Investigating the Design Process: Participatory Design in Agile Software Development

Karlheinz Kautz

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Purpose – This paper aims to explore a case of customer and user participation in an agile software development project, which produced a tailor-made information system for workplace support as a step towards a theory of participatory design in agile software development.

Design/methodology/approach – Based on an integrated framework for user participation derived from the participatory design literature the research was performed as a case study and semi-structured, open-ended interviews were conducted with about a third of the development team and with a representative sample of key players and future users in the customer organization. The interview data were supplemented with company and project documents.

Findings – The paper found genuine customer and user participation carried out by onsite customers and by other operational staff in the form of direct and indirect participation and with functional and democratic empowerment. The onsite customers played informative, consultative and participative roles. The analysis revealed that planning games, user stories and story cards, working software and acceptance tests structured the customer and user participation. This form of user participation supported a balance between flexibility and project progress and resulted in a project and a product which were considered a success by the customer and the development organization. The analysis showed that the integrative framework for user participation can also fruitfully be used in a new context to understand what participatory design is and how, when and where it can be performed as an instance of a design process in agile development. As such the paper contributes to an analytical and a design theory of participatory design in agile development. Furthermore the paper explicates why participatory design contributes to the successful completion of the investigated project. By drawing on innovation theory it was found that participatory design in agile development bears the characteristics of a successful organizational innovation. Grounding further explanations in complex adaptive systems theory the paper provides an additional argument why participatory design despite some identified challenges fosters project staff to successfully carry out the agile development project.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Technology and People
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)217-235
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Design Science
  • Design Process
  • participatory Design
  • Agile Development
  • Design
  • Customer and User Participation½
  • Case Study research
  • Software Engineering

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