Finding the sweet spot for organizational control and team autonomy in large-scale agile software development

Nils Brede Moe*, Darja Šmite, Maria Paasivaara, Casper Lassenius

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
89 Downloads (Pure)


Agile methods and the related concepts of employee empowerment, self-management, and autonomy have reached large-scale software organizations and raise questions about commonly adopted principles for authority distribution. However, the optimum mechanism to balance the need for alignment, quality, and process control with the need or willingness of teams to be autonomous remains an unresolved issue. In this paper, we report our findings from a multiple-case study in two large-scale software development organizations in the telecom industry. We analysed the autonomy of the agile teams in the organizations using Hackman’s classification of unit authority and found that the teams were partly self-managing. Further, we found that alignment across teams can be achieved top-down by management and bottom-up through membership in communities or through dialogue between the team and management. However, the degree of team autonomy was limited by the need for organizational alignment. Top-down alignment and control were maintained through centralized decision-making for certain areas, the use of supervisory roles, mandatory processes, and checklists. One case employed a bottom-up approach to alignment through the formation of a community composed of all teams, experts, and supporting roles, but excluding managers. This community-based alignment involved teams in decision-making and engaged them in alignment initiatives. We conclude that implementation of such bottom-up structures seems to provide one possible mechanism for balancing organizational control and team autonomy in large-scale software development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101
Number of pages42
JournalEmpirical Software Engineering
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Autonomy
  • Communities of practice
  • Large-scale agile
  • Multiple-case study
  • Self-management


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  • N4S: Need for Speed

    Lassenius, C., Itkonen, J., Paasivaara, M., Laukkanen, E., Heikkilä, V. & Lehtinen, T.


    Project: Business Finland: Strategic centres for science, technology and innovation (SHOK)

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