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Brian J. McNely
University of Kentucky Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media 1315 Patterson Office Tower Lexington, KY 40506
Ball State University Department of Computer Science Robert Bell 455 Muncie, IN 47306
Ball State University Department of English Robert Bell 297 Muncie, IN 47306
email@example.com Bridget Gelms
Ball State University Department of English Robert Bell 297 Muncie, IN 47306
In this paper, we detail findings about the use of Scrum—a widely adopted agile software development framework—among a student game development team. Looking closely at six weeks of Scrum practices from a larger fifteen-week ethnography, we describe how Scrum strongly mediates everyday actions for the thirteen participants we studied. In analyzing our data, we deployed activity theory in concert with genre theory to better understand how participants repeatedly articulated and coarticulated finite, goal-directed, individual actions in the service of a broader, ongoing, shared objective. We offer, therefore, a way of understanding the Scrum process framework as a powerful orienting genre that facilitates collective development practice by stabilizing and intermediating a host of related, dynamic genres and artifacts. experiences be taught to emerging software developers and user experience designers? We explored both questions simultaneously during a fifteen-week ethnographic study of a unique experiential learning seminar that, by its completion, cultivated a working game development studio. This team of developers and user experience designers prototyped, iterated upon, and eventually shipped a dynamic, web-based learning game. As we discuss in this paper, participant actions were strongly mediated by the Scrum process framework , a widely adopted method of agile software development. For the team of thirteen, this intensive seminar was their only course during the semester, comprising fifteen credit hours and ongoing interactions with a professional partner—a major children's museum in the participants' state. For the large research university where this study was conducted, the seminar embodies a unique approach to experiential learning that is immersive—it takes place away from the main campus and must be conducted in concert with a professional partner. In these ways, the everyday environment of the development team resembled that of a working studio and looked almost nothing like a traditional learning space. Indeed, participants typically arrived each day by 8 AM, and worked together—on just this one development project—until 4 or 5 PM. Led by a professor of computer science (Gestwicki, who was not involved in data collection), the team employed the process management framework of Scrum within the larger context of agile development [cf. 6, 13, 21, and 30]. Our analytic approach and understanding of Scrum practices is informed by activity theory. Davydov notes that within the consciousness of a given individual are reflections and representations of “the needs, interests, and positions of other people involved in certain social relations and participating together with this individual in some kind of joint activity” [8, p. 51]. This social understanding of individual consciousness in the context of joint activity is central to our explorations of Scrum's role in mediating everyday actions. Based on our systematic analysis of six weeks of qualitative data, we argue that the Scrum process framework acts as a powerful orienting genre assemblage that facilitates collective software development practice by stabilizing and intermediating a host of related, dynamic genres and artifacts. Through their intentional, ongoing orientation to
Categories and Subject Descriptors
K.6.3 [Management of Computing and Information Systems]: Software Management — software development, software process
Management, Documentation, Theory.
Scrum, activity theory, writing, mediation, orienting genres
How do cross-functional teams of game developers design communication experiences to effectively shepherd cyclical individual goals in the service of larger team objectives? Moreover, how might such effective communication design
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Scrum artifacts, therefore, participants: 1. mediated their own daily actions; 2. held each other accountable for cyclical team actions; and 3. frequently considered the “needs, interests, and positions”  of other team members as they verbally articulated and then coarticulated particular goal-directed actions in the service of the broader ongoing activity. In a similar study of student development teams, Holland and Reeves  note that teams actively construct understandings about themselves and their work relative to the specific contexts in which they are positioned. They contend that programming “takes place within socially produced activities by means of historically derived artifacts and technologies” [15, p. 275]. In the remainder of this paper, we explore the active constructions and understandings of our participants through the historically derived genres and artifacts of Scrum and agile methods. Our activity theoretical approach to artifacts and tools focuses on mediation, and how through such mediation artifacts may “qualitatively change the types of activities in which subjects engage” [25, p. 9]. We begin by providing an overview of Scrum practice and details about the immersive learning environment that we studied. We then detail our methods and describe our activity theoretical framework. Finally, we describe our key findings, exploring Scrum as an orienting genre assemblage that mediates day-to-day goal-directed actions in powerful, yet often subtle ways.
Sutherland . The team we studied worked in two-week increments called “sprints.” At the beginning of each sprint, the team selected a set of user stories and committed to their completion. The team was responsible for articulating the tasks necessary to satisfy the user story, and for tracking these tasks throughout the sprint. User stories and tasks were given material, written representation through large index cards and smaller sticky notes, respectively. These artifacts were placed on the Scrum Board and thus served as continuous reminders of task progress during a given sprint. Note that there are no traditional managers in Scrum; instead, a Scrum Team is characterized by its ability to self-organize . At the end of a sprint, the potentially shippable products are reviewed by the Product Owner (in our study, the instructor acted as Product Owner). During the course of our participant team’s seven sprints, these products included paper prototypes, concept art, design documentation, event plans, digital prototypes, and the final, shipped software. A software development methodology describes and defines all of the tools, processes, and interactions of a software development team. Scrum was a cornerstone in the methodology used by our participants, with many of the specific implementation details— including balancing pre-production and production, story point assignment via planning poker, and asset tracking boards—taken from recommendations provided by Keith . Central to our study were observations of the Daily Scrum (referred to at our research site and hereafter as the daily “stand-up”), a 15-minute daily event where team members verbally and gesturally articulate their actions from the previous day, their plans for the coming day, and any impediments they might encounter. As a whole, the stand-up meetings are designed to “synchronize activities and create a plan for the next 24 hours” [31, p. 10]. The other primary source for agile methodology at our research site was Clean Code , which the team decided to adopt early in the project. Pair programming—where two developers work side-by-side at one workstation —was used for nearly all programming tasks. The team used test-driven development when it was not made impractical by user-interface concerns; following the advice of Beck , pairs used hand-written, personal, ad hoc task lists for tracking immediate future tasks. Hoda, Noble, and Marshall's  research represents perhaps the most in-depth qualitative study of Scrum, exploring the work of 24 participants—12 in New Zealand and 12 in India—from 14 different software organizations over two years. The key finding of their study was that “team members adopt one or more of 6 informal roles to facilitate their team’s self-organization” above and beyond typical, pre-defined roles like Scrum Master [14, p. 288]. However, because their focus was on the self-organization of teams, they did not closely investigate member-to-member interactions; in other words, they did not explore in much detail the ways that one developer’s daily practice influences another’s—irrespective of the Scrum Master, Product Owner, or someone assuming one of their 6 roles—and how that member-tomember interaction shapes the ongoing organization and work of teams. Instead, the authors focused much more on the facilitating roles played by agile coaches. Their work, while important, does little to shed light on how the daily actions of developers in teams mediate each other’s actions in the service of broader activity. Moreover, since their work did not collect or account for the many artifacts central to Scrum practice, they perhaps overlooked the role that these artifacts and communicative genres play in the organization of teams. Our study helps explain how members of a Scrum team mediate one another’s everyday work, attending in particular to the role of Scrum genres in such mediation.
2. SCRUM OVERVIEW AND LOCAL IMPLEMENTATION
Scrum is a team management framework designed to “address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value” [31, p.3]. It operationalizes the principles articulated in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development , and as such, it is commonly used on agile software development teams. Scrum was designed for industrial practice, but it has also been adopted for and adapted to higher education, particularly computer science education [11, 28, 40]. Continuous improvement through learning is explicitly valued in agile software development , which makes Scrum a natural fit for teaching reflective practice [10, 28, 29]. Previous studies of Scrum from a design of communication perspective have focused on local adjustments to Scrum practice for documentation teams  and the perceived value of documentation within agile approaches . Stettina and Heijstek note that Scrum does not rely on traditional forms of documentation, but it does rely on “constant collaboration” [38, p. 159] within Scrum teams, ideally through face-to-face interactions. The authors point out that, in addition to a preference for face-to-face collaboration, Scrum teams also typically favor physical artifacts (such as a Scrum wall with user cards and sticky notes) [38, p. 161]. This echoes the practice at our research site; the Scrum Board, as we discuss below, was the most significant material genre mediating participant practice, pulling together a constellation of related artifacts and genres. Stettina and Heijstek contend that “Documentation seems neglected by original Scrum literature” [38, p. 164]. But as we discuss below, from a genre and activity perspective, documentation of Scrum practice may occur through a variety of genres—both traditional and hybrid , both official and ad hoc. An activity perspective helps us see the role of these various Scrum communicative genres as they mediate work practices. Contextualizing our study, therefore, requires understanding critical aspects of Scrum, and we provide a summary here; for the authoritative definition of Scrum, please refer to Schwaber and
3. THE IMMERSIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Our research was conducted at a large university in the Midwestern United States that privileges high impact educational practices  through unique experiential learning opportunities. Our research site embodies these unique experiences, known officially as immersive learning. The physical research site, about one mile removed from campus, was a three-story mansion on a large, wooded lot in a residential neighborhood. In this idyllic location, two different fifteen credit seminars run during the fall and spring semesters each year, literally immersing students in an extended, interdisciplinary project led by a dedicated faculty member whose sole commitment is to the seminar that he or she leads. As a research team, our efforts were guided by a simple line of inquiry: what do students “get out of” immersive learning experiences, and how are these experiences qualitatively different from traditional learning environments? We were particularly interested in the role of writing, communication, and collaboration in such experiences, with this paper serving as an apt example of how our research focus was attuned to our site. As an educational philosophy and approach, immersive learning is characterized by academic-professional partnerships that fuse traditional academic content and skills development with real societal needs, typically within the U.S. state where this research was conducted. In this way, immersive learning curricula always results in a tangible, actionable deliverable, which may range from a business plan or policy recommendation to a web-based learning game, as was the case at our research site. Immersive learning experiences are student-directed and faculty-mentored, and they are strongly focused on student learning outcomes. By design, these experiences often serve as entry points into a student's chosen profession. Finally, immersive learning projects always involve interdisciplinary teams. It is within this context, therefore, that we explored the lived experience of our participants over a full semester. While our overarching research questions focused on the unique affordances of the immersive learning environment, our ethnographic methodology gave us a fine-grained understanding of learning and collaborative development at our research site. We are able to document, therefore, not only what participants learned, but how they learned. In the remainder of this paper, we foreground the how of participant collaborative development by exploring their everyday actions as mediated by the Scrum framework. The intensive, everyday nature of the immersive learning environment mirrors industrial practice, where, as the originators of Scrum have argued, the framework “bind[s] together the events, roles, and artifacts, governing the relationships and interaction” of software development [31, p. 3]. It is in this sense that Scrum acts as a powerful orienting genre assemblage mediating the work of our participants. In the following section, we describe our methods before moving on to a discussion of our theoretical frame and key findings.
How do participants use Scrum to manage the collective work of software development on a daily basis? and, What genres and artifacts mediate such work, and how?
In order to answer these questions—and the broader, immersive learning oriented research questions that served as the primary impetus for our work—we deployed an ethnographic methodology designed to capture the rich details of lived experience for our participants. Four researchers spent almost 135 collective hours in the field, across 83 separate observations over 15 weeks. This level of in situ observation led to the collection of multiple forms of data across multiple instances with each participant, giving us both a robust qualitative dataset and strong tacit understanding of everyday practices from which to base our claims. Discussion of the full dataset is beyond the scope of this paper; as we describe below, our investigation of Scrum practices is limited to six weeks of data collection focused on daily standup meetings, sprint planning sessions, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives. As we noted above, our findings about Scrum practices are based upon the work of thirteen student participants, 6 of whom were female and 7 of whom were male (to protect their identities, we refer to participants as V-01 through V-13). Our youngest participant was 19 years of age during the study, while the oldest was 26. The average age of participants was 22, and for 4 participants, this project was to be their last academic work before graduation. Seven participants were computer science majors, while the remaining participants listed animation, visual communication, theatre studies, history, accounting, and music technology as their first major. The overall maturity and earnestness of this group of participants was, we believe, a key factor in their ability to coordinate complex, interdisciplinary work using agile software development methods. Indeed, an outside observer might assume that participants comprised a professional software development team, since neither the daily practices nor the learning environment resembled any kind of traditional classroom. Overall, our 83 site observations resulted in many individual data events across six major types:
Fieldnotes and Analytic Memos: our observations produced nearly 170,000 words of fieldnotes that were focused on both individual and collaborative practices, tool mediation, and participant lived experience. We produced analytic memos frequently, generating 24 reflections and syntheses of observed practice during the collection period. Audio Recordings: we gathered 45 audio recordings of daily stand-up meetings, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, ad hoc collaboration sessions, and impromptu interviews. Interviews: we conducted three rounds of semi-structured interviews with participants; these interviews focused on how participants viewed their own practices and those of others, how they viewed their work in relation to traditional curricula, and how they used a variety of mediating tools and artifacts in their everyday practice. Photographs: we collected over 400 photographs during our study; these photographs were primarily used to document ephemeral and ad hoc writing practices (such as those on the Scrum board or on whiteboards, for example).
Following Smagorinsky , in this section we detail our research questions, discuss our methodological approach, describe our participants, and provide details about our data collection, reduction, and analysis procedures. Working with a mature, selective population of students involved in the immersive learning project described above, our Scrum-related research questions were exploratory:
Videos: we collected two videos of stand-up meetings and one video of pair-programming practices. Artifacts: we collected over 150 participant-produced artifacts (written documents, design objects, and images).
This level of data collection allows us to triangulate insights across multiple data events and multiple instances. Our focus on Scrum practices relies on data collected across five of these six categories during a six-week period that began one month into the semester. We chose this time frame for two reasons: first, participants were mostly acclimated to Scrum practices by this time, and over the following six weeks they deepened their understanding of the framework in concert with meaningful prototyping and development; and second, this time frame was long enough—covering three full sprints—to determine general patterns of Scrum's role in managing and mediating participant work at our site. The reduced dataset under consideration, therefore, is detailed in Table 1. Table 1. Reduced 6-week dataset. Data Type Fieldnotes Instances 21 Analytic Segments 312 paragraphseparated units [ triangulation ] 271 paragraphseparated units [ triangulation ]
we remained open to further inductive insights; indeed, we generated additional perspectives from this inductive analysis through the emergence of “accountability” as a related participant concern. Since Scrum is specifically designed to encourage participants' articulation of goals and actions, our final coding schema revealed relationships among the closely related everyday practices detailed in Table 2. By applying our coding schema while remaining open to new, inductively-derived codes, we systematically analyzed and triangulated six weeks of Scrum practice across multiple forms of data, across 13 participants, and across 21 observations from 3 different field researchers. In this process, we've developed three key insights about Scrum practice that were prevalent across participants, and that shed light on how software developers used agile methods and genres to mediate their work. In the following section, we describe our activity theoretical framework for understanding Scrum's role in the particular assemblage of intermediated genres central to this form of agile software development practice. For our participants, the Scrum Board acts as a powerful and ever visible stabilizing and orienting genre that pulls together and mediates clusters of other related genres for individual participants working in the service of a shared objective. In this way Scrum mediates participants' daily articulations and coarticulations of finite, goal-directed actions that comprise their collaborative activity. This data, therefore, helps explain intersubjective participant mediation.
Stand-up Audio Transcribed Interviews Photographs of Scrum Board Videos
14 14 (1 impromptu)
5. ACTIVITY THEORY, GENRE, SCRUM
In this section we provide details on our theoretical and analytic framework for understanding our participants' practices with Scrum. Nardi argues that activity theory is “a research framework and set of perspectives” rather than a methodology or single theory [23, p. 7]. Activity theory is rooted in the phenomenological facets of lived experience: “consciousness is located in everyday practice: you are what you do” [23, p. 7]. And what you do, as Vygotsky , Lave and Wenger , Nardi and O'Day , and Kaptelinin and Nardi , have demonstrated, is “firmly and inextricably embedded in the social matrix of which every person is a part,” a matrix composed of people, histories, genres, and material artifacts [23, p. 7]. Activity theory, therefore, “incorporates strong notions of intentionality, history, mediation, collaboration and development in constructing consciousness” [23, p. 7]. Most importantly, Nardi contends that human activities “cannot be understood without understanding the role of artifacts in everyday experience, especially the way artifacts are integrated into social practice” [23, p. 14]. Indeed, Kaptelinin argues that “Human activity is mediated by a number of tools, both external (like hammers or scissors) and internal (like concepts or heuristics)” [16, p. 109]. Such mediating tools or artifacts are, crucially, laden with social and cultural norms and histories—they carry “cultural knowledge and social experience” [16, p. 109]. Activity is a broad construct that is comprised of concrete, everyday actions and operations. Activities, Bødker argues, are conducted “through the actions of individuals, directed toward an object or another subject” [5, p. 149; emphasis in original]. Activities, in fact, give meaning to our various actions, she contends. And each action, as Kaptelinin  suggests, is itself composed of a series of often unconscious operations. Bødker argues that “We can analytically separate the categories of activity, action, and operation by asking why something takes place, what takes place, and how it is carried out” [5, p. 149]. In order to explore the whys, whats, and hows of collaborative software development work, we carefully and systematically
[ triangulation ]
Given our reduced dataset, our primary analytic focus was trained on fieldnotes generated by three different researchers combined with transcripts from the first round of semi-structured interviews, which included three questions related to Scrum:
• • •
Tell me about your experience with Scrum for this project. How are you personally using things like the User Stories and other organizational notes (burndown chart, etc.)? How are you personally keeping track of things related to the project (example? where?)?
Audio recordings and videos of daily stand-up meetings, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, and photographs of the Scrum board were used as triangulation measures to increase the reliability of fieldnote observations; these audio and video recordings were not transcribed for this study. 13 semi-structured interviews and one impromptu interview were transcribed, forming 271 paragraph-separated units for analysis. We coded fieldnote units and interview units deductively, applying a three code qualitative schema that was initially developed inductively from observations, analytic memos, and tacit understanding of our research site. As we coded, however,
Table 2. Coding schema, instances by data type, and illustrative examples. Code Description Fieldnote Instances 57 Interview Instances 40 Example
Code as [SM] any instances of participants using external artifacts (sticky notes, mobile devices, notebooks) to mediate their articulation of actions and goals
V-01 is reading from her notes on a post-it note. She's waiting on a response from the museum. V-07 reads from a post-it note, he wants to determine in his group if what they've been developing is successful.
Code as [ACC] instances where a participant notes a sensitivity to their actions and how they impact others; code as [ACC] instances where a participant notes the need for others to complete work that affects the team
V-08: “I think the biggest thing that bothers me sometimes is that ... I feel like people don't always hold themselves accountable.” V-09: “We need to be better, I mean, people start saying more often like, well I can't start programming this until somebody has this UI thing, you know.”
Coarticulated Actions [CA]
Code as [CA] instances where one participant verbally or gesturally references their work in relation to another's, or when a participant verbally articulates a shift in their planned work because of something that another participant has articulated
V-04: “I know multiple times where someone said, you know, 'I'm going to be working on this today,' it's like okay, 'well that means I probably should go over there and work on it too.'” V-11: “specifically today V-06 and I were gonna work on tasks ... that I mentioned [in the stand-up]. I didn't have a whole lot of other stuff that I needed to be working on ... Since V-06 was ready to move on to [another task], I was able to know that, like, I get to work on that today.”
Code as [OR] any instances of verbal, gestural, or written reference to the Scrum Board, Burn-down Chart, or related artifacts (e.g., specific user stories, tasks, backlogs, documents, etc.)
V-10: “Well I definitely interact with the Scrum board multiple times a day. At any point when I don't know what to be working on I'll just go check [it] out, see what all is being worked on and what hasn't started.”
traced the artifacts and genres of Scrum and their role as mediators of actions and activity within a specific context of use. As Raeithel and Velichkovsky argue, such actions represent our everyday work, “corresponding to a variety of verbal or otherwise symbolic prescriptions called tasks” [26, p. 219]. Indeed, Scrum places a continual emphasis on task completion and resolution. Raeithel and Velichkovsky add that they “recognize goal directedness as a specifically human type of intentional, objectrelated, joint activity” [26, p. 220]. Actions are thus goal-directed and finite; they are typically orchestrated in multiple, complex, often overlapping formations (the what) in the broader service of the why—of activity.
And activities, fundamentally, are object-oriented. In this way, objects define the character of collective activities, since objects carry motive and meaning for a given individual or group. Engeström and Escalante illustrate how human activities are always “oriented toward something and driven by something. This something—the object—is constantly in transition and under construction, and it manifests itself in different forms for different participants of the activity” [9, p. 360]. In this way, we can see the distinction between activities and actions; Engeström and Escalante point out that objects must not be confused with goals or aims, since in activity theory “conscious goals are related to discrete, finite, and individual actions; objects are related to
continuous, collective activity systems and their motives” [9, p. 360]. Activity theoretical studies must balance this relationship carefully while also recognizing that defining the shared objects of collective activity can be especially difficult [cf. 37]. Individual participants may have slightly different objects in mind as they go about their work; we argue, however, that the Scrum framework stabilizes and orients participants toward a shared object (defined through the collective work of Sprint planning) around which individual participant actions may coalesce. Scrum, as we have argued, serves as a powerful genre assemblage that mediates activity. As Russell  and Spinuzzi  have argued in their discussions of writing, activity, and genre research (WAGR), activity theory and genre theory are complementary approaches that have been used together productively. Written communication genres, Russell contends, are “arguably the most powerful mediational means for organizations and institutions” [27, p. 40]. Genre, therefore, is a unit of social action; “the object of activity,” Russell argues, “can be seen to attain its stability, reproduction, and continuity through genres,” such that genres then serve as “crucial links between subjects, tools, and objects” [27, p. 45]. Indeed, Spinuzzi persuasively demonstrated how genres represent “the traces of an ongoing activity, represent problem solving in that activity, and thus tend to stabilize the activity in which they are used” [34, p. 39]. Finally, Spinuzzi  has shown how genres do not simply communicate, but strongly mediate actions: “mediating artifacts [and genres] qualitatively change the entire activity in which workers engage” [34, p. 38]. His genre ecologies framework [34, 34], like WAGR, synthesizes the complementary approaches of activity and genre theories to see genres as representing “distributed cognition in the sense that cognitive work is spread among the genres and artifacts that belong to them” [35, p. 114]. “Since genres are contingent on each other,” he argues, “the success of any given genre depends on its interconnections with other genres and how those genres jointly mediate a given activity” [35, p. 114; see also 32]. From a genre ecology perspective, then, “genres are not simply performed or communicated, they represent the 'thinking out' of a community as it cyclically performs an activity” [35, p. 114]. Mediating genres may potentially change participant actions on a moment-bymoment basis. Such genres are therefore fundamentally involved in shaping practice itself. The WAGR and genre ecology approach thus highlights genres and artifacts that may be invisibilized by other frameworks, genres and artifacts that support daily selfmediation, for example, and unofficial, ad hoc, and ephemeral genres that go missing in approaches trained strictly on sequences of official genres like software documentation [cf. 12]. Our study of Scrum specifically sought out and accounted for many of the ephemeral, ad hoc, often invisibilized genres and artifacts central to the everyday actions that comprised our participants' collective activity. Informed by writing, activity, and genre research and Spinuzzi's genre ecologies framework, we are able to describe how Scrum pulls together the many different genres and artifacts of software development to mediate and direct activity. Specifically, we can see how Sprint Planning, Reviews, and Retrospectives involve a host of ephemeral communicative genres (many of which are informal, verbal, gestural, or only temporarily written on whiteboards) that are then made visible and concrete through written user stories and tasks that become displayed and manipulated on the Scrum Board. In this way, Scrum helps orient participants around shared objects that are temporarily stabilized (for the duration of the sprint, for example).
In the following section we describe key findings about participants' use of Scrum artifacts and genres.
Spinuzzi describes genres as “instantiated solution[s]” to recurrent situations [36, p. 367]; genres thus carry the “residue of past problem-solving” [36, p. 367]. Genres, he argues, “develop through repeated cycles in which they progressively orient (or reorient) to the repeated situations to which they respond” [36, p. 367]. In this way, he argues, “genres come to embody a given logic or tradition: a frame within which activity is interpreted” [36, p. 367]. Certainly, Scrum acts as a specific frame through which software development activity is interpreted. But just as genres orient and reorient to particular and recurrent social situations, the work of genres themselves helps to orient and reorient the actions of people who use them. And as Spinuzzi points out, “genres are rarely deployed alone: They interact in genre assemblages to collectively address complex cyclical activities,” leading to a situation where “many genres shape the cyclical activity within which they are mobilized” [36, p. 367]. Finally, just as genres shape cyclical activity, they also foster improvisation and development [36, p. 368], especially when they are formed of complex assemblages of less frequent genres that may have different histories of use. In this section we present three interrelated findings about the use of Scrum artifacts and genres among our participants. First, we describe how the Scrum framework provides software development teams with a ready-made genre assemblage to which individuals adapt during the course of their daily work via selfmediation. In this way, participants bring with them a host of idiosyncratic and often ad hoc genres that help them mediate their own work within the broader context of ready-made genres from the Scrum framework [cf. 12]. Second, we detail how development teams jointly accomplish daily actions by making micro-level adjustments that we describe as coarticulations. These practices support Scrum's larger emphasis on accountability. Participants, therefore, both self-mediate and co-mediate each other's actions as a part of working within the Scrum genre ecology. Finally, as a powerful orienting genre assemblage, Scrum has a palpable centripetal velocity that pulls together a host of related genres and artifacts, helping to stabilize and shape shared (activity theoretical) objects over time.
6.1 Self-mediating Actions
As a process framework, Scrum is typically implemented with a series of interrelated, ready-made genres and artifacts. These include often tangible items such as the Product Backlog and Scrum Board and communicative and process genres such as daily stand-up meetings and Sprint Reviews. Our research suggests that developers who are new to Scrum (like many of the participants in our study) will use personal writing work to reconcile existing, often idiosyncratic ways of tracking actions with the Scrum framework. Moreover, our study suggests that, even as developers acclimate to Scrum and become more familiar with its genres, they may continue to use existing, idiosyncratic modes of tracking (to-do lists, sticky notes, etc.) within the context of Scrum's readymade genres. Indeed, we observed some of the most experienced Scrum developers (notably, the Product Owner, and V-07, who had previous Scrum experience) continually drawing on both established and ad hoc personal genres to mediate their own articulation of actions in the daily stand-up meetings. These selfmediating strategies helped many (but not all) participants manage
day-to-day reporting to verbally articulate their personal involvement in the project. Despite Scrum's richly textured group of genres, artifacts, and processes, participants often mediated their own actions by deploying personal hybrid genres  that helped them orient to Scrum processes. For example, V-03, a visual communication major new to Scrum and software development, used a personal moleskin notebook to keep track of daily planning items that eventually became fodder for stand-up reporting to her team. We repeatedly observed her reading from her notebook during stand-up meetings, mediating her own reportage by way of tools that were not ostensibly a part of the Scrum genre assemblage. V-10 and V-11, both of whom had previous experience with Scrum, and both of whom were computer science majors, often mediated their day-to-day actions by way of a whiteboard. This form of self-mediation was ephemeral—since their little task lists and notes were often erased shortly after they appeared—but substantial in directing their actions and reports nonetheless.
Here we can see how much intersubjective work is facilitated through micro-level coarticulations. Participants share ongoing work, often with another participant in mind; in other scenarios (see Table 2), participants redirect future work in response to a colleague’s articulated needs. These micro-level adjustments substantially mediate everyday intersubjective practice.
6.3 Orienting Genres and Shared Objects
To a significant extent, Scrum is effective in managing the work of agile teams because of the centripetal force it exerts on a host of complex genres and artifacts mediating the practice of software development. The Scrum Board and its related artifacts—user stories, tasks, columns—is the key orienting genre in the Scrum assemblage; in this sense, most of the related artifacts, genres, and practices (those that are ready-made and those that are idiosyncratic) are oriented to the Scrum Board. The Scrum Board pulls in these other genres and artifacts and allows them to coalesce, temporarily, in an ever-visible and stable way, thus shaping daily actions. The Scrum Board, it must be said, is in turn shaped by the daily actions (and articulations of those actions) of the team. To better understand just how practices are oriented toward the Scrum Board (and thus how it generates centripetal force on the actions of development teams), it is useful to closely examine Sprint Planning and Review sessions. In a two-hour observation of one of the team’s Sprint Planning meetings we generated 2,800 words of fieldnotes in 14 paragraph-separated units. This observation was notable, though, because of the many instances of verbal and gestural interactions with the Scrum Board that could be identified and traced. During just this one observation, for example, we identified 33 clear instances of orienting moves, as team members and the Scrum master discussed user stories, voted on their priority, moved individual tasks to the board, and generally oriented their work in and through this important central genre of activity. The team members constantly referenced the constellation of artifacts that comprise the Scrum board during this meeting, highlighting the important role that the board plays in orienting follow-on actions. In our observation of the subsequent Sprint Review, this effect is even more pronounced; in 2,100 words of fieldnotes over 28 paragraph-separated units, we identified 62 separate instances of participants orienting to the Scrum Board and related artifacts through verbal, gestural, and written actions. The centripetal force generated by the Scrum Board as an orienting genre, we argue, plays a crucial role in generating and stabilizing a shared object for the development team. This is significant, since delimiting the objects of shared activity can be particularly difficult [cf. 37]. In agile software development, Scrum helps participants jointly construct and attune their everyday actions around shared objects, even if only temporarily (for the life of a sprint, or, more likely, for the life of a given development project). While individual team members bring different perspectives (and indeed, different objects) to the activity of software development, the Scrum Board, as an orienting genre, fosters the coalescence of a shared object by providing a visible and material space of collective orientation.
6.2 Coarticulating Actions and Accountability
Even as participants deploy often ad hoc and idiosyncratic selfmediating strategies, the Scrum framework explicitly fosters developer-to-developer co-mediation. While a participant might use an idiosyncratic self-mediating genre just prior to a stand-up meeting (e.g., by jotting down her most important actions for the upcoming day on a throw-away sticky note), they also frequently rearticulated actions on the fly, usually in response to a colleague's report. We describe this practice as coarticulating actions, since a participant's report of upcoming tasks was often doubly mediated and articulated—initially by their own “thinking out” of upcoming actions, and then as an agile response to other, more pressing needs verbally articulated by a colleague during a stand-up. In this way, micro-level, everyday developer-todeveloper coarticulations fostered collaborative work in meaningful ways—ways that, we contend, directly support Scrum's ideal of self-organization [cf. 14]. These coarticulated actions were frequently traced through our in situ observations of daily stand-up meetings and then corroborated in participant interviews (see Table 2). The format of the Scrum stand-up meetings asks participants to explicitly articulate their work; but in doing so, a given developer's articulations can cause ripples that affect other members of the team. Such ripples are often reconciled through coarticulations—micro-level, on the fly adjustments and reframings of actions in response to team needs. In this way, daily actions are often coarticulated and jointly mediated, thus (often) supporting the team's expressed desire for accountability. In other words, as the team coarticulates daily actions they express support for, and accountability to, the most pressing project needs, fomenting a shared objective. In the following excerpt from fieldnotes generated near the midpoint of our reduced 6-week dataset, we can see both selfmediation and coarticulated actions in detail: V-03 begins the stand up meeting, reading from her notebook [SM]. V-11 reports briefly and is followed by V-10 who wants to tackle a to-do list with V-05 [CA]. V-06 echoes V11 [CA]. V-08 reports and plans to finish up the main parts of the design doc. V-05 echoes V-10 [CA]. V-07 follows reports on the success of Friday's playtest. … V-04 worked on the playtest and plans to work with V-07 [CA] to see what they need to do with the design doc and work with the challenges.
In this paper, we have argued from rich empirical data that the Scrum process framework strongly mediates the activity of software development by providing a means for articulating, coarticulating, and executing actions in the service of a shared objective. Scrum helps facilitate this work through its powerful
orienting genre—the Scrum Board—and the communicative and mediational practices that are pulled together and intermediated through such orientation. We've described how participants in our study orient to Scrum through self-mediating strategies and ad hoc, idiosyncratic hybrid genres; we've detailed findings about the articulation and coarticulation of actions deployed in the service of collective development activity; and we've argued that Scrum is crucially important in helping agile teams generate and manage their work around a shared object. Our study is necessarily limited: we explored the work of one development team over 15 weeks, and the practices of this team, comprised of undergraduate students in a unique immersive learning seminar, surely differs in certain ways from professional development practice. We would argue that these differences are perhaps best measured in levels of experience rather than in the shaping and coordinative properties of Scrum. We believe, therefore, that these findings contribute new insights into the role that Scrum plays in software development, and more importantly, how Scrum is directly relevant to professionals in design of communication fields. In future work, we plan to expand our analysis to include the full 15 weeks of data we collected, exploring in particular the ways in which Scrum facilitates the agile response to a major, sudden change in the object of activity.
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This study was funded through a Ball State University Provost’s discretionary research grant. We are grateful for this generous support. We also wish to thank our participants—insightful and dedicated emerging professionals—and the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.
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