Affiliated Organization

Case Western Reserve University, USA


One poorly investigated issue in organizational agility is the question how organizations change their speed while adopting and exploiting new IT capability. In this paper we outline a theory of software development agility that draws upon a model of IT innovations by Swanson and on March’s learning theory and in particular on his concepts of exploration and exploitation. We explore how both exploration and exploitation as organizational learning modes can software development agility. We propose a sequential model of organizational learning in which agility is driven by different factors during different stages – exploration vs. exploitation- of organizational learning. We show that software development agility is influenced by the external demands, the diffusion level and rate of the IT innovation, its radicalness, and the organizations’ needs to balance multiple conflicting process goals including speed, quality, cost, risk and innovative content. We illustrate the value of the model by exploring how seven software organizations controlled the demands for increased agility i.e. their development speed or over a period of five years (1999-2004), and how they balanced the need for the increased agility with other critical development criteria like cost, risk, quality and innovative content. In conclusion, we discuss the implications of our findings for future research on agility and related management practices.