Social conditions leading to Scrum process breakdowns during Global Agile Software Development: a theory of practice perspective

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University of Cape Town

Global Software Development (GSD) and Agile are two popular software development trends that are gaining in popularity. In addition, more and more organisations are now seeking to engage in agile software development within the GSD context to reap the benefits of both ventures and achieve project success. Hence, agile methodologies adapted to fit the GSD context are commonly termed Global Agile Software Development (GASD) methodologies. However, because of geographical, temporal, and cultural challenges, collaboration is not easily realized in the GASD context. In addition, this work context is characterized by multiple overlapping fields of practice, which further hinder collaboration, and give rise to social challenges. Given the existence of these social challenges, there is a need to further investigate the human-centred aspect of collaboration during GASD. Following an extensive literature review on the application of Scrum and other agile methodologies in GASD between 2006 and 2011, it was noted that there is a lack of understanding of the social conditions giving rise to the social challenges experienced during GASD. It was noted that past studies have instead sought to describe these social challenges and to provide mitigating strategies in the form of best-practices, without detailing and theorising about the social conditions under which these social challenges emerge. One of the objective of the study was thus to investigate the use of Scrum during GASD. In particular, the Scrum process breakdowns experienced during and after Scrum's sprint planning and retrospective meetings were identified. The social conditions under which these breakdowns emerged were investigated in the light of Bourdieu's Theory of Practice. Scrum Process breakdowns were defined as any deviation from an ideal Scrum process (as per the Scrum methodology's guidelines) which yields to the emergence of social challenges, conflict or disagreements in the GASD team. The study was empirical and qualitative in nature and followed the positivist research paradigm. Two case studies, in line with Bonoma (1985)'s "drift" and "design" stages of case study design, were undertaken to investigate the phenomena of interest and answer the research questions. The first case focused on a distributed agile team executing a software project across South Africa (Cape Town) and Brazil (Sao Paulo) while the second case focused on a team executing an agile software project across India (Pune) and South Africa (Durban). The site selection was carefully thought out and the results from the first case informed the second case in order to add more richness in the data being gathered. In both case studies, data was collected through semi-structured interviews, documentation, field notes and direct observation. The underlying theoretical framework employed for the study was the Theory of Practice (Bourdieu, 1990). The study has identified various forms of Scrum process breakdowns occurring during and after sprint planning and retrospective meetings: » Different perceptions about task urgency at the software development sites » Disagreements on the suitability of software engineering practices » Low level of communication openness during meetings involving the whole GASD team compared to internal meetings at the sites » Impromptu changes to user stories' content and priorities » Product Owner's low level of authority » Disagreements on estimation mechanisms » Number of User Stories to be completed during the Sprint Is imposed on the team » Decisions on Scrum process updates not made by the development team » Selective invitation to retrospective meetings In addition, various social conditions were identified as possibly leading to the emergence of these Scrum process breakdowns in the GASD context: » GASD project stakeholders' low level of capital in the joint field » Different beliefs and values because of multiple fields Two theoretical propositions were derived to describe the social conditions and the corresponding Scrum process breakdowns which are likely to emerge under these conditions.