Computer Science and Engineering, Department of


Date of this Version



C. Stevens, J. Soundy, and H. Chan, "Exploring the efficiency of self-organizing software teams with game theory", 2021 43rd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Software Engineering, New Ideas and Emerging Results Track (ICSE NIER '21), Virtual Event, 2021


Over the last two decades, software development has moved away from centralized, plan-based management toward agile methodologies such as Scrum. Agile methodologies are founded on a shared set of core principles, including self-organizing software development teams. Such teams are promoted as a way to increase both developer productivity and team morale, which is echoed by academic research. However, recent works on agile neglect to consider strategic behavior among developers, particularly during task assignment–one of the primary functions of a self-organizing team. This paper argues that self-organizing software teams could be readily modeled using game theory, providing insight into how agile developers may act when behaving strategically. We support our argument by presenting a general model for self-assignment of development tasks based on and extending concepts drawn from established game theory research. We further introduce the software engineering community to two metrics drawn from game theory—the price-of-stability and price-of-anarchy—which can be used to gauge the efficiencies of self-organizing teams compared to centralized management. We demonstrate how these metrics can be used in a case study evaluating the hypothesis that smaller teams self-organize more efficiently than larger teams, with conditional support for that hypothesis. Our game-theoretic framework provides new perspective for the software engineering community, opening many avenues for future research.