Testing potential solutions for an agile way of working - Master's Thesis Part 5
Updated: May 2, 2022
I am sharing what I found in my master's thesis in parts broken down from the research questions. This fifth post examines how two concepts may or may not have potential to enable an agile way of working. See prior parts here: 1, 2, 3, 4. See the full thesis here. Need some background on what agile means? See here.
Blog post 5: Testing solutions for an agile way of working
What would agile urban planning or design actually look like in practice? In the last blog post, I explained that the Bicycle Program of the Municipality of Amsterdam is already working in a partially agile way. The next step of the thesis was to try things out and explore if there are "solutions" for this way of working. It was to test, not prescribe, how a potential solution might look like in practice. For this I looked at two concepts: a pattern language for cycling and the bicycle user experience concept. I selected the pattern language because of its potential to build a shared understanding between planners and communities of solutions that work for citizens, and I chose the bicycle user experience was because its human-centered design methods claim to produce infrastructure more in line with people’s needs.
The two potential solutions tested (left to right): the bicycle user experience concept and a pattern language for cycling (Picture credit: te Brömmelstroet et al., 2018, from https://farm8.static.flickr.com/7453/27520025514_7915dbed6e_b.jpg)
To test these concepts I went to practitioners, asking what they thought of the concepts through the format of guided questionnaire sessions. I sat down separately with three practitioners, explained the two potential solutions to them, and remained there while they completed a questionnaire (which contained scale questions with ratings between 1 and 5, along with some open text place for elaboration) to answer any questions. I was also able to get their spontaneous reactions in the sessions, which wouldn't have been possible with a remote questionnaire.
Each solution was perceived above average by the practitioners, but there were significant variations between characteristics and practices. For example, pattern language was rated a 5 for focus on people and interactions over processes and tools, but only a 2.5 on have a flexible, organic organizational form with interchangeable roles. Each concept had strong points related to agile, but neither of the concepts were perceived to be able to universally help planning departments with every aspect of an agile way of working. The full results are below.
Questionnaire findings on pattern language and bicycle user experience
How do two potential solutions enable or fail to enable an agile way of working in practice?
Both the pattern language and bicycle user experience concepts have potential to enable planning departments to focus on people and interactions over processes and tools, but with other characteristics and practices it is less clear, especially for fostering a constant work pace. Neither of the two concepts is a “silver bullet” to fully enable agile in practice.
I think this lends to the idea that there isn't an easy fix to prescribe for an agile way of working. We all want there to be a present with a nicely-tied bow that can seamlessly solve our problems- and the pattern language and bicycle user experience concepts can contribute in some ways. But collaboration, experimentation, and continuous improvement is a messy process. There are bumps along the way- we shouldn't expect a straight line.
te Brömmelstroet, M., Nello-Deakin, S., Quillien, J., & Bhattacharya, I. (2018). Towards a pattern language for cycling environments: merging variables and narratives. Applied Mobilities.
Update: since this blog post was written, an academic article has been published on the thesis research (see here, open access).