Inter-team coordination in agile development: Learning from non-software contexts
Conference poster, 2019
LAYERED MUTUAL ADJUSTMENT
When agile development is introduced in large-scale product development such as that of cars in organizations that previously employed a plan-driven approach there is reason to assume that mutual adjustment has already been employed as a coordination mechanism. Given the scale of such projects, mutual adjustment among work groups through representatives, i.e. layered mutual adjustment, is likely to have occurred in some form.
ONGOING RESEARCH AND FINDINGS
We currently conduct an ethnographic field study in the product development organization of Volvo Cars that until recently employed a plan-driven approach to product development. We study the Mechanical architecture & integration department (MAI) and their ways of working. At MAI, a hundred mechanical integration engineers (MIE) have the responsibility for continuously ensuring the proper integration of the digital representation of hardware in all the ongoing car projects each of which involves several hundred developers. Starting from project plans and product architecture, they ensure that the product stays consistent across sub-systems and that any technical issues where different sub-systems conflict, are handled and integration of the product ensured. The work carried out at MAI embraces conflict as a part of work, it employs collaborative methods to seek solutions, encourages exploration and creativity and allows design and implementation to be inseparable in the work process. In other words, much of what characterizes a fertile ground for agile work practices.
In a given car project, an MIE monitors the integration of parts within a specific ‘chunk’ of the car and identifies present and potential integration issues among sub-systems involved in the ‘chunk’ that are under development by different work groups in the project. She prioritizes among the different issues that need to be solved. Her role has no formal authority attributed to it apart from that yielded by her exclusive overall perspective on the product, one which people working on the different sub-system cannot afford to maintain themselves. She also identifies the people in the organization that need to participate in solving the integration, i.e. representatives of the concerned work groups. She also acts as a facilitator when the work group is gathered, therein playing a mediating role in this form of layered mutual adjustment.
There is potential for advancing the research on inter-team coordination in large-scale agile software development by learning from large-scale product development beyond software. This could generate new ideas and approaches to handle the inter-team coordination challenges entailed by scaling agile development. One such approach that can be drawn from the example provided here is the use of a mediating role in the use of layered mutual adjustment. Moreover, our findings also suggest that the informal practices ongoing in formally plan-driven hardware development may constitute an untapped resource in agile transformation efforts.