Sep 6, 2017

Implementing Communities of Practice - In Practice

Lately I've been suffering from a writer's block, because I stumble to the fact that I've already written about the topic I have in mind. I've already written about Communities of Practice too, but now I have a different angle.

I'm currently working as a People Manager in a big finnish software & telco company. Title doesn't probably tell much, but in practice it means that I'm an administrative supervisor for ~30 persons. My closest colleague has a team of about same size, but we are strongly trying to operate as one big team with two supervisors. And to do it so that every person in our teams could discuss with either one of us and things would simply work.

At the same time I want to underline that we are serving the people, not the other way. In our field it's the experts who create all the customer value. They are the rockstars or boxing champs. We are the coaches and managers who make sure they can concentrate on where they excel.

But this is just the foundation. My duty is making sure we have the right staff and that there aren't any major impediments. I don't really manage the daily work, that guidance comes from the self-managing agile teams.

Our teams each serve a few customers. That enables us to get the benefit from working together for long enough to reach high performing state, and on the other hand, enough flexibility and variance so the work doesn't get boring. Teams are headed by a Technical Product Owner who handles the team's backlog.

With our team based organization structure alone we carry a big risk of slipping into silos. Self-managing and self-organizing teams are great, but really big benefits materialize when we can learn from each other. This is why we need the communities of practice (or in short CoP).

Before we reorganized ourselves into the current form, I headed the Technical Product Owner team. We had a community of practice. And I'm really proud to see they still have one even after I stopped facilitating the meetings. As a side note, it's a perfect way to acid test your coaching results. What happens when you're not around? If everything halts, you should maybe look into the mirror.

We have also other CoPs. One for designers, one for testers, one for architects and so on. Most of these communities are headed by a Technical Lead. These people are our most superb technical experts who are tasked with the goal of making our people competitive in the long run. They coach and mentor others in their technical field. It's actually a great opportunity for a younger professionals to grow.

And actually some of these communities extend beyond our unit boundaries. Our company has thousands of employees and our unit has sister units in other divisions. With similar organization structures we have been able to extend the sharing of knowledge. This work is largely unfinished, but already for example the designers have weekly meetings together and testing is coordinated across the whole company. Personally I'd like to grow our Agile Community, but without concrete shared projects it's difficult to find the common ground. But maybe we arrange some event together and see where it goes.

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