The Adoption and Evolution of Agile Practices


By Marco Sampietro

SDA Bocconi School of Management

Milan, Italy



Traditional software product development models are characterised by a predictive approach derived from physical engineering processes. Recent developments in the software scenario have proved these plan-driven models to be inadequate, especially in high risk and rapidly changing environments. Agile methodologies were therefore developed as an answer to these issues. Due to their intrinsic agility, they have confirmed they are capable of adapting to the further changes that have occurred since they were first introduced: methodologies have been altered and tailored to address all the shortcomings found during their introduction. The aim of this research is to detect the dominant agile practices and adoption strategies, which transcend the original ones belonging to a certain model and may be affected by internal and external characteristics. A survey-based analysis was conducted in order to find out which practices are the most used. 194 valid questionnaires were returned. Factor and cluster analyses made it possible to relate the practices to several environmental characteristics with the purpose of seeking a significant relationship between them. The results of the study showed that most companies prefer to adopt practices related to the general management of the development process, to the detriment of practices associated with coding and testing techniques. Team members’ opinions turned out to be the only internal factor responsible for the introduction or abandonment of the practices. As for the external variables, the size of the team and the proximity of the team members were proven to significantly affect the adoption strategy.

Key words: agile project management, agile methods, agile practices, SCRUM, Kanban, XP, Lean development

JEL code: M54


It all started in February 2001 with four values posted on a website. The cornerstones of the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” (AgileAlliance, 2001) were nothing more than four sentences, which however represented an authentic breakthrough for Project Management. In fact, the authors of the Manifesto aimed to put together a group of characteristics whose underlying values could be traced back to a unique, revolutionary way of defining a system development model.

They had already created several software development methodologies (SDMs) and, after having identified the core values, they decided to write a short but nonetheless inspiring list of guidelines, which should be followed by any Agile practitioner. Indeed, “rather than focusing on their differences and the competitive advantage of their own methodologies, 17 creators and supporters of the lightweight methodologies gathered (…) to discuss their common interests and philosophies, coining the term Agile software development” (Williams, 2012, p. 71-72). That is to say, the authors created a mind-set, a framework with general advice, which could be freely interpreted and applied in heterogeneous environments. Furthermore, the Manifesto was completed by twelve principles, which, again, could be employed regardless of the particular SDM chosen for the project.

Agile is based on Values, Principles and Practices. “Agile values are the philosophy behind Agile methods, which are further defined and supported by the Agile principles and Agile practices” (Kong, Kendall, & Kendall, 2012).

Each specific project undertaken by a particular team of a certain company might be characterised by the use of a certain set of practices, i.e. “concrete activities and practical techniques that are used to develop and manage software projects in a manner consistent with the Agile principles” (Sidky, Arthur, & Bohner, 2007).

Research questions and methodology

The importance of Agile Software Development Models (SDM) has decreased in recent years as Agile practitioners noticed that applying SDMs as they are did not generate the expected outcomes. Over the years Agile SDMs have been customised by many companies in order to find the best fit with their organisational characteristics. It is therefore necessary to focus on the practices more than on the SDMs. In addition, it would be interesting to identify the drivers that determine the adoption of certain practices. To date, however, there are no studies that address these topics.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright. This paper was originally presented at the 5th Scientific Conference on Project Management in the Baltic States, University of Latvia, April 2016. It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

About the Author

160504 - Sampietro 150x

Milan, Italy



Marco Sampietro obtained a Ph.D. at the University of Bremen, Germany. Since 2000 he has been a professor at SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan, Italy. SDA Bocconi School of Management is ranked among the top Business Schools in the world (Financial Times, Forbes, Bloomberg, and The Economist rankings). He is a Core Faculty Member at SDA Bocconi School of Management and teaches Project Management on the MBA – Master of Business Administration, and GEMBA – Global Executive Master of Business Administration programs. He is Faculty Member at MISB – Mumbai International School of Business, the Indian subsidiary of Bocconi University, and Visiting Professor at IHU – International Hellenic University, Greece. He is also a Contract Professor at Bocconi University and Milano Fashion Institute for the Project Management courses.

He was a speaker at the NASA Project Management Challenge 2007, 2008, and 2011, in the USA, and a speaker at the PMI Global European Congress, Italy, 2010.

He is a Member of the Steering Committee of IPMA-Italy.

He is co-author and/or editor of 10 books on project management and 7 books on IT management. Among them: Empowering Project Teams. Using Project Followership to Improve Performance. CRC Press, 2014. Finally, he is the author of award-winning case studies and papers.

Dr. Sampietro can be contacted at: [email protected]