The Agile Imperative: A Qualitative Study of a Translation Process in the Danish Tax Administration

Ann Fugl-Meyer

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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Agile methods, long popular in software development in the private sector, have also gained momentum in public organisations. Agile methods follow the digital transformation agenda of prioritising data and automation by promoting idealised views of what these methods will enable organisations to accomplish in terms of efficiency, flexibility and simplicity. This dissertation investigates how what I call the Agile Imperative is imported and then translated into the Danish Tax Administration, where it challenges existing practices of a conventional bureaucratic organisation.
This research project builds on an extensive ethnographic data set following a change programme – the Agile transformation – throughout the design phase and the first months of implementation. The dataset consists of 38 interviews, close to 250 hours of meeting observations and more than one hundred archival documents (reports, files, digital presentations, etc.), which are the foundation for the analysis and contributions of this thesis. This is a micro-level study of how one organisational unit implements agile methods. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, part of this study, and the organisation’s work implementing agile methods, has been virtual, which means that the material consists of data collected both on- and offline.
Theoretically, this thesis takes an institutional perspective on digital transformations by applying Scandinavian Institutionalism – or Translation Theory – as the main analytical framework. This perspective offers a processual understanding of the work that goes into becoming increasingly digital, in this case, through the adoption of the Agile values and agile methods. The translation approach focuses on explaining distinctiveness and variation as organisations cope with and adopt new ideas and how both the organisation and the idea change in this process.
The contributions of this thesis are twofold. First, it contributes to translation theory by providing an analytical distinction between programmatic and operational elements, reinforcing our understanding that translation concerns both meaning and practices of ideas and how this yields different tensions. I propose to advance the concept of editing rules by underscoring the distinction between external and internal elements. The translation landscape consists of multiple translators that enact Agile in different spaces. The translators attempt to manage the tensions that occur when Agile is adopted to new working practices in different interdependent spaces. Building on the concept of translation space, I have established a typology to analytically understand translation where I highlight and distinguish between managerial, political, internal and collaborative translation spaces. Second, this study contributes to the literature on digital transformations from an institutional perspective. Empirically, this thesis shows how the introduction of Agile has a transformational impact on a public organisation by importing and promoting new managerial beliefs, undermining the already institutionalised organisational form and shifting the actor constellation and authority relations within the Tax Administration. The Agile Imperative is a driving force of digital transformation in organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages319
ISBN (Print)9788775681730
ISBN (Electronic)9788775681747
Publication statusPublished - 2023
SeriesPhD Series

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