Agile research needs help

Reading some academic papers on Agile recently, there is a huge misunderstanding about what Agile means.

In particular, some academics use the word Agile when really they mean Scrum. There are papers (for example this one) which say “agile teams” and continue on to describe how long their iterations (or even worse, Sprints) are. Sprints are a feature of Scrum alone, of all the Agile frameworks: the Agile framework of Kanban for example does not have iterations. Maybe this is an accidental slip-up, but I would hope for more accuracy from academics.

There are also lots of really great articles by people who helped come up with the very idea of Agile. The reason I am worried about even a few dodgy papers is that one experiment (or research paper) can easily be cited out of context or generalised by another paper, leading to huge misconceptions and ultimately a misleading (but popular) HBR or linkedin article without the right context.

Having said this, it is great that academics are starting to look at Agile: some claim the “research lags years behind of the practice” [1]. For me in particular, I am interested in whether the motivation experiments (which we rely upon for incentivising software developers and trying to keep them motivated) truly apply to software development tasks. This BBC article summarises some of the studies, on playing computer games, maths tests, and repetitive-key pressing. But there are none that I can find which examine software development motivation.

In some disciplines, generalising and abstracting is necessarily bread-and-butter: in Physics this makes loads of sense, but in Psychology given how complex and counter-intuitive some human decision making can be (eg “it was found that everyday hassles and uplifts were a better predictor of concurrent and subsequent psychological symptoms than were the life events scores” [2]). I’d love to share more of these things in a subsequent post, though I am by no means an expert in Behavioural Economics.

2014 most common jobs
The most common job in each US State (2014)

The most common job in several US states is now Software Developer (rather than Secretary or Farmer, as it once was) [3]. Given the huge numbers of people now employed as software developers throughout the world, it would be great to be sure that we are interacting and incentivising them properly.

I hope this post inspires some academics to get more involved in fieldwork and talking with industry, and also inspires some Agile evangelists working in organisations to take a bit more of a rigourous and self-critical perspective when it comes to documenting and sharing what they are learning.

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