How to intentionally forget rules in newly introduced agile projects

Marcel F. Volland (Chair for Organization and Management, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Publication date: 24 July 2019



While much empirical research has examined how routines are unlearned, little is known about the intentional forgetting of rules in organizations. This paper aims to combine the literature on organizational rules and that on intentional forgetting with the aim of studying the relationship between power types of rule imposition and the process of intentional forgetting.


This study is a single-case analysis carried out in a multinational automotive company that introduced an agile project into the development department. The case was chosen because the introduction of agility was grounded on a dominantly created set of rules. Access to unique data was provided to study processes of intentional forgetting when actors have to apply new rules. In all, 33 interviews and further observations were conducted in a two-year study. Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) was used for data analysis.


This case study demonstrates the importance of two forms of power, domination and self-organization, when it comes to forgetting rules intentionally. A rule will be intentionally forgotten if it is created by domination, does not originate from conventional working practices and does not determine an organizational unit (development team). Furthermore, the findings point to the importance of self-organization when it comes to intentional forgetting.

Research limitations/implications

This research relies on a single-case study and presents first results on intentionally forgetting rules.

Practical implications

Organizations implementing new forms of working such as agile working in their existing structures should be aware that processes of intentional forgetting can occur. Managers should consider why organizational members stop following dominantly created rules. Ignoring such a phenomenon could be a threat to the organization’s success.


While many studies examined the process of unlearning routines, little is known about the intentional forgetting of rules in organizations. Rules are different from routines because they are imposed and encompass a normative component. The imposition of a rule is based on power. Two forms of power are presented in this article: domination and self-organization. In addition, the QCA was carried out at a micro-level.



Volland, M. (2019), "How to intentionally forget rules in newly introduced agile projects", The Learning Organization, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

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