Agile Project – An Oxymoron? Proposing an Unproject Leadership Model for Complex Space

  • Juha Rikkilä
  • Xiaofeng Wang
  • Pekka Abrahamsson
Part of the Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing book series (LNBIP, volume 167)


Without doubt much of the success in developing software solutions are due to proper project management, supported by many prominent and dedicated organizations and professionals. During the recent years the volatility and uncertainty in software development have, however, undermined the success. The agile and lean software development approaches have also brought up a profound difference between dealing with ordinary problems and wicked problems, but have failed to provide the management with solid theoretical background helping them to take proper decisions. Generally, the complexity theory is often referred to, but only at a superficial level. This paper attempts to explore what it means to build a leadership approach for software development that is based actually on complexity theory. We propose a novel approach called the unproject leadership model. The proposed model translates and maps the specific complexity concepts to the software development domain, consolidating them with the contributions already achieved by the lean and agile literature. As a result, the proposed model reverses many of the core project management practices. There are severe ramifications to large parts of contemporary organization management: converting leadership into interaction between people, flattening hierarchies and removing formal structures, abandoning top-down rules and plans. An initial validation of the proposed model is presented as well as the future directions are outlined.


Software development complexity project management leadership emergence unproject 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Winter, M., Smith, C., Morris, P., Cicmil, S.: Directions for future research in project management: The main findings of a UK government-funded research network. International Journal of Project Management 24, 638–649 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Garel, G.: A history of project management models: From pre-models to the standard models. International Journal of Project Management (2013),
  3. 3.
    IEEE computer society, Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge, SWEBOK (2013),
  4. 4.
    Buchanan, R.: Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues 8(2), 5–21 (1992)MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK(R) Guide), 4th edn. Project Management Institute, Newton Square (2008)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Software Engineering Institute, CMMI for Development, Version 1.3. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Technical Report CMU/SEI-2010-TR-033 (2010)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Koskela, L., Howell, G.: The Underlying Theory of Project Management is Obsolete. Project management Institute (2002)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Shenhar, A.: Strategic Project Leaderships Toward a strategic approach to project management. R&D Management 34, 5 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Whelton, M., Ballard, G.: Wicked problems in project definition. In: Proceedings of the 10th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction, Brazil (August 2002)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ditillo, A.: Dealing with uncertainty in knowledge-intensive firms: the role of management control systems as knowledge integration mechanisms. Accounting, Organizations and Society 29, 401–421 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Remington, K., Pollack, J.: Tools for Complex Projects. Gower Publishing Ltd. (2007)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Geraldi, J.G.: The balance between order and chaos in multi-project firms: A conceptual model. International Journal of Project Management 26, 348–356 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Maylor, H., Vigden, R., Carver, S.: Managerial Complexity in Project-Based Operations: A Grounded Model and Its Implications for Practice. Project Management Journal 39 (2008)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Highsmith, J.: Agile Project Management, Creating Innovative Products. Pearson Education Inc. (2004)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Schwaber, K.: Agile Project Management with Scrum. Microsoft Press (2004)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Thomsett, R.: Radical Project Management. Prentice Hall PTR (2002)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Holcombe, M.: Running an Agile Software Development Project. Wiley-Blackwell (2008)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Boehm, B., Turner, R.: Balancing Agility and Discipline, A guide for the Perplexed. Pearson Education Inc. (2004)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Vinekar, V., Slinkman, C.W., Nerur, S.: Can Agile and Traditional Systems Development Approaches Coexist? An Ambidextrous View. Information Systems Management (2006)Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Appelo, J.: Management 3.0, Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. Pearson Education, Inc. (2011)Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Denning, S.: The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, 1st edn. Jossey-Bass (2010)Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Larman, C., Basili, V.R.: Iterative and Incremental Development: A Brief history. Computer (June 2003)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Paulk, M.C., Curtis, B., Chrissis, M.B., Weber, C.: Capability Maturity Model for Software, Version 1.1, Software Engineering Institute, CMU/SEI-93-TR-24 (1993)Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Rikkila, J.: Agile, Lean and Service-Oriented Development, Continuum Or Chasm. In: Wang, X., Ali, N., Ramos, I., Vigden, R. (eds.) Agile and Lean Service-Oriented Development, Foundations, Theory, and Practice. Information Science Reference, IGI Global (2013)Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    ISO/IEC 15504-2. Information Technology – Process Assessment – Part 2: Performing an Assessment. International Standards Organization (2003)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Jakobsen, C.R., Sutherland, J.: Scrum and CMMI Going from Good to Great. In: Agile 2009 Conference, pp. 333–337 (2009)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Söderlund, J.: Pluralism in Project Management: Navigating the Crossroads of Specialization and Fragmentation. International Journal of Management Reviews 13, 153–176 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Sauer, C., Reich, B.H., Rethinking, I.T.: project management: Evidence of a new mindset and its implications. International Journal of Project Management 27, 182–193 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Pollack, J.: The changing paradigms of project management. International Journal of Project Management 25, 266–274 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Atkinson, R., Crawford, L., Ward, S.: Fundamental uncertainties in projects and the scope of project management. International Journal of Project Management 24, 687–698 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Rittel, H.W.J., Webber, M.M.: Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences 4, 155–169 (1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Lyneis, J.M., Cooper, K.G., Els, S.A.: Strategic management of complex projects: a case study using system dynamics. System Dynamics Review 17(3), 237–260 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Augustine, S., Paune, B., Sencindiver, F., Woodcock, S.: Agile project management: Steering from the edges. Communications of the ACM 48(12) (December 2005)Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Meso, P., Jain, R.: Agile Software Development: Adaptive Systems Principles and Best Practices. Information Systems Management (2006)Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Vidgen, R., Wang, X.: Coevolving Systems and the Organization of Agile Software Development. Information Systems Research 20(3) (2009)Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Cooke-Davis, T., Cicmil, S., Crawford, L., Richardson, K.: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto: Mapping the strange landscape of complexity theory, and its relationship to project management. Project Management Journal (2007)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Snowden, D.J., Boone, M.E.: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making. Harvard Business Review (November 2007)Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Lichtenstein, B.B., Plowman, D.A.: The leadership of emergence: A complex systems leadership theory of emergence at successive organizational levels. The Leadership Quarterly 20, 617–630 (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., McKelvey, B.: Complexity Leadership Theory, Shifting Leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly 18, 298–318 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Marion, R.: Complexity theory for organizations and organizational leadership. In: Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R. (eds.) Complexity Leadership, Part I: Conceptual Foundations, pp. 1–16. IAP-Information Age Publishing, Inc. (2008)Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Heylighen, F.: Complexity and Self-organization. In: Bates, M.J., Niles Maack, M. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences. Taylor & Francis (2008)Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ikonen, M., Kettunen, P., Oza, N., Abrahamsson, P.: Exploring the Sources of Waste in Kanban Software Development Projects. In: Proceedings of 36th EUROMICRO Conference on Software Engineering and Advanced Applications, SEAA (2010)Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Fagerholm, F., Oza, N., Münch, J.: A Platform for Teaching Applied Distributed Software Development. In: CTGDSD 2013, San Francisco, CA, USA (2013)Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Carver, J.C., Jaccheri, L., Morasca, S., Shull, F.: A checklist for integrating student empirical studies with research and teaching goals. Empirical Software Engineering 15, 35–59 (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Schön, D.: The Reflective Practitioner. Temple Smith, London (1983)Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Rikkilä, J.: New Approach for Managing Lean-Agile Development: Overturning the Project Paradigm. In: Abrahamsson, P., Oza, N. (eds.) LESS 2010. LNBIP, vol. 65, pp. 139–150. Springer, Heidelberg (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Geraldi, J., Maylor, H., Williams, T.: Now, let’s make it really complex (complicated), a systematic review of the complexities of projects. International Journal of Operations & Production Management 31(9) (2011)Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Benbya, H., McKelvey, B.: Toward a complexity theory of information systems development. Information Technology and People 19(1), 12–34 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Benbya, H., McKelvey, B.: Using coevolutionary and complexity theories to improve IS alignment: a multi-level approach. Journal of Information Technology 21(4), 284–298 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Lee, G., Xia, W.: The ability of information systems development project teams to respond to business and technology changes: a study of flexibility measures. European Journal of Information Systems 14(1), 75–92 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Schneberger, S.L.: Distributed Computing Environments: Effects on Software Maintenance Difficulty. Journal of Systems and Software 37(2), 101–116 (1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Schneberger, S.L., McLean, E.R.: The Complexity Cross - Implications for Practice. Communications of the ACM 46(9), 216–225 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Xia, W., Lee, G.: Complexity of Information Systems Development Projects: Conceptualization and Measurement Development. Journal of Management Information Systems 22(1), 45–83 (2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Rikkila, J., Abrahamsson, P., Wang, X.: The Implications of a Complexity Perspective for Software Engineering Practice and Research. J. Computer Engineering & Information Technology 1, 1 (2012)Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Van Maanen, J., Sørensen, J.B., Mitchell, T.R.: The Interplay between Theory and Method. Academy of Management Review 32(4), 1145–1154 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Abrahamsson, P., Kettunen, P., Fagerholm, F.: The Set-Up of a Valuable Software Engineering Research Infrastructure of the 2010s. In: VASOP 2010 Workshop, Limerick, Ireland (2010)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juha Rikkilä
    • 1
  • Xiaofeng Wang
    • 1
  • Pekka Abrahamsson
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Computer Science FreeUniversity of Bozen-BolzanoBolzanoItaly

Personalised recommendations