The Undertow of Agile Methods in Digital Transformations

Karen Boll, Ann Fugl-Meyer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


This paper addresses the way that agile methods, which is a widespread set of methods used to develop digital technologies, unwittingly create institutional displacements over and beyond IT development. Organizational studies on digital transformations in public sector organizations focus on the the use and consequences of technologies, e.g. there is a vivid stream of theorization around the relationship between technologies and organizations. We propose to expand this existing focus by looking at how digital technologies are developed and how this development have organizational consequences. Drawing on Scott and Orlikowski, we conceptualise transformations as linked to a digital undertow. Digital undertow refers to a corollary effect of waves of digitalization that profoundly influences how organizations operate, but which manifest themselves elsewhere; away from the actual uses of technologies. Based on a qualitative case study of the use of agile methods within the Danish Tax Authority, we show that in intraorganizational collaboration these methods unwittingly influence practices of other parts of the organization and form values, norms, and rules centeret around the organization as adaptive, responsive, and flexible. The leads us to argue that agile methods form a digital undertow with enormous organizing power. We urge organization scholars to analyze these methods as they create profound changes that we risk missing-out on when looking at the visible waves of digitalization and the constant new launches of technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2024
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2024
Event21st Scandinavian Workshop on E-Government (SWEG) - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 24 Jan 202425 Jan 2024
Conference number: 21


Workshop21st Scandinavian Workshop on E-Government (SWEG)
LocationCopenhagen Business School
Internet address


  • Agile methods
  • Digital undertow
  • Public sector
  • Digital transformation
  • Technology
  • Tax authority

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