A Comparative Case Study of Teamwork in Norwegian Agile Software Development Projects

Viktoria Gulliksen Stray
University of Oslo 0047 93610848

stray@ifi.uio.no ABSTRACT
This paper presents the progress of my research for the 5th International Doctoral Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering (IDoESE 2010) Bolzano-Bozen, Italy. The main focus of my study is effective teamwork and coordination across teams in national and global software development projects. I investigate teamwork in projects doing agile software development (ASD). I want to develop an understanding about human and social factors and the challenges that arise in agile software projects. What makes the teamwork more effective, and what makes it less effective? It is increasingly common to have distributed teams, and this might add challenges to ASD: cultural challenges, communication challenges and knowledge sharing to name a few. My fieldwork will be in four companies, two consultancy companies and two companies that develop in-house software applications. All companies work with agile methods (Scrum, Lean, Kanban). The four companies are part of a research project that is funded by the Norwegian Research Council. So far I have been observing in two of the companies. I have done 8 interviews in one of them and distributed a questionnaire in the other. I used a preliminary instrument as a basis for conducting the interviews. This instrument [1] has 5 dimensions for diagnosing agile teamwork, and I added one dimension. I have found challenges in several dimensions, for instance in Team orientation, Redundancy and Learning. One challenge is that the team members have different perceptions of who their team members are. used an existing preliminary instrument for diagnosing and describing the status of agile teamwork [1]. This instrument consists of an interview guide and has open-ended questions along 5 dimensions: Shared Leadership, Team orientation, Redundancy, Learning and Autonomy. These dimensions are showed to be important in agile teamwork and has been used in several companies receiving good feedback [1]. Since the company I was conducting interviews in had a team in another country I decided to add questions about “Trust” because research has shown that “Trust” becomes increasingly important when you have global distributed team [4] [5]. Global distributed teams can also be called global virtual teams. Jarvenpaa et al. [4] define a global virtual team as “ a self-managed knowledge work team, with distributed expertise, that forms and disbands to address a specific organizational goal” and that “such teams engage in dispersed global work and, because for large time and space differences, communicate via e-mail and the Web.” This definition fits well with Company A’s distributed teams. The do knowledge intensive work and collaborate and communicate by chat, e-mail and telephone conferences. I also added questions about culture and language since cultural differences may lead to additional challenges in distributed teams [5]. The existing team radar instrument was also indicated to be appropriate for tracing changes over time [1]. Since Company A was about to install professional video conferencing equipment I wanted to get at status of the teamwork before they installed it. I want to conduct interviews after they have used the equipment for a while to see how the teamwork changes over time I use the same definition for team and effectiveness as Cohen and Baily [6] :“A team is a collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as a an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and who manage their relationship across organizational boundaries”. Cohen and Baily categorizes “Effectiveness of Teams” into three dimensions: “(1) performance effectiveness assessed in terms of quantity and quality of outputs, (2) member attitudes, and (3) behavioral outcomes”.

Categories and Subject Descriptors
D.2.9 [Software Engineering]: Productivity, Programming teams.

General Terms
Management, Performance, Design, Human Factors.

Agile software development, Effective teamwork, Coordination across teams, Comparative case study, Agile, Scrum.

1.1 Issues to get advice on
My research questions are not fully defined. I need advice on how to narrow my scope and what to focus on. Effective teamwork is a broad topic, and it is challenging to go from this topic to specific research questions in my action research. I would also like to discuss different theories I can use.

The use of agile as a methodology for software development continues to grow in industry, and teamwork is an important aspect of ASD[2, 3]. My overall research topic is what makes the teamwork effective in agile software projects. There are many dimensions in the context of ASD that are interesting to investigate. As a foundation for the interviews I

Very few. have done comparative case studies in the area of ASD [11]. in-house software applications will be the hosts of my case studies. and that includes software development companies [17] [18]. especially pair programming and early stages of ASD [20]. Challenges in the companies that are revealed in interviews will form the basis of my research questions. which is the same as my Ph. AI “is an approach within organization development and action research which focuses on the best of “what is” in a system. [10] and [11]. In my research I want to investigate gaps that need to be researched by practical experience. and it is gaining more and more popularity[18]. 3]. and given the importance of teamwork this is a relevant area to study. psychology and organization development [19]. What I want to focus on depends on preliminary investigations in the companies. I believe it is important to do research on what is popular in the industry. redundancy and learning affect the teams (both co-located and distributed)? o How to establish and sustain shared leadership among the participants in the teams. There is also a research gap in research on mature agile teams [11]. [12] and [13]. Many people claim that ASD introduced a whole new set of methods and techniques. Several Fortune 500 companies have used it with great success. not technology and that “the most important function that the software builder perform for the client is the iterative extraction and refinement of product requirements” [8]. I will use action research to specify the research questions. RELEVANT WORK ASD was introduced as a set of principles in the agile manifesto. Already in 1987 Frederick Brooks wrote about the importance of iterative and incremental development and of showing something to the customer as early as possible (rapid prototyping) [8]. roles in the team. but there is a research gap of using this framework in the software engineering area. except when it comes to pair programming [2. The recent years many experience reports and important books describing AI have been published. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a way of changing organizations that has shown to give measurable results [14]. rather than problems to be solved. many so-called agile methodologies existed before the term “Agile Software Development” was introduced in 2001. and works at engaging organizational members in envisioning and realizing its future” [15]. All of these are important aspects of ASD. Some Appreciative Inquiry has existed since 1985 as an approach to change [18]. and is therefore open for a lot of interpretation [7]. There exists research of use of AI in fields like education. and none in the Software development field. The research project continues until 2013. As a result of this it is difficult to say exactly what is an agile methodology. Researchers have done several systematic reviews of ASD and claimed that there is a backlog of research issues in this area [9]. and what is not. and the general leadership in the company? How to achieve shared and overlapping competence to support flexibility in teamwork in a cost-effective way.D. and it will be a comparative case study. RESEARCH OBJECTIVES Given the great interest in ASD in industry there is a clear need of extending the knowledge base on use of ASD. The four companies are a part of a research project that is funded by the Norwegian Research Council. however in 2002 there were only 20 published case studies of AI [17]. shared leadership. study does. Most studies are done on XP. Scrum and Lean were found to be the area of study in only a few research articles [11]. They also found no research answering the following questions and propose them as future research question [5]: o o “Are autonomy and self-direction the team structure best suited for virtual teams?” “Under what circumstances does autonomy hinder team effectiveness in the virtual environment?” “Can a set of behaviors that promote effectiveness of a wide range of virtual teams be identified?” o The five dimensions in the team radar instrument are shown to be important in agile software development [1]. and are seen as mature agile teams. if any. which gives me access to several projects within these companies. as much as 76%. companies that develop large. As this to some degree might be true.2. principles of ASD are investigated to a great level. There is limited research on the aspect of agile collaboration. The teams in Company A have used agile methods since 2000. 3. Two consultancy companies and two. It would be interesting to look closer at this by asking: . so it would be interesting to continue to do research on these dimensions: • How do the dimensions autonomy. One of them reported that there is a need for more empirical research on agile development methods [11]. Possible research questions are: • What are the challenges and benefits of teamwork in global distributed software development? o How does autonomy affect global distributed software development? A literature review from 2004 indicates that more research should focus on global long-term virtual teams [5]. He also said that the challenges of software development are people.1 Research questions The final research questions remains to be defined. one of the authors of the agile manifesto says that we can make retrospective and other parts of agile development better by using the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) framework [16]. All companies work with agile methods. and this will be a part of the foundation for defining the specific research questions. Relevant recent prior work includes [2]. My research will be based on empirical data. partly global. o 3. The past few years there has been a huge growth in the numbers of companies using AI. My study will investigate the use of Scrum and Lean. and this might contribute to agile becoming a buzzword. Kent Beck. team orientation.

• How will use of Appreciative Inquiry affect the teamwork in an agile software project? o How will use of Appreciative Inquiry affect the retrospective meetings? project is staffed with approximately 15 people in Norway. I will combine existing theories in related disciplines and grounded theory.1 Definition of most important metrics I will mostly gather qualitative data. I did not interview the people sitting in the other country or people sitting at another site (called “help desk”). manage and enhance a custom-made web-based content management system for a Fortune 500 industrial company. see figure 1. The interviews were semi-structured to simplify the process of transcribing and analyzing the data. This is a meeting which is held every morning at 9 o’clock where they discuss what they have done. and a team using shorter sprints [23]. In the interviews. The people I interviewed all attended the standup meeting every day. EMPIRICAL STUDY DESIGN AND ARRANGEMENTS My research is action research and I will follow the Cogenerative Action Research Model [21]. The interviews were audio recorded and later transcribed. Learning. and some were added (appendix A). [1]. and challenges they have. I have not yet found a suitable theory to apply as a frame of reference. Two of them had been on the project since the start (10 years). I can do this in my research. RESEARCH APPROACH. I agreed with the Technical Project leader from the project in Company A to interview the core resources in the project. In the interviews I used most of the same questions as Moe et al [1]. while Autonomy and Trust got a high score. what they are going to do until the next meeting. Company A is very interested in looking at how the factor WorkIn-Progress (WIP) affects the project. how does this affect the teamwork and the project? 4. If the team members feel ownership to the project plans this also The Dickinson and McIntyre’s teamwork model [22] is used in a case study of a scrum project. I asked questions along 6 dimensions: Shared leadership. I used the same definitions for the dimensions as Moe et al. After transcribing an interview I gave each dimension a score for that interview. and they also have some teams in another European country. I have both the access to a mature agile project. Redundancy. A 10 means the opposite. They recommend that in future work the extended model should be used in a mature agile development team. and the researchers found that it explains most of their findings. “Team orientation is giving priority to team goals over individual goals”[1]. Possible theories could be: • • • • Adaptive structuration theory (AST) Agency theory Contingency theory Organizational learning theory 4. Autonomy and Trust. Team orientation. A possible research question for this could be: • When you do Kanban software development and lower the “work-in-progress-limit”. In company A I observes a project that develops. My PhD-work has just started and I have not yet got to the point where I have metrics specified in full detail. but that it should be extended with the components trust and shared mental models [23]. Table 1 shows an overview of the 4 companies that will be the hosts for my case studies. and a project with sprints that are 2-3 weeks long. If the score is 0 this indicates that individual goals are more important than team goals. in Company A. which were 8 people from Norway. The scores for all the interviews were aggregated and then I found that Team orientation and Redundancy are dimensions that got a low score. but some questions were reworded or deleted. The Table 1: Overview of the companies . After observing in Company A for several months. The interviews lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and were carried out in Norwegian.

“Since I don’t really know the long term plans I can’t have any ownership to them” “The decisions about what to solve are not taken by the people working with it. “Trust can foster team effectiveness. but not anymore. 4.2 Data analysis methods and techniques The interviews conducted are transcribed.3 Preliminary results 4. They wish they weren’t there. including Help-desk” “That is me and 4 other from Norway” “I don’t feel that we have a specific team inside this project. That is communication between the project leader and the customer. but virtual teams can have difficulties with the trustdimension [5]. while a 10 means that they have. That is 3 people from Norway and 6 people from the other country” “That is everyone in Norway. and the analysis is still an ongoing process. You can see it at the standup-meetings. 4. while a 10 means that they do. I have grouped and contrasted statements. Data analysis will be based on Qualitative Data Analysis: An expanded Sourcebook [24]. But at the same time I also perceive some people in the other country as my team members more than other people there. and sometimes not. and 10 means that the decisions are respected. “ 4. We don’t know what to do until we develop it. a 10 means full redundancy. Quotes from the interviews that illustrate why they got a low score on this dimension are: Do all team members feel ownership to the project plans? • • • “No”. It is impossible for a team to have full redundancy. Redundancy means that team members are able to perform each other’s jobs and can substitute each other [1]. Some people are not that interested.3. I can also say that everyone in Norway are my team members. I have used NVivo8 to analyze the data (www. So that means not everyone can be aware of the plans. and is important for effective teams [1].” Do team members show interest in other persons’ tasks? • • “I would say partly. Team orientation got the lowest score of all the dimensions I asked in the interviews. A score of 0 means that the team members don’t trust the others. 7.1 Team orientation Team orientation refers to team members giving priority to team goals over individual goals. We just pick from the top of the list. Figure 1: Team radar result from Company A: In [5] they propose the following research questions: “Do virtual team members identify with their team as a social entity or do they remain tangential to it? “ Are virtual team members able to perform satisfactory even when they do not identify with the team? “. 6. A 0 means that the team does not have shared leadership. A score of 0 means that they don’t do this. I therefore asked in the interviews: “Who do you see as your team members? “ I got the following answers: 1. [1] A score of 0 means that decisions made by the team are not respected (by managers outside the team). We used to have it. “That is a good question. If the team members don’t rely on their team members to do their work there is a lack of trust [4]. That can include Help desk when they are sitting here. or influence them. Self-managing teams should share the leadership and if everyone is involved in the decision making process this indicates that the team has shared leadership [1]. Personally I am not very interested in what others are doing. A 10 means that team members give feedback to each other and continue to improve work methods. 2. So I will say partly. It is not that clear. and it is unclear how much redundancy it is most effective to have [1]. or everyone in Norway sitting here at Company A” “That is me. If I have to choose some people and call it my team members I would say me plus 5 people in Norway. not the people working with SharePoint” “The people I sit with are the easiest to perceive as my team members. only me” “That is the 10 people working with the Content Management part. it got the score 2. Learning is indicated by giving feedback and constantly improving the work.qsrinternational. A score of 0 means no redundancy. 5.com). and is indicated by ownership to the plans and members relating to the tasks of individuals [1]. .” “Sometimes.indicates high Team orientation [1]. 3. Autonomy is defined as “the influence of management and other individuals (outside the team) on the team’s activities”. If I have to pick a group and call it my team I have to say it is the transitionteam.

“ about things that are not relevant to all • • • • • Long meetings (especially the daily scrums) Some competence sit only with some people Sometimes different perceptions responsibility to reach goals The sprints are too short (only 2 weeks) Not everyone sits at the office. Most of the questions had a 5-point scale. “That definitely depends on how you define it. I have distributed a simple questionnaire to team members in company B. when I ask for it More efficient now It's a good feeling between the team members Very good skills make things easy Feeling of community Utilization of the persons strong points Not dependent on only one person Knowing others skills well Negative statements that were listed about the teamwork: • • Fragmented knowledge Sometimes there is too much discussion in meetings • • • Table 2: Questions about the retrospective meetings . and ask them to discuss and agree on what teams they have in the project and which people belongs to the different teams. In the feedback session with the company I will discuss the different perceptions of teams. Some quotes from the open-ended questions in the questionnaire are: Positive statements that were listed about the teamwork: • • • • • • • • Good members. Good co-operation Good atmosphere. This might increase the team cohesion which is seen as fundamental for team effectiveness [5]. supportive Everyone is good at helping. that is 15 people. Reliable. The results are shown in table 1 and table 2. It seems that team 2 is a little more satisfied with the retrospectives than team 1. The questionnaire was in English. I got 15 respondents from 2 scrum teams. That is either me and 4 other people or it is everyone sitting here at this site. In this questionnaire I used a 5-point scale. as were most of the answers. 1 was “Strongly disagree” and 5 was “Strongly agree”.8. they work from home. The questionnaire will be given later to the project I did interviews in to get additional metrics. and in the definition I use of teamwork the team members should see themselves in an intact social entity. which sometimes extends the time of the work process of personal I think this is interesting.

and together we will see if there is something that we can do to score higher at these dimensions. I will also follow “Guidelines for conducting and reporting case study research in software engineering” given by [27]. I have met with employees in company C and D. A total of 15 people responded from 2 teams. Triangulated sources and prolonged involvement will improve the validity of my research. company A and B. their team. The team members had a lot of different opinions of which people they included in Table 3: Questions about the teamwork . I have conducted interviews in company A. My next step will be to find a theory to use. The fact that I can compare 4 different cases and make it into a comparative case study can make it more reasonable to generalize the results. I want to conduct interviews and get a deeper understanding of what we can do to make the teamwork more effective. and see how this affects the teamwork. I will present my results to the companies to get feedback and ensure that I have drawn the right conclusions. including 2 scrum masters and the project owner. but I haven’t done any research there yet. When time allows I plan to observe in the two other companies. but my research will be based on the books [25] and [26] to ensure a good research design. and identified that there was a very diverse perception of teams. I will also try out Appreciative Inquiry in retrospectives. They have filled out a questionnaire after a retrospective meeting. I will carry out more interviews and distribute the questionnaire to more teams. Fragmented knowledge and too long meetings are things they listed as negative about the teamwork. I have transcribed the interviews and will continue to analyze the data. I will discuss this with the team. So far the analysis shows that the dimensions Team orientation and Redundancy are dimensions that got a low score and this indicates that the team has challenges in these areas. 5.• • Feeling responsible for the outcome since others depends on it Good commitment 4. and try to find out if this makes the teamwork more effective. and conduct interviews there as well. This questionnaire had 30 questions. SUMMARY I have done research in two of the companies since March 2010. I company B I have observed 2 Scrum-teams.4 Validity threats and their control It may be difficult to ensure good validity and generalizability since I am doing case studies.

9. 6. How effective do you think the meetings are? Who prepare the meetings? Are participants prepared for the meetings? the Trust / Distributed teams: 7. Does team loose resources to other projects/tasks? 19. 6. how good will you say that the communication in the project is? 14. How are software development problems identified. 5. Do you have any questions to me? 26. What do you think about the teamwork? Do you rely on your team members to do what they are supposed to do? Do you rely on other teams to do what they are supposed to do? 10. On a scale from one to ten.. What are the arenas where you give feedback on each other’s work? 22. How do you make decisions? Is everyone involved in the decision-making process? 13. Do you keep what works well in your development process? 24. Is there anything you think could improve the effectiveness of the teamwork or the project in general? Shared leadership: 11. Warm-up: 1. Interview guide First the interviewees were told about the purpose of the interview. 9. E. How are tasks coordinated?) allocated? (How is the work What do you do if someone in the team has too much to do or is away because of illness? What happens if someone gets stuck? How easy is it to complete someone else’s task? Do you help others when they got problems? If someone leaves the team. 3. 4. Do you have clarified goals? How are the team goals defined? 12. 8. 8. and that only I would have access to the transcripts. B. A. how effective will you say that the teamwork with the other country is? 13. At the end of the introduction I asked if they had any questions before we started. How does the team value alternative suggestions? 16. Do people and groups outside the team have influence over important operational decisions in the project? Learning: 21. Teamwork: 17. and Røyrvik. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 2. Do you experience challenges? any languageor cultural 5. What do you do to learn? Closing: 25. 2009. 3. N. Do team members show interest in other individuals’ tasks? 17. how difficult or easy is it to substitute this person? 6. and do you improve the development method? 23. which were not covered by the questions asked? 10. 2. . Are the decisions made by the team respected by people and groups outside the team? 20. What are the challenges of working with a team that is located far away? 12. How will you characterize the work between teams in the project compared to other projects you have worked on? 16. APPENDIX A. Putting Agile Teamwork to the Test – An Preliminary Instrument for Empirically Assessing and Improving Agile Software Development. How will you characterize the teamwork compared to other teams you have been a part of? 15. Are there any other aspects of teamwork that you would like to discuss. T.6. b. Do team members make important decisions without consulting other team members? Team orientation: 14. They were asked if I could audiotape the session and the purpose of this. On a scale from one to ten. What do you think about collaborating with the people in the other country? 11. 7. 4. Do all team members feel ownership to the project plans? Redundancy: 1. References [1] Moe. What do you think about the information flow in the project? Autonomy: 18. the approximate time for the interview. How old are you? Education? How long have you been working for this company? How long have you been working with the same technical problems and technology that you are working on now (in this or another company) ? How long have you been on this project? Are you full-time on this project? What is your role in the team? What do you do? Who do you see as your team members? Do you perceive the teamwork as effective? a. How does the team take into account alternative suggestions in team discussions? 15. Dingsøyr.

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