Knowledge Sharing in a Large Agile Organisation: A Survey Study – Kati Kuusinen

Modern software development methodologies, especially agile ones, concentrate on communication and knowledge sharing. In scope is especially knowledge sharing within the team and between the team and the customer. But what about knowledge sharing across the organisation? Kati Kuusinen shares with us at XPConf what she and her colleagues know based on their research.

To explore knowledge sharing in larger (agile) organisations, they conducted a survey aiming at answering following questions:

  1. How is knowledge shared in the organisation?
  2. What motivates knowledge sharing in the organisation?
  3. Is there a relation between agility and ease of knowledge sharing?
  4. Is there a relation between frequency of knowledge sharing activities and ease of knowledge sharing?

In total, they surveyed 81 employees from an organisation on knowledge sharing practices, motivators for knowledge sharing, and the ease of knowledge sharing with a particular focus on developers.

Interestingly, the motivations for the different knowledge sharing activities were mostly of intrinsic nature while the respondents rejected the idea that developers foster knowledge sharing because it is expected by their project lead. As expected (and therefore worth reporting) is that the perceived ease of knowledge sharing tends to decrease the more organisational barriers exist. That is, while knowledge sharing was rated to be easy within the team, it was rated to be difficult between the team and the customer. As a side-note: Ever heard of the gate keeping theory? It is worth mentioning this theory in our context (and to the authors maybe?). Anyway, their findings suggest that knowledge sharing is easiest in informal face-to-face meetings, whereas one-way presentations was rated as bad.

Besides investigating effects like the mentioned one as well as learning curves in knowledge sharing, they investigated mechanisms to improve knowledge sharing. Overall, participants see the biggest improvements in:

  1. More informal (face to face) meetings
  2. Better platforms / technologies for knowledge sharing
  3. Promotion of a sharing culture

Further, software engineers are seen here as outcome-oriented and motivated by technically interesting content and their work itself. Sharing experiences with company colleagues not directly involved in the same projector, technology, or the same customer seems to require compelling extrinsic motivators.

Overall, Kati suggested that a high level of agility is expected to foster knowledge sharing with the customer, but it could have little (additional) impact on knowledge sharing with company colleagues. Interestingly, in our NaPiRE project (in particular our work here), we found out that applying agile practices alone does not necessarily solve any communication problems as long as certain prerequisites are not given (e.g. closeness and trust between project teams and the customers). It would therefore be interesting to set the results in relation to existing evidence including other environments, maybe applying different practices, to look for differences and even fail conditions under which certain practices do not yield the effects often associated with them. This would help to stop seeing methodologies and even single practices as universal silver bullets for whole classes of problems.

Interested in learning more about their research? Check out the open access version of their paper here!