Potentials and Barriers of Agility in Small and Medi-um Sized Enterprises

Insights From Qualitative Research in Germany





Agile Management, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, Qualitative Research, Potential and Barriers


Our explorative, qualitative study uncovers the dynamic processes of agility unleashing or inhibiting potentials within German small and medium sized enterprises through the lens of digitization. Based on an analysis of 22 interviews, we propose a conceptual model, which illuminates antecedents and external determinants of agility and their impact on potentials and performance in organizational settings. In this process we determine digitization both as an external driver and as an internal provider of agility. Resource constraints and traditional leadership styles are SME-specific barriers to agility. How extensively the potentials of agility can be utilized dependents on the moderating factors firm size and department.


Download data is not yet available.


Bennett N, Lemoine J. What vuca really means for you. Harvard Business Review, 2014.

Economic Policy Uncertainty Index. Global economic policy uncertainty index. http://www.policyuncertainty.com/global_monthly.html. Accessed 2021 May 5.

Kaim R, Härting RC, Reichstein C. Benefits of Agile Project Management in an Environment of Increasing Complexity—A Transaction Cost Analysis. Smart Innovation, Systems and Technologies, vol 143. Intelligent Decision Technologies 2019. 2019 Jun. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-8303-8_17

Dyfed L. Viele Kleinstunternehmen in der EU. https://de.statista.com/infografik/9755/unternehmenslandschaft-in-der-eu/. Accessed 2020 July 10.

United States Census Bureau. Business Dynamics Statistics. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/bds.html. Accessed 2014.

The Leader. In: Hidden Champions of the Twenty-First Century.. New York, NY: Springer; 2009. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-98147-5_10

Dibrell C, Davis PS, Craig J. Fueling Innovation through Information Technology in SMEs. Journal of Small Business Management. 2008 04;46(2):203-218. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-627x.2008.00240.x

Li L, Su F, Zhang W, Mao J. Digital transformation by SME entrepreneurs: A capability perspective. Information Systems Journal. 2017 06 20;28(6):1129-1157. https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12153

Argote L, Ingram P. Knowledge Transfer: A Basis for Competitive Advantage in Firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 2000 05;82(1):150-169. https://doi.org/10.1006/obhd.2000.2893

Audretsch DB, Lehmann EE, Schenkenhofer J. Internationalization strategies of hidden champions: lessons from Germany. Multinational Business Review. 2018 04 16;26(1):2-24. https://doi.org/10.1108/mbr-01-2018-0006

Chan CM, Teoh SY, Yeow A, Pan G. Agility in responding to disruptive digital innovation: Case study of an SME. Information Systems Journal. 2018 08 09;29(2):436-455. https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12215

Eriksson P, Kovalainen A. Qualitative Methods in Business Research . Second Edition. 2015.

Tallon PP, Queiroz M, Coltman T, Sharma R. Information technology and the search for organizational agility: A systematic review with future research possibilities. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems. 2019 06;28(2):218-237. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsis.2018.12.002

Burns T, Stalker M. The management of innovation. London: Tavistock Publications; 1961.

Nagel RN. 21ST Century Manufacturing Enterprise Strategy Report. Defense Technical Information Center; 1992 01. https://doi.org/10.21236/ada257032

Manifesto for Agile Software Development. https://agilemanifesto.org/. Accessed 2001.

Overby E, Bharadwaj A, Sambamurthy V. Enterprise agility and the enabling role of information technology. European Journal of Information Systems. 2006 04;15(2):120-131. https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000600

Conboy K. Agility from First Principles: Reconstructing the Concept of Agility in Information Systems Development. Information Systems Research. 2009 09;20(3):329-354. https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.1090.0236

Batra D. The Impact of the COVID-19 on Organizational and Information Systems Agility. Information Systems Management. 2020 Oct 01;37(4):361-365. https://doi.org/10.1080/10580530.2020.1821843

Lindner D, Leyh C. Organizations in Transformation: Agility as Consequence or Prerequisite of Digitization?. Business Information Systems. Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing, vol 320. BIS 2018.. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93931-5_7

Sambamurthy, Bharadwaj, Grover. Shaping Agility through Digital Options: Reconceptualizing the Role of Information Technology in Contemporary Firms. MIS Quarterly. 2003;27(2):237. https://doi.org/10.2307/30036530

Leonhardt D, Mandrella M, Kolbe LM. Diving into the Relationship of Information Technology and Organizational Agility: A Meta-Analysis. International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS). 2016.

Teece D, Peteraf M, Leih S. Dynamic Capabilities and Organizational Agility: Risk, Uncertainty, and Strategy in the Innovation Economy. California Management Review. 2016 08;58(4):13-35. https://doi.org/10.1525/cmr.2016.58.4.13

Raisch S, Birkinshaw J, Probst G, Tushman ML. Organizational Ambidexterity: Balancing Exploitation and Exploration for Sustained Performance. Organization Science. 2009 08;20(4):685-695. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1090.0428

Lu, K. (Ram) Ramamurthy. Understanding the Link Between Information Technology Capability and Organizational Agility: An Empirical Examination. MIS Quarterly. 2011;35(4):931. https://doi.org/10.2307/41409967

O'Reilly CA, Tushman ML. Organizational Ambidexterity: Past, Present, and Future. Academy of Management Perspectives. 2013 Nov;27(4):324-338. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2013.0025

Rehm S, Goel L. Using information systems to achieve complementarity in SME innovation networks. Information & Management. 2017 06;54(4):438-451. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2016.10.003

Hite JM. Evolutionary Processes and Paths of Relationally Embedded Network Ties in Emerging Entrepreneurial Firms. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. 2005 01;29(1):113-144. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6520.2005.00072.x

Smith-Doerr L, Powell W. Networks and Economic Life. In: Smelser NJ, Swedberg WW, eds. The Handbook of Economic Sociology. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 1994.

Neirotti P, Raguseo E. On the contingent value of IT-based capabilities for the competitive advantage of SMEs: Mechanisms and empirical evidence. Information & Management. 2017 03;54(2):139-153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2016.05.004

Goel S, Jones RJ. Entrepreneurial Exploration and Exploitation in Family Business. Family Business Review. 2016 01 28;29(1):94-120. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894486515625541

Leonhardt D, Haffke I, Kranz J, Benlian A. Reinventing the it function: the role of it agility and it ambidexterity in supporting digital business transformation. European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS). 2017, 968.

Lee O(, Sambamurthy V, Lim KH, Wei KK. How Does IT Ambidexterity Impact Organizational Agility?. Information Systems Research. 2015 06;26(2):398-417. https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2015.0577

Zhou J, Bi G, Liu H, Fang Y, Hua Z. Understanding employee competence, operational IS alignment, and organizational agility – An ambidexterity perspective. Information & Management. 2018 09;55(6):695-708. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2018.02.002

Lubatkin MH, Simsek Z, Ling Y, Veiga JF. Ambidexterity and Performance in Small-to Medium-Sized Firms: The Pivotal Role of Top Management Team Behavioral Integration. Journal of Management. 2006 Oct;32(5):646-672. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206306290712

Hoyer V, Stanoevska-Slabeva K. IT impacts on operation-level agility in service industries. European Conference on Information Systems. 2009, 111.

Cao Q, Gedajlovic E, Zhang H. Unpacking Organizational Ambidexterity: Dimensions, Contingencies, and Synergistic Effects. Organization Science. 2009 08;20(4):781-796. https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1090.0426

Held H. KMU- und Start-up-Management. Kohlhammer; 2019.

Venohr B, Meyer KE. The German Miracle Keeps Running: How Germany's Hidden Champions Stay Ahead in the Global Economy. SSRN Electronic Journal. 2007;. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.991964

KFW. Mittelstand ist der Motor der deutschen Wirtschaft. www.kfw.de/KfW-Konzern/ KfW-Research/Mittelstand.html. Accessed 2020 June 10.

Hofstede Insights. What about Germany?. www.hofstede-insights.com/ country-comparison/germany. Accessed 2020 July 10.

Nemkova E. The impact of agility on the market performance of born-global firms: An exploratory study of the ‘Tech City’ innovation cluster. Journal of Business Research. 2017 Nov;80:257-265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2017.04.017

Clark D. Gross domestic product at current market prices of selected European countries in 2018. https://www.statista.com/statistics/685925/gdp-of-european-countries/. Accessed 2020 June 15.

Eisenhardt KM. Building Theories from Case Study Research. Academy of Management Review. 1989 Oct;14(4):532-550. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.1989.4308385

Rubin HJ, Rubin IS. Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data. SAGE Publications, Inc; 2011.

Gnyawali DR, Park B(. Co-opetition and Technological Innovation in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: A Multilevel Conceptual Model. Journal of Small Business Management. 2009 07;47(3):308-330. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-627x.2009.00273.x

Lee TW. Using qualitative methods in organizational research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications; 1999.

Hollensbe EC, Khazanchi S, Masterson SS. How Do I Assess If My Supervisor and Organization are Fair? Identifying The Rules Underlying Entity-Based Justice Perceptions. Academy of Management Journal. 2008 Dec;51(6):1099-1116. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2008.35732600

Myers MD. Qualitative Research in Business and Management. 3rd edition. ‎SAGE Publications Ltd; 2019.

Locke K. Grounded Theory in Management Research. SAGE Publications Ltd; (SAGE series in Management Research) 2001.

Glaser BG, Strauss AL, Strutzel E. The Discovery of Grounded Theory; Strategies for Qualitative Research. Nursing Research. 1968 07;17(4):364. https://doi.org/10.1097/00006199-196807000-00014

Warner KS, Wäger M. Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long Range Planning. 2019 06;52(3):326-349. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2018.12.001

Conforto EC, Salum F, Amaral DC, da Silva SL, de Almeida LFM. Can Agile Project Management be Adopted by Industries Other than Software Development?. Project Management Journal. 2014 06;45(3):21-34. https://doi.org/10.1002/pmj.21410

Arbussa A, Bikfalvi A, Marquès P. Strategic agility-driven business model renewal: the case of an SME. Management Decision. 2017 03 20;55(2):271-293. http://doi.org/10.1108/md-05-2016-0355

Nold H, Michel L. The performance triangle: a model for corporate agility. Leadership & Organization Development Journal. 2016 05 03;37(3):341-356. https://doi.org/10.1108/lodj-07-2014-0123

Sharifi H, Zhang Z. A methodology for achieving agility in manufacturing organisations: An introduction. International Journal of Production Economics. 1999 05;62(1-2):7-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0925-5273(98)00217-5