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  • Self-Organizing Agile Teams:

    A Grounded Theory

    by

    Rashina Hoda

    A thesis

    submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington

    in fulfilment of the

    requirements for the degree of

    Doctor of Philosophy

    in Computer Science.

    Victoria University of Wellington

    2011

  • Abstract

    Self-organizing teams are a hallmark of Agile software development, directly

    affecting team effectiveness and project success. Agile software development,

    and in particular the Scrum method, emphasizes self-organizing teams but

    does not provide clear guidelines on how teams should become and remain

    self-organizing. Based on Grounded Theory research involving 58 Agile prac-

    titioners from 23 different software organizations in New Zealand and In-

    dia, this thesis presents a grounded theory of self-organizing Agile teams.

    The theory of self-organizing Agile teams explains how software development

    teams take on informal, implicit, transient, and spontaneous roles and per-

    form balanced practices while facing critical environmental factors, in order

    to become self-organizing. The roles are: Mentor, Co-ordinator, Translator,

    Champion, Promoter, and Terminator. The practices involve balancing free-

    dom and responsibility, cross-functionality and specialization, and continuous

    learning and iteration pressure. The factors are senior management support

    and level of customer involvement. This thesis will help teams and their

    coaches better understand their roles and responsibilities as a self-organizing

    Agile team. This thesis will also serve to educate senior management and

    customers about the importance of supporting these teams.

  • Dedication

    To Late Mrs. Qamrun Nisa Begam

    You inspired me as an academic par excellence, a social worker,

    winner of the President’s National Award for your life-long contribution

    to the cause of girls education in India, and most importantly,

    as my grandmother and first teacher.

  • Acknowledgments

    “Is there any Reward for Good—other than Good?

    Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?”

    – Surah Ar-Rahman, verses 60-61, The Holy Quran

    All praise be to God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, for His innu-

    merable favours. Peace and blessings be upon His last Prophet Muhammad,

    who encouraged all human beings to seek and share knowledge.

    I wish to express my deepest gratitude and affection to my parents: Mrs.

    Sabiha Hoda and Dr. Najmul Hoda for instilling me with a life-long love

    for learning; my husband, Mohammed Asif, for being my pillar of strength

    and best friend; my children, Atif and Imran, for being my biggest source of

    inspiration; my brothers: Shariq Hoda, for always expecting the very best

    from me and Dr. Asif Hoda, for nudging me into Computer Science, knowing

    somehow that it will develop into a life-long passion.

    I am extremely indebted to my supervisors, Prof. James Noble and Dr. Stuart

    Marshall, for seeing me through the ups and downs of this lengthy pursuit,

    for encouraging me, challenging me, drawing out the best in me, and most

    of all, for always having faith in me.

    I wish to express my warmest gratitude to my friends: Amaara Rehmaan,

    Mutsumi Tanio, Aneesa Adam, Zeenah Adam, and many others for their

    unending encouragement and support.

  • iv

    I wish to extend my gratitude to the Agile Professionals Network (APN,

    Wellington) and Agile Software Community of India (ASCI, India) for pro-

    viding access to Agile software development communities in which to conduct

    this research. I thank all my participants for coming forth and sharing their

    experiences with me. I sincerely hope this research will benefit you.

    I thank my fellow Software Engineering researchers and members of the Elvis

    group at VUW, which include but are not limited to Craig Anslow and Nick

    Cameron, for their support and encouragement. I am grateful to Prof. John

    Hine and Dr. Peter Andreae (pondy) for their continued support.

    Many thanks to Dr. George Allan, Dr. Angela Martin, Esther Derby, Jennifer

    Ferriera, Diane Strode, Michael Waterman, and Mary Denton for reviewing

    various parts of this thesis and providing their valuable recommendations.

    Thanks to Prof. Philippe Kruchten and Dr. Tore Dyb̊a for their research

    collaborations and to Dr. Frank Maurer, Shane Hastie, and Steve Adolph for

    their continued interest in and support of this research.

    I am very grateful to BuildIT (NZ) for a PhD scholarship, the Agile Alliance

    (USA) for an academic grant, Software Process and Product Improvement

    (NZ), and the School of Engineering and Computer Science (VUW) for their

    financial support of this research.

    Last but not the least, I thank Prof. Helen Sharp (The Open University,

    UK), Prof. Stephen MacDonell (AUT, New Zealand), and Dr. Petra Malik

    (VUW, New Zealand) for their time and effort in examining this thesis and

    for their valuable feedback.

  • Table of Contents

    1 INTRODUCTION 1

    1.1 Motivation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

    1.2 Research Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

    1.3 Thesis Structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

    2 LITERATURE REVIEW 7

    2.1 Traditional Software Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

    2.1.1 The Waterfall Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

    2.1.2 The Spiral Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

    2.1.3 Traditional Software Development Teams . . . . . . . . 10

    2.2 Agile Software Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

    2.2.1 Scrum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

    2.2.2 eXtreme Programming (XP) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

    2.2.3 Agile Software Development Teams . . . . . . . . . . . 22

    2.3 Self-Organizing Teams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

    2.3.1 Socio-Technical Systems Perspective . . . . . . . . . . 25

    2.3.2 Organizational Theory Perspective . . . . . . . . . . . 26

    2.3.3 Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective . . . . . . . . . 27

    2.3.4 Knowledge Management Perspective . . . . . . . . . . 28

    2.3.5 Agile Software Development Perspective . . . . . . . . 29

    3 RESEARCH DESIGN 33

    3.1 Research Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

    v

  • vi TABLE OF CONTENTS

    3.2 Research Perspectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

    3.3 Role of the Researcher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

    3.4 Grounded Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

    3.4.1 Research Area . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40

    3.4.2 Minor Literature Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

    3.4.3 Data Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42

    3.4.4 Data Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

    3.4.5 Memoing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

    3.4.6 Sorting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

    3.4.7 Major Literature Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

    3.4.8 Theoretical Coding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

    3.4.9 Write-up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

    3.4.10 Evaluating a Grounded Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

    3.5 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

    4 SELF-ORGANIZING AGILE TEAM ROLES 61

    4.1 Mentor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65

    4.1.1 Providing Initial Guidance and Support . . . . . . . . 67

    4.1.2 Encouraging Self-Organizing Practices . . . . . . . . . 68

    4.1.3 Getting the Team Confident . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69

    4.1.4 Encouraging Continued Adherence . . . . . . . . . . . 69

    4.2 Co-ordinator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72

    4.2.1 Co-ordinating Customer Collaboration . . . . . . . . . 73

    4.2.2 Co-ordinating Change Requests . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74

    4.2.3 Managing Customer Expectations . . . . . . . . . . . . 76

    4.3 Translator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

    4.3.1 Overcoming the Language Barrier . . . . . . . . . . . . 78

    4.3.2 Using Translator Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80

    4.4 Champion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

    4.4.1 Securing Senior Management Support . . . . . . . . . . 83

    4.4.2 Propagating More Teams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85

    4.5 Promoter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86

  • TABLE OF CONTENTS vii

    4.5.1 Understanding Customer Concerns . . . . . . . . . . . 86

    4.5.2 Securing Customer Involvement . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88

    4.6 Terminator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

    4.6.1 Identifying Threatening Team Members . . . . . . . . 90

    4.6.2 Removing Members from the Team . . . . . . . . . . . 92

    4.7 Role of the Agile Coach . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94

    4.8 Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .