According to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin, software development teams that have the freedom to approach their projects the way they choose are more productive and have happier customers than teams that follow a central enterprise standard.
Research suggests that organizations that take a hands-off approach to project team structure and governance create an environment of creative flexibility. This built-in flexibility makes teams more responsive to necessary changes in the software they create, which improves performance and customer satisfaction.
“By empowering your teams, you allow them to exercise greater judgment on what would actually work based on their project requirements,” said Indranil Bardhan, professor of information management, risk and operations at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin and co. – author of the study. “We show that there is no right way to superior project performance, no one-size-fits-all solution.”
The findings appear in Quarterly GIS.
Bardhan and co-author Narayan Ramasubbu of the University of Pittsburgh tested the performance of agile and traditional project teams over 50 months in a real-world policy experiment at a large India-based software company. The company had 125,000 software developers worldwide working on projects that met an ideal operating profile closely monitored by a central unit.
Senior business leaders wanted to know if more autonomy for software development teams would hurt or help performance. For the study, they implemented a policy change granting greater autonomy to certain teams and agreeing to provide data on key performance measures – for autonomous and non-autonomous teams – before and after the policy change. .
From 2013 to 2018, Bardhan and Ramasubbu tracked productivity and customer satisfaction on 461 projects. Managers of 146 projects gained the autonomy to design their projects the way they wanted using three main controls: location and time differences between team members, level of process diversity (such as lean or structured) and the level of management control.
“Leaders of self-directed teams could each choose the type of structure that worked well for them and their project team, rather than having something dictated to them by a central point of contact,” Bardhan said.
Software developers measure productivity in function points – a useful proxy for software functionality. The more function points a product has, the more value it adds to the software. Added value increased by 39% for teams that transitioned to a stand-alone structure compared to projects that did not.
Customer satisfaction has also increased. Agile teams’ ratings increased by 2.95% as a result of the policy change, “which was quite substantial,” Bardhan said.