Flat and Egalitarian? Evaluating Worker Hierarchies in Software Companies
The common view in the organizations literature is that, in the new economy, traditional worker hierarchies have now been replaced by flat, team-based arrangements. However, there have been few empirical studies that have tested this phenomenon. This paper seeks to fill this gap in the literature by evaluating the worker hierarchies of small and medium-sized software companies. By drawing on 61 in-depth interviews with workers and managers at 31 software companies, I assess several dimensions of organizational hierarchy. I found that worker hierarchies do not match our conceptions of traditional bureaucratic models, but formal hierarchies do remain, albeit with fewer layers. Management has relinquished decision-making on high-level decisions, while workers have gained more decision-making in production-level decisions and autonomy. I also outline the characteristics of new project-based hierarchies, which are more flexible worker hierarchies in which supervisory and managerial roles are fluid and fluctuating from one project to another.
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Theory and Research Questions
Ahmet Applebaum Barley and Kunda based hierarchies capitalist chain of command coding company’s computing culture concepts conceptual inversion creative class cyberculture decisions Workers dedicated and project-based dedicated hierarchies delayering devolved to workers different projects ethnography Ezzamel and Willmott flattened focus focused Fordist formal positions grounded theory hacker ethic hackers hierarchical forms hierarchical structures hierarchy in software high-level decisions Himanen hiring identified ideology input interests interface knowledge economy labor power levels literature managerial hierarchies number of layers organizational hierarchy organizational structure participation Paul Dean Product Development production-level decisions programmers project to project project-based hierarchies promoted Question Rajan and Wulf reconfigurable relationships responsibilities restructuring role Salih search terms setting deadlines software companies software development software firms software products specific tacit knowledge task assignments Team Lead position Technical Lead themes there’s Thom titles traditional bureaucracies vertical mobility VP of Product Woodfield 2000 workers and managers workplace workplace democracies