7 . Can Agile Get Along With Knowledge Management?

Agile is much more than a series of ceremonies. Knowledge Management is much more than sharing documents. I wonder if there is room for a date.

Library Books Can Agile get along with Knowledge Management?


There is a boundary between Agile and Knowledge Management. Is it a porous boundary that serves as an opportunity to work together? Is it a thick boundary that serves as a barrier? This article intends to explore the boundary between Agile and KM to briefly offer perspectives and speculations of how Agile and Knowledge Management might learn and develop together.

By John Hovell

Let’s remind ourselves of the basics of the Agile Manifesto for a moment:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

Due to longstanding confusion, let’s start with what Knowledge Management is not. KM is not Information Management. As a reminder, information is content that has been written down in some way (more specifically, it is data that is “in formation”). As you know, information can be found in documents, databases, websites, and anywhere where you are seeing, hearing, or touching data with context.

In Knowledge Management it can be a bit confusing because we like to call information by another name, we like to call it explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is information. Tacit knowledge is something different (let’s not even get into implicit knowledge). Tacit knowledge is all the knowledge that can’t be written down, some people like to call it embodied knowledge.

Examples of tacit knowledge include how to ride a bike, how to bake a cake, how to tie your shoes, how to find a sale price, how to hit a baseball, and many more. In each of those examples, you could find information, for example, you could watch a video, you could read a book, you could listen to an expert. There is some nuanced, hard-to-describe difference between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. There is something about baking a cake that can’t quite be written down.

KM is working to optimize the flow of both explicit and tacit knowledge. This is because knowledge often gets stuck in organizations. It gets stuck in an individual’s head, it gets stuck in teams, it gets stuck in organizations, it gets stuck across organizations, industries, communities, and nations. In other words, to now slightly correct the first few sentences of this paragraph, KM augments Information Management by placing a heavy value on intangible, tacit knowledge that can’t quite be documented. What happens to all that expertise, experience, know-how, and capability if it’s “left up to chance”?

Past and the Present

Let us consider how the Manifesto was created.

Almost exactly 20 years ago in February 2001, 17 experts got together for 3 days. A wiki was created, but more importantly, they engaged in “raging discussions”. Fundamentally, the discussions were brainstorms for a “better way to build software”. Building upon their experience, they started with a blank sheet of paper, self-organized themselves, convened conversations about ideas, pulled everything together, and went back to their workplaces with those co-created ideas.

Can Agile get along with Knowledge Management? Church

Over time, without having a particular intention, their explicit knowledge became an impactful document for people in the field of software development. Now, agile has even grown beyond software development into “any project”.  Agile has become a “way of being/practicing”. If you didn’t know better, you might say those 17 experts leveraged Knowledge Management techniques to get the manifesto started.

Let’s take a look at the Agile principles.

In an over-simplified way, the Agile principles have to do with:

  • Customer focus
  • Iteration
  • Working software
  • Collaboration and motivation
  • Sustainable
  • Technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity
  • Self-organization
  • Learning, reflection, adjustments, effective teamwork

KM would comment on customer focus and offer “all stakeholder focus”. There are often multiple key stakeholders and KM techniques can collaboratively involve them. KM has been iterating as a discipline since 1995. The field started with a focus on “increasing individual productivity”, then added complexity with “increasing team productivity”, continued to add “organizational learning through collective intelligence”, and it hasn’t stopped there.

Today, KM is focused on decision-making, sense-making, meaning-making, stimulating innovation (often known as knowledge creation), and making scarce expertise widely available.

KM is now trying to determine if it will continue to add complexity to its practice by focusing on network-based learning (e.g. learning and development across organizations/nations) or if it might focus on conversation. As simple as may sound, KM is considering that “conversation” may be the link across people/culture, process, and technology/content. Have deep conversational skills been vastly under-practiced, under-utilized, under-realized, and taken for granted for all these years? Isn’t this quite similar to the agile principles of collaboration, motivation, sustainability, simplicity, self-organization, and learning?

White Library Can Agile get along with Knowledge Management?

Unfortunately, the reputation of KM, and most of the KM job postings around the world, are information management roles. There tends to be more interest and funding for tangible, visible information flow as opposed to intangible, hard-to-measure, hard-to-understand, knowledge flow.

KM has many cultural aspects, process aspects, and technology aspects. Although technology enables the process, and the process enables the culture, it is the technology that typically receives priority and funding. KM has dozens of specific techniques, methodologies, approaches for culture awareness/change, process improvement, and technology advancement. You could almost say that KM is a way of being, a mindset, a way of working.

Doesn’t this remind you of Agile? I understand that Agile aspires to be broader than “a series of ceremonies”. We hear the pushback about Agile ceremonies. Quotes such as “I’m very busy, I know there’s value in the ceremonies, but this sounds like a lot of time, can’t we simply get the job done, I’m sorry I have other meetings right now”.

Let alone the age-old insult of “isn’t agile just a way of quickly writing code without comments?”

Agile is more of a way of being, a mindset, a way of working, rather than only a process of prescripted ceremonies. Agile is broader than the management of software development projects, KM is broader than sharing documents and lessons learned databases.

How could the partnership between agile and KM work?


Agile is looking to shift cultures from linear, hierarchical monoliths to iterative, self-organizing, need-responsive ecosystems. KM is looking to shift cultures from information/knowledge hoarding, knowledge is power, expertise/decision bottlenecks to unique and critical knowledge created/available in the moment/context it is needed.

Agile is looking to increase process efficacy by implementing well-known, well-tested processes. KM is looking to increase process efficacy by implementing KM processes such as communities of practice, talent markets, knowledge markets, even random coffee trials.

Agile uses software tools to document, communicate, and share progress. KM uses SharePoint, and every technology listed at superpowers and conversation prism to create new knowledge, share retain, and transfer knowledge, store, organize, apply, and evaluate knowledge. Both disciplines are looking to stimulate innovation, reduce feedback loops, and include people along the way.

Liberating Structures has emerged as a field related to both Agile and Knowledge Management. There are 35 well-defined and practiced processes within liberating structures. In addition to liberating structures (such as knowledge café, TRIZ, 1-2-4-all, etc.), I hear Communities of Practice and other KM practices being considered in agile discussions.

I wonder if Agile and KM intentionally converged and diverged, might an innovative set of culture, process, and technology emerge? How porous and intentional is the boundary between agile and KM for you, your teams, your organization, and your networks?

I wonder what would happen if Agile and Knowledge Management quite purposefully partnered together.


  • Agile is much more than a series of ceremonies; KM is much more than sharing documents.
  • KM is often confused with IM (Information Management), where KM leverages explicit and tacit knowledge.
  • The Agile principles have beautiful overlap with KM principles.
  • The Agile Manifesto might have been written using a KM mindset.
  • Imagine if Agile and KM quite purposefully partnered together.

I am John Hovell and these are my agile-thoughts

2021 © Washington, DC, USA by John Hovell

John Hovell Author agile-thoughts

CEO and co-founder of STRATactical.  Corporate lead for the award-winning annual STEMmerday event, where thousands of participants engage in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math related learning activities.

Practitioner, speaker, and author in Organizational Development and Knowledge Management strategies (OD/KM) and their application to current challenges.

Conversational Leadership is more than a hobby –it is a passion.

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