consulting
Female
P12
15
Consulting
Male
P13
6,000
Global
Aerospace and
Defense
Male
P14
1,000
Financial
Services
Male
P15
114,000
Multi-National
Technology
Male
Table 2 - Participant information
3.2 Data analysis
Next, we analyzed the transcripts using grounded
theory coding techniques [24]. As part of a team of three
researchers we initially coded the transcripts using
Atlas.ti. We then compared our coding and developed a
set of concepts to group and conceptualize the codes.
Finally, we performed one more step of abstraction and
formed categories.
As we analyzed the codes we summarized them into
concepts, and then abstracted the concepts into
categories. Table 3 shows the concepts that support the
categories.
Category
Concept
Pragmatism
Not perfect, but better than
the alternative (waterfall);
Increased efficiency of
developers; Improved
quality; Better planning;
Deliver features faster;
Successful projects
Customer
satisfaction
Customer engagement;
Collaboration; Customer
influence; Customer value
focused
Risk management
Reduced team liability; Fast
feedback; Increased
predictability; Improved
progress visibility
Communication
Improved communication;
Fast feedback; Team
engagement; Customer
communication
Team satisfaction
Tech team likes agile;
Increased dev efficiency;
Team engagement;
Increased accountability;
Improved teamwork; Self-
organizing teams; Training;
Category
Concept
Empowerment; Trust;
People focused
Incremental work
Increased predictability;
Iterative and time-boxed
work; Small chunks of
work; Better scope
management
Adaptive
Adapts to change better;
Increased flexibility
Desire for fixed
outcomes
Some upper
management/clients want
defined deadline, cost and
features
Change averse
Management are change
averse
Fit
Work fit; Cultural fit; Team
fit
Hybridization
Hybrid necessary;
Hybridization leads to
confusion
Table 3 - Categories and concepts
4. Findings
4.1 Pragmatism
When summarizing the philosophical foundations of
agile methods, Nerur and Balijepally indicate the
philosophical view of Pragmatism for agile methods
[29]. Pragmatism, as a philosophy, views knowledge as
“arising from an active adaptation of the human
organism to its environment” [30]. This harmonizes
well with agile values and principles. In more colloquial
terms, Webster’s Dictionary defines pragmatism as “a
practical approach to problems and affairs” [31].
A theme of pragmatism emerged from the data.
Project managers found agile useful. It is not perfect, but
is often characterized as better than the alternatives. P6
says agile fits the nature of the work better than the
other methods we've used.”
As noted in Table 3, participants find a variety of
benefits when using agile approaches. They note
characteristics like increased efficiency, improved
quality, better planning, faster delivery of features and
successful projects. These experiences highlight the
practical value of agile methods leading to heightened
preference among project managers for agile methods.
Pragmatism is identified as the grounded theory
“core category” and is discussed further in Section 5 of
this paper. It provides a unifying theme that is supported
by each of the following categories.
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4.2 Customer satisfaction
Project managers consider customer satisfaction a
primary goal of software development. Managers
indicate that agile allows more opportunity for contact
with the customers enabling them to meet the needs of
the customer throughout the project, thus increasing
satisfaction. With agile software development,
customers are involved throughout the project life cycle
and interaction is much more frequent than in traditional
methodologies [12, 32].
One aspect that contributes to participants’
preference for agile in relation to customer satisfaction
is customer engagement. As P14 says, “I think this
really does help us because the users are involved in
our daily scrums. So we can bring questions to them,
they're right down there with us and they can look at it
quick.
Another concept that leads to this category is
collaboration. Customers share in the work and
recognize the importance of their contribution to the
success of the project. P5 says agile is great for
collaboration.
Customers also have the opportunity to influence the
features and implementation through their feedback.
This naturally leads to higher satisfaction on their part.
P3 says that agile teams can, “use that feedback, make
quick decisions, [and] influence the direction of the
project.
Agile allows the project to focus on things of value
to the customer leading to a product that satisfies their
needs. Rather than focusing on intermediate milestones,
approvals and non-software artifacts, agile focuses on
delivering a product that brings benefit to the customer.
As P10 states, agile gives “you the opportunity to work
on the things that have the highest business value.
Additionally, customer engagement, collaboration,
influence and value lead to customer satisfaction.
Customer satisfaction positively influences project
managers’ preference for agile. Customer satisfaction
increases the utility of agile in the eyes of project
managers making it an effective, successful and
pragmatic method of software development.
Participant P1’s statement of why she prefers agile
is a great summary for this category, “I just think the
opportunity to provide customer satisfaction is huge.”
4.3 Risk management
Risk management is used to determine the risk
exposure of a given course of action [33]. Software
projects are high risk because of the number of variables
that affect outcomes. Only about a quarter of software
projects succeed outright and billions of dollars are lost
annually to project failures [34].
Our risk management category emerged from
several concepts in the data: reduced liability, fast
feedback, predictability and progress visibility.
Participants from the services sector are particularly
attracted by the ability of agile to manage risk. P8 says
this about using agile methods with his projects: “It's all
about liability, just mitigating or minimizing that
liability for us.” With regard to getting fast feedback
P13 states, with agile, bringing the customer in early
on helps to alleviate that risk.
Regarding predictability, P12 says, “The promise is
far more predictability in delivery. Agile teams tend to
be extremely predictable in the amount of scope that
they can deliver in a period of time, much more so than
anything you get out of a waterfall approach.
We see progress visibility as an important concept
that participants attribute to reducing risk. Due to the
incremental delivery of working software customers
(and team members) have visual and experiential
validation of actual progress. This is much different than
a traditional waterfall approach where progress is
largely measured through document artifacts and
associated milestones rather than working software. P1
makes this point, I think that's what I like about it
[agile] the most, is that you're showing that product to
the customer. You have a deliverable result every sprint.
… You're showing results for your work done, which I
think is the difference the big difference between that
and Waterfall. Waterfall, you can't show results, and
they wonder what you're doing for all that long time.”
Risk management surfaces as an important category
from the data. The practical value of improved risk
management to project managers supports the core
category of pragmatism as an antecedent for agile
preference among managers.
4.4 Communication
Agile integrates effective communication within
teams [35]. It enables diverse project teams to move
through the cycle of ‘thought-action-reflection’ [13],
which improves the process and enables learning and
adaptation. Communication emerges from the data as a
category. Communication has the power to improve
transparency, understanding and interactions. The daily
scrum or standup meeting appears as a key mediator of
effective communication. As one participant, P15,
notes, “I'm a big fan of the daily stand-up. This is a
chance for the developers of different flavors [to] get
heard and share their experience and opinion about
working down the work for the iteration. I think this is
highly useful and absolutely important. Another
participant, P5, feels agile strongly influences the
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communication, recognition and teamwork. “They meet
daily in a scrum to talk about what they’ve
accomplished, what they’re working on, what’s getting
in their way. They brainstorm ideas. They get to talk to
the users and hear what their needs are. They get to brag
a little bit about their accomplishments and what they’re
doing. And they get to show off a little bit with look
what I made for you. And they get to hear that
immediate feedback” (P5).
The speed of communication is another aspect noted
by a participant, “I would say early feedback, fast
feedback is a key thing” (P8). Other participants say
continuous communication positively influences the
process. “What I like about it is that the team is
continuously meeting and communicating and
addressing issues as they occur, because it allows
customer feedback quicker. So, what we try to do is we
try to get the customer very involved” (P9).
One of the positive contributions from
communication is improved experience and flow of
information. P4 contributes this comment: “It's a
quicker turnaround and quicker feedback from the
customer. And so, it's a better experience all around for
the customer as well as the engineer because we're just
we're touching base with them so often throughout the
whole process” (P4).
Another comment indicates the timing of
communication and interaction is a daily event, which
influences the project insight and understanding.
“We’re still in the basement but now we have business
users and sponsors who are with us almost daily. In
some cases, daily. And in some cases, maybe weekly or
monthly. But they have a lot more insight into what we
do on a day to day basis. A lot more hands on with
helping us drive our work efforts, our projects. And then
they get to see all the other stuff that comes along that
derails our projects” (P5).
The contribution of agile communication strategies
appears to result in transparency and understanding,
which contributes to achieving business strategy and
goals. One participant states, “I like agile methods a lot.
It’s a lot easier. It’s a lot better for us. It’s a lot better for
the business. It really lends itself to transparency. We’re
getting better in our communication between the
business units and IT with them being able to express
what they need and us being able to analyze better their
requirements and help them figure out what works for
them” (P5).
Some participants feel communication is the biggest
adjustment when changing methodologies as indicated
by this comment: “So I think the biggest difference
between the methodologies isn't necessarily how my
day-to-day of managing a project changes, it's more of
that day-to-day how I communicate with the clients and
even communicate with the team” (P11).
Participants’ preference for agile is positively
affected by their perception that agile enhances
communication within the team and between the team
and customers. We see that improved communication is
an effective benefit arising from the data and supporting
the pragmatic category of managerial preference for
agile.
4.5 Team satisfaction
Agile methods not only increase customer
satisfaction, but also increase the satisfaction of the
development team. According to the literature, there are
twice as many members of agile teams who are satisfied
with their jobs verses members of non-agile teams [36].
Team members’ satisfaction increases due to the ability
to influence decisions, working on satisfying projects,
and having relationships with the team and the users.
Both individual and team morale increase with agile
[37].
Project manager participants like the regular team
communication. “What I like about it is that the team is
continuously meeting and communicating and
addressing issues as they occur” (P9). They find
encouragement through the teamwork and commitment
of the team. The following indicate project managers’
views on team satisfaction: “That was encouraging just
to get to see the developers work together like that”
(P6); “Agile really lends itself to the team environment”
(P5); Agile really allows team members to kind of self-
organize, and manage their work, and work together”
(P1); “They can have a better sense of commitment to
the end goal. I think you have the morale is better with
the project team” (P6).
Software development is a human endeavor. The
data indicate that project managers recognize the
significance of human factors and perceive their
importance to team satisfaction. They recognize agile is
a useful methodology to accommodate the human nature
of teamwork.
One of the four Agile Manifesto’s values
emphasizes the human side of software development
stating, We have come to value: Individuals and
interactions over processes and tools” [32]. Recent
research has also focused on the human aspects of
software development in an agile environment [38, 39].
Our participants discuss a variety of teamwork
aspects to agile software development including self-
organizing teams, empowerment, ownership and trust.
P15 states, I think a key component that the software
development team has responsibility in organizing when
they do what is asked of them, and manage this process
and prioritization themselves. He goes on to say,
“Agile has to do a lot with trust” (P15).
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From the perspective of the project manager, the
technical team enjoys benefits of agile through
increased efficiency, team engagement, accountability,
self-organization, empowerment and trust. Project
managers recognize that team satisfaction makes for a
better and more productive work environment, making
agile an attractive approach to project management.
4.6 Incremental work
Another category that emerges from the data is
summarized as incremental work. This encompasses a
range of concepts such as increased flexibility-- the
ability and freedom to adapt to change. It also includes
the notion of short delivery cycles that provide features
faster to customers, which enables faster feedback from
them. Incremental work also captures the idea of time-
boxed iterations, which managers viewed as providing a
better planning approach and producing higher degrees
of schedule predictability.
Incremental work resonates with the literature. It has
been shown to reduce complexity and demonstrates
compatibility with the way software is developed [40].
Regarding small units of work, one participant says,
“It makes it simpler for people in a way because you're
working on a limited number of items, so you're
focused” (P3). When it comes to incremental work and
delivering features faster, P3 says, “I can do a lot more,
be much more aggressive, make faster changes, and
make a better product.”
Delivering features faster lays the groundwork for
obtaining quicker customer feedback and adapting to
their emerging needs. P13 states the issue with waterfall
from the customer’s perspective: “They're not happy
with what they got, and part of the problem is they don't
know what they want until they see it. So, with agile,
bringing the customer in early on helps to alleviate that
risk.Agile “allows customer feedback quicker” (P4).
And P8 states, I would say early feedback, fast
feedback is a key thing.
With respect to time-boxing P1 says, “What you do
is you take a time-box and you determine an amount of
work that you can do in that time-box, that can actually,
from start to finish, deliver useable, working
product.” It is critical that the scope is also fixed within
an iteration, not just the time. P15 says, A key principle
that is important to me … which goes into process,
beyond principle is the idea that you work in
iterations where inside the iteration there is a fixed
commitment that doesn't get changed during the
iteration.
Incremental time-boxed small chunks of work lead
to higher predictability. P5 says, “As a team we can see
how much work we can take on every three weeks
When you can say this is what we can do in three weeks
and you can deliver something to the users and they go,
oh, you know what? That’s enough.
The category of incremental work contributes to a
pragmatic preference for agile. Working in time-boxed
iterations leads to many benefits and project managers
are drawn to an effective methodology.
4.7 Adaptive
The adaptive category emerges with two facets from
the data. One facet covers the ability to adapt the agile
process to best fit the situation, such as corporate
culture, stakeholder needs or team dynamics. The
second facet deals with the ability of an agile project to
adapt to the changing functional requirements of the
product.
According to Masood and Farooqi, The iteration
approach that defines agile project management
emphasizes the need to reconsider each of the completed
project cycle before moving to the next. This implies
that the project specifications, plans and designs may
keep changing in line with changes in the project
environment” [38].
The opportunity to change quickly and adapt to
business needs is indicated with participant comments
like “It's agility. It's the ability to change very quickly”
(P4) and “The nice thing about agile is you can
customize it to fit your business need” (P5). One
participant feels individualization of methodology is
possible. “There’s part of it that you like and parts of it
you don’t, you can draw from different pieces and make
it your own” (P5).
The second facet of adaptation is responding to
changing requirements. As P13 notes about traditional
waterfall methods, “We've had enough experience here
at [Large Corporate Entity] where we've built huge
technical systems that were great engineering feats, but
the market changed during that time of the development
and we didn't respond to the market.
Participants find that agile is better able to adapt to
changing requirements. Project managers appreciate a
methodology that allows them to respond to ever
changing functional requirements. This also resonates
with the values and principles found in the Agile
Manifesto [32].
Adaptability, both in process and product, often
makes agile more attractive than the alternatives.
4.8 Desire for fixed outcomes (negative factor)
Traditional software development methodologies,
such as waterfall, are based on a sequential series of
steps [41]. These traditional methodologies define and
document a set of requirements. The success of the
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project depends on knowing all the requirements before
development begins. Making any changes during the
development life cycle can be difficult. The benefit of
detailed planning lies in determining the cost of the
project, the schedule, and allocating the needed
resources [42].
When stakeholders request fixed cost, schedule or
resources, the agile software methodology is
challenged. Project manager P12 states,
“Predominantly their [middle management’s] objection
is I won’t have an end date with fixed scope, fixed
quality, fixed resources that I can present to upper
management and they’re not going to buy-in, because
middle management tends, with few exceptions, to not
recognize that upper management got there by
understanding that there is no such thing as a 100%
predictable project. They think their job is on the line if
they’re not 100% predictable, whereas upper-
management would probably make some tradeoffs.”
Stakeholders may have expectations that cannot be
met by agile: “Agile usually runs into problems when it
comes to stakeholder expectations” (P8). With smaller
projects, agile is certainly advantageous, but with large
projects it is difficult to estimate the time and effort
needed to complete the software project using agile.
The perception and reality of stakeholders’ desire for
fixed outcomes diminishes some project managers’
preference for agile methods.
4.9 Change Averse (negative factor)
Upper management is known to resist change and
prefer maintaining the status quo [42]. Adopting agile in
an organization that is accustomed to more traditional
Systems Development Life Cycle brings change
throughout the organization. Astute project managers
recognize that key management stakeholders may be
change averse and we observe that this negatively
affects project managers’ preference for agile methods.
Participants mention the importance of management
support and buy-in for successful agile usage. However,
potential upper management concerns related to agile
methodology appear to reduce project managers’
preference for agile. The importance of management
support was indicated with participant comments like,
“First, [we] need management buy-in” (P8) or “We had
to get the executive level buy-in before it took off. They
really had to see the advantages. They had to become
engaged. They really needed to support it from that level
down. And then we saw it really take hold” (P5).
The change averse nature of some stakeholders
influences project managers as indicated by one
participant, P9, You have to have the organizational
buy-in and support that this is going to work. If the
organization does not believe in the concept of agile
development, then it's not going to work.”
If an organization’s top management is resistant to
change, it will negatively affect the desirability of agile
methods by the project manager.
One of the characteristics of being change averse
appears to be a sense of loss of safety found in the
information provided in the traditional project
management triangle of time, cost and scope. P12’s
comments indicate this: “Predominantly their objection
is I won’t have an end date with fixed scope, fixed
quality, fixed resources that I can present to upper-
management and they’re not going to buy-in” (P12).
Some participants note ways of dealing with the
managements being change averse with comments like,
“Upper management, I think you try and balance the
flexibility of the agile approach with the certainty of
kind of the deterministic outcomes and kind of push as
much as you can to let them know the risks involved
with the approach while still trying to provide
confidence in your abilities to execute on the project”
(P7). The upper management perception of agile
appears to be fear of losing control of the budget, the
deliverable and the schedule.
The comments in the change averse category
materialize as having power to negatively influence the
preference for agile among project managers. A
comment demonstrating the power of the culture change
is: “If a client does not have agile instituted in their
corporate culture already we can very rarely walk in
there and be successful in an agile method” (P11).
The project managers indicate a need to engage and
educate managers to understand the benefits of agile
prior to making a transition. P1 says, “I think that the
if you're able to get your buy-in from your stakeholders
your sponsors, and you are able to have a true product
owner that can speak for the requirements and
communicate those to the team, I think you can be very
successful at agile. The problem is IT departments try to
implement an agile methodology, but if they don't have
their sponsors and their business stakeholders on board
with that and able to operate in that same methodology,
then they have a real difficult time” (P1).
In some situations, the perceived change averse
nature of management negatively influences project
managers’ preference for agile methods.
4.10 Contingent factors
In addition to the positive and negative factors, a few
factors surface that, depending on the project context,
could be either positive or negative.
We recognize fit as one of these factors. We identify
three dimensions of the fit factor. First, there needs to be
Page 5441
a cultural fit, in addition there has to be a fit with the
work, and finally there needs to be a team fit.
Another contingent factor we term hybridization.
This has to do with the participants’ experiences with
combining agile with waterfall methods. In some cases,
the project manager could integrate these disparate
approaches effectively, providing the desired fixed
outcome information upward toward higher
management while allowing the team to operate in an
agile manner. In other cases, this dichotomy causes
confusion on the team, as P8 says, “You have a scope, a
budget, and a schedule. If you do, it's not agile, even
though we borrow the [agile] ceremonies … Just 'cause
we're using these ceremonies does not mean it's an agile
project, and sometimes our own employees get that
confused” (P8).
Consequently, contingent on the context of a specific
project and organization, fit and hybridization can either
be a positive or a negative influence on a project
manager’s preference for agile.
5. Limitations and discussion
5.1 Limitations
The study depends on a limited group of
participants. Although there are representatives from
diverse industries and company sizes, expanding the
size and diversity of the sample could help amplify the
findings and possibly expand to new concepts and
categories. We do sense from the data that the core
category discussed below is a significant and relevant
finding.
5.2 Core category
Grounded theory employs the idea of a core category
that relates all the categories [43]. We chose pragmatism
as the core category for the data. Pragmatism evaluates
the veracity of theories based on their practical utility.
The sentiment of practicality resonates with each of the
categories. Project managers consistently relate their
preference for agile in terms of the value of agile in their
practical experience. They contrast the utility of agile
with the problems they experienced with traditional
waterfall. For example, P12 says, I gave up waterfall
as soon as I had control over my own destiny, so I have
plenty of experience, but it’s all been I mean I would
never impose that on a development team.
Agile is effective from an interpersonal relationship
perspective (customer satisfaction, communication, and
team satisfaction) and it is effective from a project
perspective (risk management, incremental work, and
adaptivity).
The negative factors arise because of unfavorable
experiences or perceptions. When a project manager
perceives she cannot meet stakeholder expectations for
fixed outcomes, there is a decrease in her preference for
agile because, from her perspective, it does not work.
Likewise, if the organizational culture is change averse,
then moving to agile may be an inappropriate choice,
not because it isn’t a good methodology, but because it
may not be practical in that environment. Finally, if
customers are not willing to engage throughout the
project in a timely manner, project managers are reticent
to employ agile methods because they will be
ineffective. The factors leading to preference for agile
among project managers are pragmatic in nature.
Our findings do not imply that agile is the best
methodology for all projects. The negative and
contingent factors point out circumstances where other
methods may be preferred. Regulatory requirements and
cultural fit may indicate that alternative software
development methodologies may be more appropriate.
But, in a wide variety of circumstances, project
managers find value in agile methods over other
methods for pragmatic reasons.
5.3 Future research
The results from this grounded theory research can
be strengthened by enlisting additional participants from
a variety of experiences [35]. One participant, P10,
suggested expanding the sample to include project
managers practicing outside of the United States.
Expanding to a more diverse set of project managers’
experiences offers the opportunity to enhance, expand
and solidify these findings.
Using the factors identified in this research, follow-
up opportunities exist to develop survey instruments to
measure these factors as constructs. With one or more
survey instruments, quantitative research could also be
performed to validate and explore the realtionships
between the constructs.
Finally, to develop a 360-degree view of agile
preference in software development, the authors will be
engaging in a grounded theory study of agile preference
from the customers’ perspective. The study will focus
on factors from the product owner, user and other
business stakeholders’ perspectives that influence their
preference for agile methods on software development
projects.
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