Agile Project Management

Knowledge Work vs Physical/Industrial Work

In Agile projects, we work with knowledge work rather than typical moving the file from the desk to desk kind of a job, or the jobs that are physical in nature.

In work where physical activities are present, there is more upfront planning. We have to have the blueprints and the specifications in every phase planned out.

In Agile, we know that things are going to change and there’s variables that happen in knowledge work that we can’t always predict.

Knowledge work is really invisible work. So we’re using our brain power as Agile is really best suited for knowledge work for software development projects.

We’re talking about invisible work or things that you can’t see in the same way that we might in a construction project.

So if we can compare and contrast physical work versus knowledge work, you can see tangible results like a building being constructed. It has some stability in its governance and frameworks. Physical projects we’re talking about running things, having a structure and knowing exactly what the answers may be.

We have a breakdown structure, activity list, assignments – basically everything that needs to be done is nicely laid out. The nature of work is command and control where the project manager has a work authorization system and he knows exactly what’s going to happen next.

There are standards for delivery and for measuring the performance and the cost of workers is pretty much known.

In knowledge work though, it’s hard to see the development. Everything is invisible. There’s lots of changes lots of moving parts in knowledge work. We’re working in a changing environment. There’s less structure.

There’s lots of questions and uncertainty. Our focus is value driven and getting things done.

It’s autonomy driven. The individuals have permissions to go and make decisions and to be self led and self-directed innovation. We want innovation, we want learning and teaching that we coach one another and the workers are really seen as an asset not a cost (cost of labor). They are an asset that we need them in order to do this project.

We want to also talk about definable work versus high uncertainty work. Definable works are things that have a clear procedure. Like if you’re going to remodel a room where you’re going to paint a house you have repeatable processes.

High uncertainty projects like software development of course have high rates of change in complexityand there’s risk because and uncertainty because there are unknowns or things that you haven’t anticipated.

You don’t know what you don’t know in knowledge work projects or high uncertainty projects.

So you have to discover and you have to react quickly and where in definable projects, you can anticipate the outcomes and you have a pretty good understanding of what’s coming based on the nature of the work we’re doing.

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