The Practice of Not Knowing for Sure: How Agile Teams manage Uncertainties

Denniz Dönmez and Gudela Grote

Research Paper


Uncertainties are ubiquitous in software development. They impact almost every aspect of a development project. Most uncertainties are viewed as threats to project efficiency and there are strong calls to their reduction. However, uncertainties can pose opportunities for creativity and innovation in some situations. The literature has been dominated by discussions that focus on requirements uncertainties. We aim to extend these discussions by drawing attention to additional types of uncertainties, namely resource, task, and output uncertainties. In this empirical study we investigate the potential of agile software development methods to manage these different types of uncertainties, and examine the mechanisms available to development teams. Our results reveal how some agile teams seized mechanisms to harvest positive and mitigate negative impacts of uncertainties. Drawing upon these results, we discuss several antecedents of successful uncertainty management.


Denniz Dönmez

Denniz Dönmez is a PhD researcher at the Organization Work and Technology Group at ETH Zurich’s Department of Management, Technology, and Economics. He works under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Gudela Grote, and studies mechanisms of decision-making, collaboration and leadership in self-organising teams. A major focus of his work is risk and uncertainty management. He has been working with agile software development since 2010.

Department of Management, Technology, and Economics ETH Zurich, Switzerland,

Further Author

Gudela Grote, Department of Management, Technology, and Economics ETH Zurich, Switzerland,