Academic Awards 2022: Konsta Kantola
Konsta Kantola recently earned one of Agile Finland’s three Academic Awards 2022 for the high level of academic rigour in his Master’s thesis “Mind the Product Owner: An Action Research Project into Agile Release Planning”. The research also formed the basis of an article that was published in the Information and Software Technology journal last summer. In his daily work as a Scrum Master and Agile coach, he tries to keep a similar level of rigour.
Your thesis touches on product ownership and release planning in a very practical way. Would you mind explaining how you came up with this topic?
At Accountor Finago Oy we have approximately a dozen agile teams that collaborate to create releases. As I was looking around for a topic for my thesis, we started discussing release planning from a work management perspective. We couldn’t find anything applicable in that area, so I simply decided to start researching the topic myself. The Product Owner role entered the picture later as I started to narrow down the topic.
In your thesis, you managed to maintain a level of academic rigour that far exceeds the normal expectations on a Master’s thesis. How did you achieve that?
Most case studies seem to end up collecting dust on a shelf. I wanted instead to do something that would also be useful for others, some solid research that would be easy to present and motivate at work. I also wanted to keep an open mind towards different outcomes. Those were perhaps the primary drivers.
I managed to find good research methods — grounded theory and affinity diagrams — that supported this kind of work. As an added bonus, the methods also kind of triangulated each other. During the thesis work, I was able to collect a good amount of materials and interviews, which no doubt helped create more perspectives.
What were the results or your research? What can other companies take away?
Practically, we started running a weekly Scrum of Scrums for the PO:s, to help share knowledge and handle impediments in a timely manner. We also started a monthly retro for the PO:s to start changing the ways of working in the company. It was nice to see that these were seen as valuable and meaningful by the PO:s, and brought concrete positive effects rather than being seen as an added burden. It may have helped that this was a small group of people. These direct results are difficult to generalise, but to some extent they may still be useful for other similar organisations.
What might be even more useful is action research as a method or approach. It’s not very common in the software industry and could be used more extensively for example in retrospectives. Action research doesn’t give quick results, as it requires time and effort. On the upside, it gives some structure to the work, and also bridges practice and theory very nicely.
What are your plans for the future? Are you aiming for an academic career?
After graduating I started working as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach and that’s what I’m interested in right now. There’s been some discussions about applying for post-graduate studies, but nothing concrete yet. We’ll see what happens!
Konsta Kantola will give a short presentation at ScanAgile 2023 together with the other two winners of the Agile Finland Academic Awards. His thesis can be found at: https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/102444/master_Kantola_Konsta_2021.pdf and his first article at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.infsof.2022.106900