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Knowledge Sharing in a Large Agile Organisation
Knowledge Sharing in a Large Agile Organisation

In This White Paper

May 2018 | Agile Research Network | Agile Transformation

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Knowledge sharing is the process of transferring information, skills or understanding between people and organisations.

Created by the Agile Research Network

Knowledge Sharing in a Large Agile Organisation


Summary

Knowledge sharing is the process of transferring information, skills or understanding between people and organisations. Crucially, it contributes towards organisational learning - Agile organisations rely on knowledge as a core resource that underpins all products and services.

This paper presents the results of a survey on organisational knowledge sharing in an Agile context and offers recommendations for knowledge sharing based on suggestions from literature. The survey was organised by the Agile Research Network (ARN) and was conducted in a multinational company operating in the UK, USA and India. The company are already a learning organisation but they want to continually improve, therefore choosing to concentrate on knowledge sharing in order to understand what is working and what needs improvement. The aim of the survey was to understand and identify how knowledge sharing currently takes place in the company, focussing on three aspects of knowledge sharing: within Agile teams, beyond the team with company colleagues, and with customers. It concentrated on knowledge sharing practices, ease of knowledge sharing and motivation for knowledge sharing.

81 employees completed the survey, the majority being software developers. The following list summarises the main findings:

  • Informal discussions are the most common way of sharing knowledge within project teams and with company colleagues
  • Meetings are the most common way of sharing knowledge with the customer
  • Knowledge sharing is easier within project teams than with company colleagues or customers
  • Staff are motivated to share knowledge because they want to rather than because the company asks them to
  • The more Agile practices staff use, the easier they find knowledge sharing with team members
  • The more Agile practices staff use, the more frequently they share knowledge within teams and with customers

We suggest the following for improving organisational knowledge sharing:

  • Enable a knowledge sharing culture with flat management organisation, trust, respect and rewards for sharing
  • Balance the use of technology, processes, expertise networks and physical space in knowledge sharing
  • Build on existing successful knowledge sharing networks, both official and unofficial
  • Create efficient and successful mechanisms for knowledge sharing beyond the team with management, peers and different specialists

Introduction

Knowledge is awareness or understanding of something such as information or skills. Knowledge has value only when it is applied, and the value of knowledge often increases when shared. Organizational knowledge sharing aims to transfer to the organization information, skills and experience gained by a person. This is essential for sustaining the development of quality in software intensive companies. Knowledge is the core resource for Agile development companies that is transformed to products and services in the development process. Moreover, Biao-wen claims that the software industry requires more knowledge management than any other sector.

Knowledge sharing contributes towards putting knowledge into practice in various ways and towards creating new knowledge, i.e. organisational learning. It is a core practice for continuous improvement and innovation. It helps to increase organisational success, enhances creativity, and optimises learning. Knowledge can be tacit (personal, context specific) or explicit (transmittable in formal, systematic language). The two main strategies for knowledge sharing are codification and personalisation. The first systematises and stores information (people-to-documents) the second relies on information exchanges in the company (people-to-people).

Agile methods facilitate knowledge sharing in the team but offer limited support for knowledge sharing outside the team. Agile methods tend to support tacit knowledge shared informally using face-to-face communication (personalisation strategy) in contrast to traditional knowledge management practices. This can present challenges for organisations where Agile methods are only used for IT development. On the other hand, the lack of knowledge sharing practices beyond the team can hinder organizational learning and impair sustaining organizational knowledge in Agile organisations.

Four main factors can endanger the permanence of sufficient organizational knowledge.

  1. an organization might not be able to attract a knowledgeable workforce.
  2. knowledge can be lost via high turnover rates and retirement.
  3. the pace of technology change can outstrip the time developers have to update their knowledge.

Knowledge hoarding might happen due to interpersonal issues but often it is a cultural problem if the organization has not built a knowledge sharing climate.

It can endanger development quality and even the company’s ability to compete with rivals if developers cannot keep their technological knowledge current.

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