Agile, the trendy software development model, has created challenges for people looking to capture institutional knowledge, according to some knowledge management (KM) experts.

Agile development, with its emphasis on building a product instead of extensively planning it, tends to discount the value of “binders full of documents,” said Jade Bloom, chief flow officer at PraxisFlow, an IT management consultancy.

Converts to agile development see process as “slowing down production,” Bloom said today at the KMWorld conference in Washington, D.C.

Agile’s focus on continuous change comes from the idea that, “the customer doesn’t know what they want until they see the thing,” he said.

'Stubs of Ideas'

It’s possible to incorporate knowledge management concepts into the agile development approach, but it’s a different kind of knowledge capture than in a more traditional project management model, Bloom said.

“There’s this idea that when you start developing knowledge, it rots,” he said. “It doesn’t stay around.”

So instead of heavy documentation, agile development teams create what he called “user stories — literally stubs of ideas, and linking these stubs together into a coherent narrative.”

Tied to the constant change embraced in agile development is complexity theory, an idea suggesting the past isn’t always a guide for the future actions of people or organizations.

Complexity theory may be the next big emphasis in knowledge management, said KM expert Dave Snowden, chief scientific officer of Cognitive Edge, a consulting company focused on complexity theory.

Learning Opportunities

Complexity theory is “the science of uncertainty,” Snowden said. “It’s the science of dealing with systems that only what can be known in the present, in which the future is inherently unpredictable.”

In an ordered system, you can predict the future based on the past, but “in a complex system, the same thing will never happen the same way twice, except by accident,” Snowden added.

Complexity theory has major implications for knowledge management and for the development of best practices, Snowden said. Best practices “are exactly the wrong thing to do, because it basically over-structures the approach and it lacks the ability to vary dynamically and quickly adjust.”

Focus on Person-to-Person

Snowden urged KMWorld attendees to focus more on person-to-person interaction as a source of knowledge, and to figure out how to capture those conversations, rather than create complex KM processes.

Organizations should invest in what he called “human sensors,” who can help describe current conditions and point the direction forward.

“Knowledge exists more in the gaps between things, rather than the things themselves,” he said. “More knowledge is created in social interaction than can ever be found in a database.”

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Title image by JoeLodge