Department of Computer Science

A new study from Aalborg University sheds lights on successful large-scale Agile software transformations. Photo: Colourbox

New study: Developers’ skills and top management commitment lead to Agile project success

Which are the most compelling success factors of a large-scale Agile software transformation? And how do these factors relate? A new long-term study from Aalborg University highlights the stakeholders’ roles in such transformations. The main result is a valuable model for software managers to set up and effectively manage the transformation of organisations.

Around the globe, software-intensive organisations shift from plan-based development processes to Agile ones, intending to focus more on team interaction, better products, customers’ needs, and readiness to change.

But how do these organisations succeed with large-scale Agile software transformations – and how do the success factors relate? This has been discussed in the scientific community for several years. Associate Professor Daniel Russo from the  Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University in Copenhagen, presents a long-term study, which sheds even more light on factors that make for a successful Agile transformation. 

The study was published in the July issue of the world-renowned journal ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology and has already generated attention from practitioners globally.

Not a TO-DO list

By combining a field study of a large-scale Agile transformation process in the Italian army, including a survey of 190 screened software engineers globally, Daniel Russo has developed an Agile Success Model. In the model, the roles of the stakeholders are clarified, and according to the author, the hope is that practitioners planning an Agile transformation can use the model to gain a deeper understanding of such a process.

 - It is essential to say that this is not a to-do list or a recipe on how to be a success. Instead, I see this as a tool for organisations, teams and managers, providing them with an overview of which factors they should primarily focus on when planning or running an Agile transformation, Daniel Russo says.

He highlights the fact that the study is a combination of both qualitative and quantitative analysis. After generating a number of  hypotheses in the field, these have been validated through the input from a large group of professionals who use Scrum, the most widespread agile development method, in practice.

No difference between social and technical skills

So, what are the most critical factors leading to project success? According to Daniel Russo, management should prioritise strengthening developers’ skills:

- The failure or success of a software project highly relies on both the social and technical skills of the development team. There is no semantic difference between these sets of skills. Being great at coding is not enough if you lack communication skills – and vice versa. This is a crucial consideration when hiring and setting up training programs. 

Teams in Agile frameworks experience a relatively high degree of freedom to self-organise, and communication and collaboration are two pivotal activities in the groups. The study shows that as a consequence, the role of middle management becomes less important.

Top management HAS TO ABANDON control

The study, however, also shows that just hiring socio-techinally skilled developers is not enough. Providing an adequate organisational setting becomes even more critical for project success - and top management has a key role to play in this regard:

- Project success mainly depends on the commitment from top management. Top management has to welcome the fact that they will have to abandon some degree of control over the development after the transformation, Daniel Russo says.

He points out that even though the field study was carried out among professionals who develop mission-critical software for the military, the analysis shows that the model is non-domain specific and can be used both in the development of mission-critical and non-mission-critical systems.

New Scrum guide

The results from Aalborg University supports the new direction of the Scrum Guide 2020, putting much more emphasis on the development side downplaying the role of middle management.

- The update of the guide was not performed following a scholarly investigation. In this perspective, our study is an important contribution to the practitioner’s community by backing up the experience-based update of the most used Agile method, Daniel Russo says.

WHAT IS NEXT

Based on the evidence currently being collected, Daniel Russo, with a team of practitioners, is working to improve Scrum teams effectiveness through an evidence-based freely available self-diagnosis tool already used by more than 5.000 teams: www.scrumteamsurvey.org 


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Further information

Daniel Russo: The Agile Success Model: A Mixed Methods Study of a Large-Scale Agile Transformation, ACM Transactions on Software Engineering and Methodology, 30(4), 45 pp. 2021.

What Makes Agile Transformations Successful? (Medium article).

Scrum Team Effectiveness (Interview on YouTube).

Contact

Associate Professor Daniel Russo
Human-Centered Computing, Department of Computer Science
Aalborg University
Mail: daniel.russo@cs.aau.dk
Phone: +45 5339 8845

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Communications Officer
Stig Andersen
Mail: stan@cs.aau.dk

Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University

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