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Communities of Practice – Why and How to Build One

Whenever I’m a new employee at an organization, I look for a community of peers who share my interests. Typically, the first group I look for comprises people with a similar job title. Sometimes that comes in the form of a community of practice (CoP). At its’ core, a community of practice is a group of people who come together to share ideas, questions, or complaints about a given topic.

 

Why leverage a community of practice?

A community of practice can be used for many things. For instance, in an engineering CoP, an engineer can bring up a question about general practice. Other engineers can then answer any questions concerning the general practice.

 

Another way a community of practice can be leveraged is by bringing up topics of interest that others within the community might like to know more about. If an organization has begun adopting Agile practices, an Agile CoP is a great place to host topics that are new to the organization and to share out ideas.

 

Especially when starting a transition to Agile, a community of practice goes a long way. Creating a community of practice can help keep an organization from forcing an agile transformation. More on why you should not force an Agile journey can be read here. A CoP is an excellent place for employees to express their concerns about pursuing Agile. They can also ask questions they may have. Speakers can be brought in to discuss what it means for the organization to go through such a change.

 

Create one if you cannot find a group related to what you are doing at an organization.

 

Creating a Community of Practice

Creating a CoP is an excellent way for a Scrum Master to serve their organization and the community within their organization. It can be a part of what a Scrum Master does all day.

 

Find the advocates, supporters, and travelers

When it comes to an Agile CoP, first look for Agile Advocates. These are the people who are excited about all things Agile. They may not be experts, but they have the most enthusiasm for an Agile journey. The advocates are going to be the people who will help you drive the CoP as time goes by. Look to them for ideas, questions, or different approaches to engaging your new-found community. Once you have found the advocates, you are no longer alone in building a CoP.

 

Next are the supporters. Supporters are the people who are going to come to meetings and engage in the conversation. Their position may not be strictly related to the CoP’s mission, but they hunger for knowledge.

 

Travelers are a part of the organization, but chances are they will not want to come to one or any of the gatherings/events put on by the CoP. More on them later.

 

Get the word out

After finding a few advocates and determining who your supporters and travelers are, you need to get the word out to those outer layers. These people will come to gatherings, ask questions, and want to get something out of a CoP without being part of organizing it. You will want to work with your inner circle of advocates to convey that this new CoP exists. You can do this by arranging a meeting or gathering of interested supporters. Work with your advocates to find creative ways of engaging the supporter layer.

 

Build infrastructure

Once you have shared the message, you can start building more infrastructure. This could come from messaging groups, internal company pages, or shared calendars. Once again, look to your advocates here for ideas.

 

Activities for a Community of Practice

 

Lean Coffee

Hosting a lean coffee is an easy way to get conversations flowing. By leveraging a lean coffee, the advocates and supporters can bring whatever topics interest them to the table. Furthermore, lean coffee is even better because you can do them more than once. Each time they will be different in some way.

 

Speaker(s) or trainers

If you are able and have some budget, bringing in outside experts can be a great way to engage your CoP. Having an outside perspective or expert on a given topic helps bring new ideas and ways of working. Likewise, training is another way people within the community can grow and develop new skills. Look internally for presenters or people looking to share their knowledge if you do not have the budget for external presenters or training.

 

General Meetup

A general meetup is precisely what it sounds like. Take time to meet with the community to discuss new ideas or even topics outside of your typical discussion. Doing so builds a safe environment where people feel welcome. You could organize a happy hour where community members could get to know one another. Host a game event where people can gather to play their favorite board games. The possibilities are endless.

 

Mentor mentee matchup

Be the catalyst for the growth of others. Pairing people up in a mentor-mentee relationship helps both parties grow. Give them information on how frequently they could meet. Help them sustain the relationship through community gatherings that allow the connection to blossom and grow.

 

Engage the travelers

Finally, growing the supporter ring of your community can be difficult. Work with the advocates close to you to determine ways to generate interest among the travelers in the CoP. This could come from a monthly newsletter or a presentation about the CoP at an all-company meeting.

 

To sum things up, when it comes to a community of practice, you get out of it what you put into it. As someone creating a community, you need to have a passion for bringing people together and a passion for the topic or theme of the community. Surround yourself with people who share that passion, and the community with thrive.

Scrum, Product Management, and DevOps: Simplifying the jargon

The internet and social media are full of Agile, Scrum, Product Management, and DevOps jargon, including incorrect and misunderstood concepts. This could be problematic for a learner seeking knowledge. Without a course with Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, or DevOps Institute, this knowledge is difficult to achieve.

The Concepts & Beyond blog is a free suite of articles and videos packaged in tiny chunks. You will learn or refine your knowledge and skills to help your team and organization be effective. When you want to take your knowledge further, we invite you to join us for our  Certified ScrumMaster(CSM),  Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Certified DevOps Engineering Foundations (DOEF) and Training from the Back of The Room courses across the USA and Canada.

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