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Communities of Practice, the who, the what, the how


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Communities of practice are not new, but they are gathering importance as the world moves from Waterfall delivery methods to a more agile mindset. In that world, colleagues need a water hole, a way of learning, sharing, and up skilling, introducing my take, my experiences of CoPs. Its a journey that relays the failures, the learnings, and where we are now

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Communities of Practice, the who, the what, the how

  1. 1. Communities of Practice By Leigh Rathbone @villabone
  2. 2. “CoPs are groups of people that share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis" What is a Community of Practice (CoP)? ..... now that's pretty cool
  3. 3. • You may have heard of Communities of Practice (CoP). It may have been at a conference, a meetup, through your own self development. CoPs are a new thing, right? • This article will take you on my journey, my thoughts as to what they are, the 'Why' they are important, some failings I've experienced, and some tips and hints. • My caveat is that CoPs are not new. They've been around some time, so I'm not trying to be seen as a thought leader on this. • What I hope from writing this is it gives me some focus on achieving something (See James Whittaker's' Seven stages of creativity - the most inspirational video I've seen lately), it allows me to share my learnings, and from that, I hope it helps others.
  4. 4. My Experiences and Exposures to CoPs • My first experience of a CoP was at the BBC in 2015 when Jitesh Gosai invited me to talk at the BBC test craftsmanship session. • I think its fair to say, this was BBC's take on running a CoP, part of their take on it was every now and again inviting external speakers in. It planted the seed. • The second seed came from an amazing agile coach I worked with called Cuan Mulligan, a legend, who well and truly planted what a CoP was, and the benefits.
  5. 5. • A key message to land this early on, is that CoPs are about managing change, as well as the other reasons listed below, never lose sight of that. CoPs - Its about managing change • When you manage change, always remember, different people go through different emotions during the landing of that change
  6. 6. • So lets tackle the 'Why' for CoPs. So to answer that, I'll give you an insight into our journey here at Shop Direct. Lets tackle the ‘Why?’, why do you need a CoP? • We are, and have been, and will be for some time, on our agile journey. • We've had some stop start moments, but we are well and truly looking at the agile mindset, the ways of agile, and what it means to people. • The recent journey has seen us move from a waterfall business, where crafts like testing sat in their designated areas, and now to a move to agile teams.
  7. 7. • We've had testers (and other roles) who were protected by management, and had safety in numbers, masking their weaknesses with other testers strengths. The emotional change going Waterfall to Agile • Now in agile, they are told they have autonomy, responsibilities they never had before. • Expectations might be that they, as the single tester in the squad, know everything about testing. • To bring this to life, have a mooch at the talk I gave at York Test conference last year - its in Prezi, mostly pictures, but you can get the message that builds the 'why' for having CoPs.
  8. 8. Why use CoPs? Well, people move from one silo to a different silo • Moving waterfall to agile can be perceived as breaking down silos from big departments, into self organised teams of 6 – 10 people • In reality, it can lead to simply working in one big silo in waterfall, to just a smaller, cross functional silo team • CoP can help people through this, and cross pollinate ideas, share learnings, upskill people, and give them the fuel to go back to their squad re-invigorated
  9. 9. • In essence, in my language, CoPs are a watering hole for people to come back to, to support each other, to learn from each other, and breed a continuous learning mindset needed for the world we live in now, and a world where they can add value. CoPs are a watering hole • You may recognise the picture earlier, its from the film "Martian" where the main character is alone on mars for years. • This is how a people might feel going from waterfall to agile. CoPs helps, but its not a silver bullet, its part of the ingredients to bake that cake called 'managing change’ …So, give them that watering hole
  10. 10. • Who should attend a CoP? OK, all card on the table here. • We tried our CoPs at Shop Direct back in December 2016. • The essence was that anyone from any craft could attend any CoP. • They ran for around 6 months, and we had some great sessions, and some not so great • We pressed the pause button, but why did we press that button? We started, and then we stopped
  11. 11. • Management tried to get them started, and ended up running some of them We started our CoPs in the true sense, and stopped soon after, but why? • It was the same usual suspects running or joining in the sessions • Some CoPs, like engineering, could have 100+ people in them, that's hard to manage, and the larger the group, the less likely for some people to speak up • As they were open to anyone from any craft to attend, some ended up being diluted and toothless • Not enough ownership was put on the community to own the CoPs, chose the topics, and having people owning the next ones • Sometimes the surroundings weren't right for collaborative discussions
  12. 12. • We pivoted, we changed our mindset and approach So we pivoted and changed the ‘who’ • We looked at the reasons they died out in the first place • We looked at the failures, and learnt from them • We changed our approach, we had a reboot, and its quite controversial. • Re-started the CoPs with just the testers in the agile teams. • Now I know what you are thinking, it excluded everyone else, but there are reasons, and plans to change this.
  13. 13. • We wanted to think big, but start small, start now So we thought big! started small, and acted now • Starting with a smaller group is easier, we wanted to embed and learn the CoP mindset needed in that smaller group before then going big. People in that smaller group got used to speaking up • We wanted to get a smaller group comfortable with that mindset, and ways of running and acting in CoPs, and then bring in others once that group got comfortable, start scaling it, slowly • The group consists of around 14 people from the test community, ranging from test engineers, automation engineers, test coaches, and test principal
  14. 14. The formats of our CoPs • Presentations / talks • Talks from other CoPs • External speakers • Lean coffees • World café • brainstorming • Workshops • Pairing • Games • External visits to other companies • Build a community with local companies • Take your CoP to a meetup • Take your CoP to a conference
  15. 15. Understand your colleagues learning styles The Kolb Model • Understand the different learning styles of your colleagues within the CoP • A hands on workshop won’t work for everyone • Many models out there, Kolb is one we’ve just gone through • That’s why a CoP could simply be watching a Ted talk, listening to podcast together then discussing, or simply having a coffee together • In order to understand the learning styles of people, you need to engage them, get to know them, ask them what works, seek feedback
  16. 16. Some principles, or ‘good habits’ we’ve installed • Everyone is a peer, and its a peer to peer group / event. There is no hierarchy, we are equal, we all just do different tasks in order to serve our customers, in other words, leave your ego at the door • It’s a community event put on by the community, for the community. The topics are driven by the community and its appetite for learning, developing, and where its skill gaps are • Two people run each event (taking the pair learning principle), then the next event has two different people running it. No one leaves the room till the next two people have volunteered • The CoP events are every 2 weeks, that’s an important heartbeat for us, and last between an hour and 1.5 hours • If coming together to learn needs to happen, and can happen outside of the CoP, then don't wait for a CoP session, just do it • The CoP keeps a backlog of potential topics for the CoP sessions. The community vote on topics that are important to them to bring into a CoP session
  17. 17. Some principles, or ‘good habits’ we’ve installed • The more people that volunteer to run a COP, the more support there is for the next two volunteers. If you have ran a COP, you offer your support for future volunteers • If post-its are used, no overlapping of other post-its, even during grouping or pulling themes out - the reason is we take pictures to document the event, each post-it represents someone’s voice • We capture the session on our Wiki which is open to anyone to view, and we comms it out. On that wiki we capture the essence of the COP, the interactions, the outputs, the actions, the owners of the actions, how we are going to change • The room is really important, and being prepared with equipment, post-its, markers, sharpies, phone to capture, TV to present on, lighting, seats layout, laptop connectors • There are treats, cakes, biscuits supplied by the organizers • We seek feedback on the event there and then, asking people to rate the event on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being high) and leaving feedback on post-its. The feedback is discussed there and then • Management do not run the COP’s, they are a peer within the COP, but they are part of the peer to peer event, and have a voice like everyone else
  18. 18. The impact I’ve seen from CoPs The impact of the CoP, in its current guise, is quite amazing. I'm seeing people that would never have ran a CoP session 12 months ago, now stepping up, AND putting on an amazing event. I'm seeing the group of people within the CoP already becoming self organising and self governing regarding who runs them, what topics they want to discuss, the way the CoPs are ran, the capturing of the outputs and actions. I'm seeing the start of the growth mindset
  19. 19. • I'm seeing more than that though, I'm seeing relationships form, trust being built, and a real community spirit develop, which reminds me of the community feel I had growing up on my council estate. • Its almost the 'I've got your back' type thing. Not in an aggressive way, but in a supportive sharing, and caring way. I'm seeing people really open up, growing, developing, and challenging themselves. In our last COP, it was a brief introduction to automation, and what you can do as a tester to start learning. • It was tough and uncomfortable for some people who haven't had to face into that before, but I saw change in the room, you could smell it, you could feel it. The impact I’ve seen from CoPs
  20. 20. • In the presence of such changing attitudes and beliefs, and seeing people embrace other peoples thoughts, wanting to learn, grab new ideas, that challenge their comfort zone, I've been left speechless, and feeling humble to be part of that group of people. It needs to be seen to be believed • We are still on our journey, and learning how to do COPs, but its an exciting start Final Thoughts Thank you for reading