Systems & complexityTaking knowledge management to the next level

Applying an agile approach to strategy [RealKM Connect introductory series]

This is part 6 of a series of articles presenting key points from Stephen Bounds’ presentation1 to a RealKM Connect introductory seminar in November 20162.

The Agile Manifesto for software development, written in 2001 by 17 all-male software developers, laid the foundation for an approach not just to software development but to management ‘think’. The Manifesto deliberately weighted its emphasis to the left in the value statements below, stating that “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more”:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan.

The Manifesto cleverly inverted the logic of the left brain – right brain paradigm.

Applying agile thinking to strategy in an organisation needs to start with a common understanding and agreement about the approach being taken. As in any successful initiative, visibility at a top level is needed to ensure that the strategy matches the organisational purpose. The planning needs to be transparent and it should flow through the organisation without involving every area of the organisation.

In competitive internal environments where projects compete for budgets and internal resources, how do managers avoid the inevitable fighting over deciding the most important projects to action? A more focused approach might help, so, instead of signing off on 20 projects, the focus might be on delivering three successfully. The aim is to get everyone pulling in the one direction, rather than having every single section manager trying to progress their own projects and annual goals independently of each other:

Managers who wish to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their organisation should first get their own primary responsibility in order: to make decisions and execute them with minimum overhead.

Indeed, managers must accept that without an effective decision-making process, the morale problems and political infighting which may occur on their watch are very likely to be a result of their failure to effectively handle the costs of multitasking through implementation of an agile decision-making approach.

If you build in a system whereby priorities and principles are understood up front, you can empower people to make the right decisions further down the chain. If the priorities change the micro decisions should be relevant to the macro decisions.


  1. Stephen Bounds is the Director and Principal Consultant at KnowQuestion, publisher of RealKM Magazine.
  2. For a copy of the transcript please contact Amanda Surrey.
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Amanda Surrey

Amanda Surrey is facilitator of RealKM Connect. She is a strategic knowledge management professional with extensive experience in global business environments, including BHP Billiton where she worked for the past 14 years. Amanda has planned, managed and executed innovative knowledge management solutions that have enhanced workforce intelligence and overall organisational competitiveness. She holds post graduate qualifications in information management, and a Master of Arts.

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