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Communities of Practice 2

Gary Lane

Scrum Master

describes how Aquila Heywood has implemented the principles of Communities of Practice

30 October 2017

Empowerment

After the first session was completed, the Communities of Practice were handed over to the volunteer leaders and the participants to run. This is a key point in keeping with Agile principles. People are encouraged to organise sessions that would be useful to them and others. In the same way, teams are encouraged to be self-organising to achieve their sprint goals. There will be no blame or judgement on an individual if a session didn't quite go as expected: it's all part of the continuous improvement process. Your communities should be given the opportunity to provide respectful feedback as they would in a sprint retrospective. Inspect and adapt and the next Community Day will be better.

Participation and organisation is mostly driven outside of senior management (although attendance at this level is still encouraged!). If the participants are trusted to form session content that is relevant to them and their work, we have noticed there is a natural alignment with personal development plans and business objectives without the need for top-down direction.

Branding

'Communities of Practice' is a valuable part of Agile adoption, but it's also a bit of a mouthful! Once you are up and running, consider a branding competition with staff to get a punchy name and strapline as well as to increase engagement and interaction with the event. We did this at Aquila Heywood and it immediately generated some innovative ideas, with 'Hive' being the eventual winner. It's now part of our everyday language - 'I'd like to know more about this: shall we Hive it next month?'. Hive's strapline is to 'Discover, Share, Innovate'. In the early days, discovery is natural and an ongoing process in any transformation. However, after a while, your branded Communities of Practice will become ingrained within your Agile culture. You'll then notice the 'sharing' and 'innovation' will begin to catch up quickly!

Hive Now

So at Aquila Heywood, Hive accelerated our Agile learning and self-organisation skills and became a tool to improve the way we service our customers, the business and ourselves. The Development teams are now also using sessions to workshop ideas on how to reduce impediments and waste from our day-to-day business as a result of sprint retrospective actions.

We are now well into Year Two of Hive and there have been some subtle but key changes in the way it operates.

Firstly, the barriers around the initial communities have been broken down. We find that interest in sessions is no longer exclusive to those in a particular community. That gives us confidence that we are starting to create multi-functional people and teams.

Secondly, we are now being joined by teams outside Development, encouraging closer interactions between teams and departments helping us to remove silos. CRMs, Consultants, Marketing and others have all joined in and the mutual exchange of knowledge has had the benefit of the Scrum teams gaining a better understanding of what our customers need in our products, as well as non-Development staff learning about Agile. In fact, we can draw some parallels with the way Hive has developed in a similar way to the business as a whole, starting with the introduction of Agile methods to build products, working towards the adoption of an Agile culture throughout the organisation.

If you are transforming to Agile, make sure Communities of Practice an integral part of it early on and use it to accelerate learning and sharing within your business. You'll need to buy into it and support it, but leave it to be self-organising. Ultimately, the success of your Communities of Practice could be a valuable indication of how well your organisation is adapting to Agile generally.

Gary Lane is a Scrum Master at Aquila Heywood, the largest supplier of life and pensions administration software solutions in the UK.

Further Reading