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Breaking Down Agile Business Strategies

January 29, 2021 Knowledge and Findability
Jed Cawthorne
By Jed Cawthorne

As we head into the second calendar year of a major global pandemic, it's time to ask ourselves: what worked last year that we can carry forward and what other strategies will make us agile enough to handle future challenges?

While new technological developments are always around to help support our business strategies, the strategies themselves are often evergreen, with the innovation occurring in the way we implement those strategies.

According to the Agile Business Consortium, business agility involves an evolution of values, behaviors and capabilities. Agility increases a business's and individual's ability to be more adaptive, creative and resilient when dealing with complexity and uncertainty. According to the Agile Business Consortium, an agile business can:

  • Adapt quickly to market changes — both internally and externally.
  • Respond rapidly and flexibly to customer demands.
  • Adapt and lead change in a productive and cost effective way without compromising quality.
  • Continuously be at a competitive advantage.

A Simple Tool to Contemplate Complexity

If there's one thing the last year has shown us, it's that we need to be flexible and resilient.

When considering what our agile future looks like, we should retain our focus on the triumvirate of: people, process and technology. If we build a Venn diagram of these three major elements, the intersections between the factors can be labelled as required for our context, helping drive our specific focus. For example, the diagram below offers a simplified view of a knowledge management strategy (acknowledging the many missing facets): 

people, process and technology

Thinking in terms of the people, process and technology elements of any strategy you want to employ, and establishing the important elements that sit in the intersections, will help you better understand the potential impact of your strategies — both the benefits and pitfalls. It's a simple tool for unpacking complexity.

Related Article: Planning for What's Next? Remember People, Process and Technology

Strategic Initiative: Agile Knowledge Management 

Continuing with knowledge management as our example of a strategy that can help an organization stay agile moving forward, let's break it down between our three frameworks. (Keep in mind we are talking about KM as a strategy, not as a specific tool or a technology response):

People

HR professionals played a big part over the last year in supporting distributed workforces, helping people with no experience working remotely or working from home, as well as helping management overcome any misgivings they might harbor about the productivity levels of a highly distributed workforce. How do we support them moving forward? 

How do we apply technology and process factors as part of the KM strategy, to ensure people can access organizational knowledge when they can no longer easily ask the expert in the next cubicle or down the corridor? Learning and development is a key element of any KM strategy, and enables the change in values, behaviors and capabilities the agile business methodology requires.

Related Article: Applying Agile Practices to Business Is Harder Than it Looks

Process

Colleagues across every business unit adopted agile practices last year as they effected rapid changes which allowed business to continue. Agile business processes are key to generating competitive advantages at the best of times, but the ability to change rapidly and pivot is critical for business survival in tough times. What do agile processes look like from our knowledge management focus?

It has long been accepted that KM processes need to be built and deeply embedded into business processes, rather than running in parallel as stand-alone tasks. So how can you ensure your KM processes remain agile, and do not get in the way of agile business processes? Part of this is having clarity in your KM strategy as to what advantages you are seeking — whether it’s the creation of new knowledge, collaborative knowledge sharing, or access to existing knowledge as part of a business process. It might be all of the above, albeit at different stages within a single process flow. Describe how the management of knowledge assets will help your business remain flexible and generate value within your context. Define KPIs and metrics, then design and embed them deeply into your business work flows. Avoid adding any additional KM tasks that turn into “KM for KM’s sake.”

Related Article: The State of Knowledge Management in 2020

Technology

Vendors may claim to sell a  "knowledge management system," but in truth, any technology or software that helps support the people and process elements of an agile KM strategy can have a positive impact. Social intranets, audio and video conferencing, chat based collaboration solutions all fall under this umbrella. However, so too do specialist line of business applications, such as HR platforms, learning and development apps like a learning management system, and more.

As always, your industry segment, the size of your workforce, and other business-specific contextual drivers will guide your technology focus. Certain broad trends are also worth investigating, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and the potential benefits automating simple process elements could bring.

Prepare for the Curveballs We Hope Won't Arrive

As we look to the year ahead (and hope for no more curveballs!) we should continue to explore the agile business strategies that will build organizational resilience. Knowledge management is just one such example — what strategies will you explore?

About the Author

Jed Cawthorne is Director, Security & Governance Solutions at NetDocuments. He is involved in product management and working with customers to make NetDocuments phenomenally successful products even more so.

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