Definition and delimitation
Derived from the French word “agile” and the Latin verb “agere”, the term agility originally meant mobility, agility or “to set in motion”. Today, it is used to describe a new form of project and organisational management that was originally conceived for the field of software development but is increasingly being applied in other areas as well. It is characterised by short-cycle, iterative work organisation with a close relationship to the customer (feedback loops), a high degree of self-organisation among employees and a participative organisational culture.
Although the temporal origin of agile organisation cannot be clearly determined, the term has gained importance in public discourse especially since the 2000s. With the “Agile Manifesto for Software Development” written in 2001 by a group of software developers in the USA, criticism of the previous waterfall model of project management became increasingly vocal. The old model was characterised above all by bureaucratic, top-down and inflexible organisational structures, which often resulted in sprawling planning processes and rigid workflows. These were now to be replaced by a new, agile model. In their manifesto, the developers and programmers demanded more creativity and autonomy in the work process as well as greater efficiency and closer cooperation with the customer, and formulated four guiding principles and twelve principles with which they wanted to publicise new values in software development. Although the manifesto was written by representatives of very different concepts and working methods and also does not propagate a clearly defined working method, all participants are united in their criticism of the traditional waterfall model, which is increasingly seen as inappropriate and outdated, especially in the course of the digital transformation and the associated requirements for fast and flexible working. These ideas met with great approval in the software industry, and while the manifesto still proclaimed a new management and work culture on a very abstract level, a variety of approaches developed over the years that translated its principles and guiding principles into a concrete framework.
Application and examples
In the meantime, numerous approaches have been developed for the application of agile working methods. These include concepts such as Scrum, Rapid Prototyping, eXtreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Kanban or Design Thinking, which all aim at a similar structure: Organised in short project cycles (sprints) with continuous feedback loops, teams should first develop an idea and create a first prototype from it. This is then tested with initial user feedback, evaluated and then improved in a dynamic, iterative work cycle and finally realised. In this process, agile project management is to be controlled by self-organised teams in which the team members continuously exchange information about their work process without assuming certain pre-structured roles or areas of responsibility. The goal is to develop the end product (for example, a software application) together in a flat team structure.
For the practical implementation of agile working, different roles are distinguished in the Scrum approach, for example: The product owner is responsible for the product resulting from the work of the development team, while the scrum master supports the scrum team in implementing the agile method. In order to ensure close and agile collaboration between the participants, regular events and specific tools/artifacts are used: The sprint defines a work phase (usually: 4 weeks). Before the start of the sprint, the tasks planned for the sprint are defined in a sprint planning, and the sprint is concluded with a sprint review, in which the success of the sprint is checked and reflected upon. The tasks are coordinated via a Scrum board. In addition to the product backlog, which lists all the requirements planned for the end product, all the tasks planned for the respective sprint are documented in the sprint backlog. The members of the development team then distribute the tasks independently among themselves, “pull” the individual tasks independently from the Sprint Backlog and then file them as “done” on the Scrum Board after the task is completed. In order to coordinate and agree on the daily work, the development team meets daily in a short Daily Scrum. In addition to the Sprint Review, a Sprint Retrospective takes place after a Sprint, in which the collaboration in particular is reflected upon and optimisation proposals are developed. This procedure is intended to enable a self-organised distribution of work by the development team on the one hand and a flexible and transparent way of working on the other. 
Opportunities and threats
Especially due to the developments of new digital technologies, it is becoming increasingly necessary to be able to adapt and react to uncertainties and changes. For many companies, agile working methods therefore promise a hopeful answer to react to a fast-moving environment and remain competitive. Moreover, agile working methods are particularly attractive for companies where the end products of projects are not yet foreseeable and require a high level of creativity and flexibility. Thus, agile working approaches are now also increasingly found outside of software development (e.g. research and development, administration, etc.). ), approaches to agile working are becoming more common. However, the promises of agile work organisation are in a not unproblematic tension with the traditional work organisation established in companies. For example, it remains unclear whether and to what extent hierarchies can actually be reduced (especially in large companies), as these are often interwoven with traditions, routines and ingrained patterns of thought and action.
Although agile working is often linked to the promise of greater freedom for employees to work creatively and self-organised, various dangers are also seen in it. For example, it is pointed out that agile working methods could lead to an increase in emotional pressure, to a further dissolution of boundaries between work and private life, as well as to increased work intensity among employees.  In addition to the criticism of an increased workload, the concern is also expressed that the fragmentation of the work steps into small parts enables greater control of the employees. 
Whether agile working methods are perceived by the actors in practice as an opportunity for emancipated working or as a risk and burden depends decisively on whether and to what extent it is possible to actually enable empowerment in agile working teams, i.e. to realise them as self-organised and autonomous units.
Agile working at bidt
As an interdisciplinary research institute, bidt pursues an agile approach to research management. In joint bidt-wide sprint reviews, the internal projects and the consortium projects share their work progress since the last meeting and discuss interim results. Various projects within bidt also work with agile working methods, such as Scrum, on a day-to-day basis. In order to further sharpen bidt’s agile profile, the bidt-internal working group “agile research” is developing a common self-image and reflecting on which specifics need to be taken into account with regard to an agile work organisation in the context of science and research in order to identify and assess the potentials, but also possible difficulties for a practical approach to agile research.
The bidt-internal project “Ethics in agile software development” deals with the ethical aspects of software development and aims to enable a normatively desirable design of software systems. Agile methods such as Design Thinking and Scrum are extended by an ethical deliberation scheme. Software developers and decision-makers are thus supported in locating and evaluating ethical core issues and translating them into technical requirements.
Further links and literature
Practice-oriented introductions to agile working methods:
- Beck, K.; Beedle, M.; van Bennekum, A. et al. (2001). Manifesto for agile software development.
- Schwaber, K. (2004). Agile project management with Scrum. Redmond/Wash: Microsoft Press.
- Schwaber, K.; Sutherland (2017). Der Scrum Guide. Der gültige Leitfaden für Scrum: Die Spielregeln.
- Sutherland, J.; Coplien, J. O. (2019). A Scrum book. The Spirit of the Game. O’Reilly UK Ltd.
Scholarly exploration of agile working methods:
- Fujimoto, T. (1998). The Toyota System in the 1950s. In: Social Science Japan 12, S. 13–15.
- Boes, A.; Kämpf, T. (2019). Wie nachhaltig sind agile Arbeitsformen? In: Badura, B. et al. (Hg.): Fehlzeiten-Report 2019. Wiesbaden: Springer, S. 193–204.
- Boes, A.; Kämpf, T.; Langes, B. Lühr, T. (2018). »Lean« und »agil« im Büro. Neue Organisationskonzepte in der digitalen Transformation und ihre Folgen für die Angestellten. Bielefeld: Transcript.
- Hodgson D.; Briand, L. (2013). Controlling the uncontrollable: ‘Agile’ teams and illusions of autonomy in creative work. In: Work, Employment and Society 27(2), S. 308–325.
- Moore, P. (2018). Tracking affective labour for agility in the quantified workplace. In: Body & Society, 24(3), S. 39–67.
- Pfeiffer, S.; Ritter, T.; Sauer, S. (2015). Belastungsmanagement mit agilen Methoden? Eine arbeitssoziologische Perspektive. In: ver.di – Bereich Innovation und Gute Arbeit (Hg.): Gute Arbeit und Digitalisierung. Prozessanalysen und Gestaltungsperspektiven für eine humane digitale Arbeitswelt. Berlin, S. 80-89.
- Porschen-Hueck, S.; Jungtäubl, M.; Weihrich, M. (Hg.) (2020). Agilität? Herausforderungen neuer Konzepte der Selbstorganisation. Augsburg: Hampp.
- Wenten, K.-A. (2019). Controlling labor in makeathons. On the recuperation of emancipation in industrial labour processes. In: Meyer, U; Seibt, D; Schaupp, S. (Hg.): Digitalization in industries. Between domination and emancipation. London: Palgrave MacMillan, S. 153–177.
 Boes, A.; Kämpf, T.; Langes, B. Lühr, T. (2018). »Lean« und »agil« im Büro. Neue Organisationskonzepte in der digitalen Transformation und ihre Folgen für die Angestellten. Bielefeld: Transcript.
 Pfeiffer, S.; Ritter, T.; Sauer, S. (2015). Belastungsmanagement mit agilen Methoden? Eine arbeitssoziologische Perspektive. In: ver.di – Bereich Innovation und Gute Arbeit (Hg.): Gute Arbeit und Digitalisierung. Prozessanalysen und Gestaltungsperspektiven für eine humane digitale Arbeitswelt. Berlin, S. 80–89.
 Wenten, K.-A. (2019). Controlling labour in makeathons. On the recuperation of emancipation in industrial labour processes. In: Meyer, U; Seibt, D; Schaupp, S. (Eds.): Digitalization in industries. Between domination and emancipation. London: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 153-177.