How Agile Software Development Methods Reduce Work Exhaustion: Insights on Role Perceptions and Organizational Skills

Venkatesh, V., Thong, J.Y.L., Chan, F.K.Y., Hoehle, H., and Spohrer, K. “How Agile Software Development Methods Reduce Work Exhaustion: Insights on Role Perceptions and Organizational Skills,” Information Systems Journal (30:4), 2020, 733-761.

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Agile methods are widely used in the software industry as a way to more rapidly develop and deliver new software. They define iterative work processes, advocate self-organization and openness for change, and prescribe how software developers interact with each other and external stakeholders. Despite their popularity, it is unclear how agile methods influence work exhaustion in software developers and how developer skills play into this effect. On the one hand, agile methods may reduce software developers’ work exhaustion by levelling out their workload across the entire duration of a project. On the other hand, agile methods exert a high level of pressure on software developers to continuously deliver working software, create many intensive social interactions, and to frequently adapt to changes. In light of these effects, prior research could not explain why some software developers become less exhausted from using agile methods, whereas others perceive the exact opposite. Based on the job demand-control model, we develop a theoretical model connecting agile method use to individual developer skills and to two established determinants of employee exhaustion: role conflict and role ambiguity. We tested our research model in a field study among 1894 software developers in 217 project teams that used agile methods. The random coefficient modelling results show that agile method use facilitates the achievement of clear and unambiguous role perceptions and thereby reduces work exhaustion in developers, particularly if developers possess the organizational skills to effectively interact with others in their organization. We highlight implications for theory on the individual-level effects of software development methods and provide practical insights for software companies.
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