ABCs of KMAgile decision-making

Putting agile management decision-making into practice

This is the final part (part 6) of a series of articles on modelling and enhancing how decision-making occurs in an organisational context.

In today’s complex world, linear execution of tasks is rarely the norm. Rather than focusing on annual plans and three-year strategies, the lean concept of just-in-time planning and design allows management groups to adapt to changing circumstances with minimum wasted effort by:

  • using a principles-based approach to prioritisation and planning
  • focusing on completing immediate priorities, and
  • empowering teams to be self-managing within the priority framework.

The key change is to establish and disseminate a clear and unambiguous list of priorities for work to be done next, keeping it continually updated, and making it publically available. This is a straightforward task when done with some simple guidelines but ironically enough, it is often seen as ‘too much work’ despite the escalating productivity costs of failing to handle multitasking overhead.

Having an agreed order of organisational priorities allows pre-emption of tasks that are less strategically important to the organisation when resource conflicts occur with a minimum of overhead.

This also reduces the incentive for managers to focus only on tasks they are directly assigned, since the question then becomes not ‘why is your assigned task not complete?’ but ‘why is your effort being put into a less important task?’. Prioritisation provides a strong incentive for collaborative effort, since if an area can be identified as being the reason why a high-priority area has not been completed, it adds a level of accountability that is difficult to avoid. Additionally, making priorities transparent makes it possible to argue the relative merits of an initiative with less possibility of behind the scenes sabotage occurring.

Having a strongly-enforced list of priorities does carry one risk, however. If overzealous managers continuously re-order priorities, then the overhead of context switching rises rapidly. Changing of focus from task A to an unexpectedly higher priority task B before task A is completed is inefficient and frustrating for team members.

To avoid this problem, managers must self-regulate their behaviour and only switch the priorities of team members if:

  • their previous task is finished
  • at pre-specified intervals (e.g. every four weeks), and/or
  • for a genuine emergency.

The language and techniques of Scrum can be applied to this agile management decision-making process, but there are many ways to set up structures that support this outcome.

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.


Also published on Medium.

Stephen Bounds

Stephen Bounds is an Information and Knowledge Management Specialist with a wide range of experience across the government and private sectors. As founding editor of RealKM and Executive, Information Management at Cordelta, Stephen provides clear strategic thinking along with a hands-on approach to help organisations successfully develop and implement modern information systems.

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