Home > Articles > Programming > Windows Programming

Ten Practices for Applying Agile/Lean Software Management Principles to Other Knowledge Work

📄 Contents

  1. Ten Practices for Applying Agile/Lean Software Management Principles to Other Knowledge Work
  2. Ten Suggested Lean and Agile Practices for Knowledge Work
  3. Summary
Dean Leffingwell, author of Scaling Software Agility: Best Practices for Large Enterprises, suggests that other types of knowledge work can apply useful principles learned from Agile, Lean, Scrum, and XP software development.
Like this article? We recommend

Recently, I've been asked to help some teams apply Lean/Agile/Scrum/XP-like project management practices to knowledge work that is not software development. These organizations have seen Agile methods produce huge benefits in visibility, productivity, quality, empowerment, and motivation in their software teams. Naturally, they want to understand whether these techniques can be effective in other knowledge work activities, such as managing IT projects, developing user documentation, managing and administering data server farms, implementing marketing communications, managing HR programs, and the like.

According to Wikipedia, knowledge workers are "valued for their ability to interpret information within a specific subject area. They will often advance the overall understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design, and/or development. They use research skills to define problems and to identify alternatives. Fueled by their expertise and insight, they work to solve those problems, in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities, and strategies."

Clearly, software development is a core knowledge work activity, in that it both results from and creates new knowledge. This knowledge emerges in the valuable, tangible form of code and test assets, as well as in the invaluable, intangible asset of the new knowledge gained and carried in the minds of the knowledge workers themselves.

Agile development methods are designed primarily to release software development knowledge workers from the constraints of the deficient software process, management, and governance models. Given that they're proving to work so effectively, could these models, though designed for a different purpose, apply equally well in other knowledge work activities?

These techniques can indeed be applied. However, it isn't a simple, off-the-shelf application; many of the Agile practices, such as those centered around software coding practices—continuous integration, coding standards, test automation, pair programming, and the like—may not be relevant in these contexts.

To apply these practices effectively, we must make some modifications and simplifications. However, before we do so, it's important to return to the underlying Agile principles. If they're relevant, we'll have a proper foundation for the Agile/Lean project management practice set that we can apply to general knowledge work.

Intended Benefits

Let's start with the motivation for making such a change—a desire for a step-change increase in productivity, quality, and morale of the teams, with a resulting increase in market competitiveness. What enterprise wouldn't want to achieve that goal?

Principles of Agile: The Agile Manifesto

A few years back, I got bored with the "Mom and apple pie" nature of always beginning with the Agile Manifesto in any orientation to Agile, and I started to skip over it. That was a mistake. Later in the project, I would come to learn that my clients and I were not working from the same set of assumptions and core beliefs. The result was unnecessary friction and roadblocks, based on unexpressed differences in philosophy.

The principles of the Agile Manifesto are still the foundation for all Agile development today, and they apply equally well to other knowledge work. If we start with the Agile Manifesto itself and make only a one-word substitution (solution for software as noted in italics below), we get the following statement of principles:

We favor:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Certainly the manifesto itself appears directly relevant to other knowledge work, but what about the important principles behind the manifesto? Again, no problem, for with a couple of minor word substitutions (again noted in italics), we get the following statement:

We follow these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working solutions frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working solutions are the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Again, applying these principles to general knowledge work is no problem—assuming that the subject enterprise really believes in these principles and is prepared to put that belief into action!

Principles of Lean

As if the Agile principles weren't enough to drive knowledge work, we have the entire body of proven Lean software, manufacturing, and product development principles and practices to apply as well.

Based on my experiences and in both Lean manufacturing and Lean software development, I suggest that the Lean principles in the following table apply directly to managing other knowledge work.

Lean Principle

Applicability to Managing Knowledge Work

Focus on value

Focus on value delivery to the customer or end user. Understand and optimize the entire value chain.

Reduced work in process and inventory

Reduced investment in too-early requirements and documentation.

Minimize work in process.

Minimize multiplexing among projects and tasks.

Increased delivery throughput.

Reduced process overhead, compliance checks.

"Last Responsible Moment" decision-making.

Reduced cycle times

Deliver solutions in smaller lots (tasks, user stories, use cases).

Smaller and more frequent releases put working solutions in the hands of customers more quickly.

Cell-based teamwork, empowerment, responsibility, and accountability

Self-organizing, self-managing knowledge worker teams.

Increased cross-training with pairing and shared knowledge and assets.

Collocate all team members to the extent practical.

Entire team commits to delivering iterations and releases.

Build in quality

Teams are responsible for quality.

All work (solution increments) is tested work.

Apply test automation wherever possible.

Continuous process improvement

Teams are responsible for continually improving their performance with regular reflection and adaptation.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020