Teamwork quality and project success in software development: A survey of agile development teams (2016)

Illustration of the A–Team, loosely based on promotional artwork
Do you want to be a team or the A-Team?

A team can be greater than the sum of its parts if its members work well together. Lindsjørn et al. conducted a survey with a large number of teams to understand how teamwork quality affects the ability of teams to deliver products effectively and efficiently, and the effect it has on work satisfaction and learning on the job.

Why it matters

It’s often said that good teamwork is what sets good teams apart from mediocre – or even bad – teams.

Good teamwork benefits the team: a well-oiled team can meet product quality expectations from customers (effectiveness), and do so within time and budget expectations (efficiency).

But good teamwork also might benefit team members. Being part of a good team may result in better work satisfaction and more opportunities to gain new skills and knowledge.

How the study was conducted

The idea that teamwork quality affects the performance of the software team as a whole and the success of its individual members is not new: the theoretical rationale and supporting empirical evidence were originally described by Hoegl and Gemuenden (2001).

What is teamwork quality?

Hoegl and Gemuenden see teamwork quality (only) as the quality of interactions between a team’s members. It can be subdivided into six subconstructs:

The teamwork quality of a team can be measured using a survey that consists of statements about each of these subconstructs that can be answered on a Likert scale.

The survey also includes questions about work satisfaction, learning opportunities, and team effectiveness and efficiency to determine the perceived impact of teamwork quality on teams and individuals.

Survey

The study is a replication of the 2001 one, but with a twist: whereas Hoegl and Gemuenden studied traditional (waterfall-based) teams, the authors of this paper studied agile teamsTo be fair, you’d be hard-pressed to find any team that’s willing to admit it isn’t agile..

The survey was completed by 477 project leaders, product owners, and “regular” team members from 71 teams in 26 companies that had used a agile methodology for at least one year, during which they have delivered software to a customer at least once.

What discoveries were made

Overall survey results are similar to those of the original survey.

Both team leaders and members believe that teamwork quality – especially mutual support – significantly affects team performance. Product owners on the other hand don’t believe such effect exists.

Only team members were asked about their perception of team members’ success. Respondents agreed almost unanimously that teamwork quality affects team members’ success.

Differences between member roles

Given that agile methodologies put a lot of emphasis on communication, one would expect that project leaders, product owners, and team members would have fairly aligned views on the effects of good (and bad) teamwork quality.

Results show that there’s actually less consensus than among non-agile respondents in the original survey:

These differences are possibly due to different standardsBetween traditional and agile or between 2001 and 2016 or the abundance of documentation and reporting in traditional software process methodologies

Either way, differences between the views should be taken into account when making efforts to improve team performance.

The important bits

  1. Team members and leaders believe that teamwork quality has a positive effect on team performance
  2. Product owners believe that teamwork quality has a negligible effect on team performance
  3. Team members believe that teamwork quality has a strongly positive effect on work satisfaction and learning
  4. Teamwork quality does not appear to be (rated) higher in agile teams than in traditional teams