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Investigating the design process: participatory design in agile software development

Karlheinz Kautz (Copenhagen Business School, Department of Informatics, Frederiksberg, Denmark)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 23 August 2011

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to explore a case of customer and user participation in an agile software development project, which produced a tailor‐made information system for workplace support as a step towards a theory of participatory design in agile software development.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on an integrated framework for user participation derived from the participatory design literature the research was performed as a case study and semi‐structured, open‐ended interviews were conducted with about a third of the development team and with a representative sample of key players and future users in the customer organization. The interview data were supplemented with company and project documents.

Findings

The paper found genuine customer and user participation carried out by onsite customers and by other operational staff in the form of direct and indirect participation and with functional and democratic empowerment. The onsite customers played informative, consultative and participative roles. The analysis revealed that planning games, user stories and story cards, working software and acceptance tests structured the customer and user participation. This form of user participation supported a balance between flexibility and project progress and resulted in a project and a product which were considered a success by the customer and the development organization. The analysis showed that the integrative framework for user participation can also fruitfully be used in a new context to understand what participatory design is and how, when and where it can be performed as an instance of a design process in agile development. As such the paper contributes to an analytical and a design theory of participatory design in agile development. Furthermore the paper explicates why participatory design contributes to the successful completion of the investigated project. By drawing on innovation theory it was found that participatory design in agile development bears the characteristics of a successful organizational innovation. Grounding further explanations in complex adaptive systems theory the paper provides an additional argument why participatory design despite some identified challenges fosters project staff to successfully carry out the agile development project.

Originality/value

The paper presents an exploratory, empirical study of an understudied phenomenon and contributes to theory building.

Keywords

Citation

Kautz, K. (2011), "Investigating the design process: participatory design in agile software development", Information Technology & People, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 217-235. https://doi.org/10.1108/09593841111158356

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited