What drives and sustains self-assignment in agile teams

Zainab Masood, Rashina Hoda, Kelly Blincoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Self-assignment, where software developers choose their own tasks, is a common practice in agile teams. However, it is not known why developers select certain tasks. It is important for managers to be aware of these reasons to ensure sustainable self-assignment practices. We investigated developers preferences while they are choosing tasks for themselves. We collected data from 42 participants working in 37 different software companies. We applied Grounded Theory procedures to study and analyze factors for self-assigning tasks, which we grouped into three categories: task-based, developer-based, and opinion-based. We found that developers have individual preferences and not all factors are important to every developer. Managers share some common and varying perspectives around the identified factors. Most managers want developers to give higher priority to certain factors. Developers often need to balance between task priority and their own individual preferences, and managers facilitate this through a variety of strategies. More risk-adverse managers encourage expertise-based self-assignment to ensure tasks are completed quickly. Managers who are risk-balancers encourage developers to choose tasks that provide learning opportunities only when there is little risk of delays or reduced quality. Finally, growth-seeker managers regularly encourage team members to pick tasks outside their comfort zone to encourage growth opportunities. Our findings will help managers to understand what developers consider when self-assigning tasks and help them empower their teams to practice self-assignment in a sustainable manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3626-3639
Number of pages14
JournalIEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • agile teams
  • Business
  • Companies
  • Interviews
  • Lead
  • Resource management
  • Self-assignment
  • self-assignment factors
  • Software
  • task allocation
  • Task analysis

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