Research in Agile

This post is inspired by a question from one of our readers, Lukasz. I’m going to outline how I find and examine research on organisations, agile/lean, and culture. Hopefully this will inspire you to dig more into what stuff is true and what is just crap.

Finding the genuine facts among the huge volume of opinion is hard. It’s hard in politics, it’s hard in management, and it’s hard in social science. As a mathematician, I come from a world things are either true or not, and I continue to find exploring ambiguous and opinion-rife research challenging.

Finding an interesting topic

First you need to know what you want to know. Inspiration for what to research can be found in case studies, papers, blogs, books, conversations, your own experience etc. I personally find my ways of thinking most easily challenged by experience, books, videos, and conferences (probably because these are accessible!).

Finding the research

Once you’ve something you want to know, and the vocabulary to describe it, I’d recommend googling with specific terms. For example, if you are interested in the impact of management on team members, I’d recommend something like: “role hierarchy team impact” or something similar. Stay away from buzzwords like “management” or “agile”.

Google scholar is good for finding paper titles, but often due to publishers you will have to pay for them. Knowing the title, if you search again specifically for those papers/authors you can often find a free version on the author’s academic page, or at least some related content.

Assessing research quality

  1. Be cynical. Assume everyone is lying and check their “facts”.
  2. Beware sweeping statements. It is hard to have good social science that is very general.
  3. Use your noggin. E.G. Is the sample size big enough? Have they got a control group?

Beware research fashion

Just because something is popular to talk about (or highly cited) doesn’t make it good. A good example is Myers Briggs Type Indicators. Yes it is popular, and arguably helpful to some, but that doesn’t make it true or “the way to classify people”. Similarly some leadership styles are more heavily researched than others. The weight of research can be tempting to give in to, but keep sifting through, especially when the research is about models to help understand a topic (rather than an absolute truth).


Once you’ve something you think looks solid, a good test is to try it yourself! Run an experiment relevant to your situation, and see if you get results in line with the theory. Then tell other people what you’ve learned. (Yes I’m ignoring confirmation bias etc.)

If you have other techniques, or questions or suggested improvements to my ways of researching, please do share them in the comments!


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