Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1197–1224 | Cite as

Agile vs. structured distributed software development: A case study

  • Hans-Christian Estler
  • Martin Nordio
  • Carlo A. Furia
  • Bertrand Meyer
  • Johannes Schneider


In globally distributed software development, does it matter being agile rather than structured? To answer this question, this paper presents an extensive case study that compares agile (Scrum, XP, etc.) vs. structured (RUP, waterfall) processes to determine if the choice of process impacts aspects such as the overall success and economic savings of distributed projects, the motivation of the development teams, the amount of communication required during development, and the emergence of critical issues. The case study includes data from 66 projects developed in Europe, Asia, and the Americas. The results show no significant difference between the outcome of projects following agile processes and structured processes, suggesting that agile and structured processes can be equally effective for globally distributed development. The paper also discusses several qualitative aspects of distributed software development such as the advantages of nearshore vs. offshore, the preferred communication patterns, and the effects on project quality.


Distributed software development Outsourcing Agile  Empirical study 



The authors thank all the participants to the study; the ICGSE 2012 attendees—where a preliminary version of this work was presented—for their lively and interesting comments and remarks about our work; the anonymous reviewers of the conference and journal papers; and the guest editors Erran Carmel, Rini van Solingen, Rafael Prickladnicki, and Filippo Lanubile for organizing and managing this special issue of EMSE. This research has been partially funded by the Gebert-Rüf Stiftung.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans-Christian Estler
    • 1
  • Martin Nordio
    • 1
  • Carlo A. Furia
    • 1
  • Bertrand Meyer
    • 1
  • Johannes Schneider
    • 2
  1. 1.Chair of Software EngineeringETH ZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.IBM ResearchZurichSwitzerland

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