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How communities of practice build better enterprises by enabling agile at scale

“It’s said that a wise person learns from his mistakes. A wiser one learns from others mistakes. BUT the wisest person of all learns from others successes.” - John C. Maxwell

Throughout history, people have learned through communities. By forming a community interested in a subject, sharing knowledge, and working toward a better understanding, a “community of practice” can be a powerful force. Coined by cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, the term community of practice (CoP) refers to a community that acts as a living curriculum. 

When organizations embark on an agile transformation using Jira Align, it can be challenging to manage standards and practices. A CoP helps to do so by establishing a common lexicon, sharing best practices and knowledge.  

What is a community of practice?

A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common concern, interest in a topic, or challenges, who come together to achieve individual and/or group goals. A CoP has three components:

  • Domain : The domain is the common interest of the CoP. 
  • Community : The community includes the people who care about the domain and are actively involved in it. Membership to the CoP implies a commitment to the domain and therefore a shared competence in the domain.  
  • Practice: Practice is the action the community takes. Community members are practitioners who share best practices, experiences, ways of addressing recurring problems, etc.

Why do you need CoP for an enterprise agile transformation? 

  • Common lexicon

Jira Align helps to scale agile at the enterprise level. One of the challenges with implementing an agile transformation is that people can use different terminologies -- a feature or an epic could mean very different things to different parts of the organization. The CoP helps enable conversations to help achieve a common language that helps to achieve better enterprise visibility. 

  • User adoption

Another challenge with an agile transformation is “making it stick”. The new ways of working that people spent hours learning, doesn’t mean a thing if people go back to old habits. The CoP helps remind people about their commitment to transformation and to continue agile practices.

  • Overall agility

The world is an uncertain place, as we especially learned with the recent global pandemic. What is required to respond, rebound, and re-invent in the midst of massive change? Agility. Jira Align’s visibility helps organizations make critical decisions. This can only happen when people are following standards and data from the tool is meaningful.

  • Continuous improvement

The agile methodology promotes continuous  improvement to ensure processes, methods, and practices are efficient and effective. CoPs provide a platform to discuss what is working, what isn’t, and how to evolve agile practices.

What happens without a CoP?

  • Siloed teams

It is very easy for individuals to become isolated speaking mostly to others on their individual teams. Teams working on the same investment idea are not talking to each other which causes unfulfilled dependencies and missed commitments. Bringing those people together in a CoP helps with understanding best practices, which leads to percolate those good ideas to the organization and enable collaboration and better productivity

  • Knowledge is not shared 

Knowledge is only powerful when it is shared. Without a CoP, the solutions to solve problems are limited.

Commonly confused terms

  • LACE/CoE -Lean-Agile Center of Excellence/Center of Excellence

This is a team of dedicated people who lead/manage the backlog, training, and implementation of agile/DevOps/quality practices, along with governance. Sometimes it may be a part of agile PMO or a standalone unit that acts as a focal point of activity , a continuous source of energy that can help power the enterprise through the necessary changes. Rolling out Jira Align in a systemic, scalable way and establishing governance could be one authority for a CoE

  • Office hours

Time set aside by subject matter experts for listening, sharing and troubleshooting with new users for a short period of time

When is the best time to start a CoP?

Implementing Jira Align is often a multi-year journey. A Jira Align CoP can help. Once an organization embarks on a Jira Align implementation, the first step is to jumpstart the process by establishing  Jira to Jira Align sync followed by establishing a process to scale by setting up a couple of programs in the tool. A CoP flows through horizontal scaling to support more programs or teams of teams for better dependency, risks, and objectives management. This is followed by vertical scaling for the strategy to execution visibility, mature practices (OKRs), and value engineering. A CoP provides a platform for users to define and continue to evolve practices.

Stages of Development of a CoP

A CoP has multiple stages of development before they become self sustaining and fully autonomous. Their progression is like agile teams and should be designed for natural evolution and mature in phases.

Committing - This is the beginning stage, when a few people identify a need for CoP and commit to starting one

Starting up - In this stage those committed people come together and formalize the CoP by identifying a vision or purpose of CoP, recruiting members, and identifying formal roles

Operating - Once CoP becomes operational the community owns the day in and day out and people are sharing knowledge, solving problems and improving practices together.

The next two steps are rare but possible:

Winding down - When consistent practices are achieved it may make sense to merge with other tools or process CoPs 

Shutting down - Once the purpose of the CoP is fulfilled and no value remains or tool lost relevance in the organization Pivot VS persevere. CoPs should be designed for natural evolution and mature in phases.

CoP structure and alignment 

Each organization has an approach to transformation and may have chosen to scale using Scrum at scale methodology, Spotify, SAFe or some other model to scale. No matter what you choose to align CoP, remember to keep it simple, take one step at a time and evolve as necessary.

They can choose to organize CoP using domain focus (i.e. one for SM, another one for PO etc.)

Pros: Helps to stay focused on a persona and jobs to be done for that persona. This works for Scrum@Scale, SAFe, and other models

Cons: With this approach business and IT personas are getting siloed. This setup is too normalized, granular, and maintenance becomes difficult in the long run

They can also choose to organize CoP around scaling level (i.e.- one for program level, another one for portfolio level etc.)

Pros: With this approach business and IT personas can come together to discuss best practices. This set up is ideal when an organization has 50 + programs or teams of teams 

Cons: The facilitation may become challenging with so many people

Recommended Key Players

  • Tool administration

These are the gatekeepers who give access to tools or perform tool maintenance and upgrades.

  • Framework and process

These are stewards of the processes and are agile champions or business unit champions. These people are responsible for communication flow and collaboration between different business units in big organizations. Also, include a few members from if you have a central body driving and governing transformation 

  • Voice of business value

New and existing users of the tool using it on a day to day  basis

Common Anti-patterns to watch for:

  • Tool admins lead the conversation
  • No active participation from the users (line of businesses)

How do you set up a CoP?

Here is the Secret Sauce to set up a CoP.

  • Stewards/Coordinators- self organized group of people who are ready to volunteer a few hours for this cause
  • Evolution - The CoP is designed with change in mind and flexible for natural evolution to fit organization needs
  • Focus on Value- CoP has a value proposition to get buy in from the leaders and participants
  • Rhythm - CoP is alive and running by creating a rhythm or cadence 
  • Perspectives- Involving perspectives from different areas and encouraging listening and talking to solve problems
  • Share & innovate- Make sure to combine familiarity and excitement by celebrating sharing and innovation 

Food for thought common topics to begin

  • Explore new functionality
  • Zoom in on a highly used functionality
  • Standards and practices discussions
  • Share ideas on how a team is leveraging view to improve
  • Refresher trainings
  • Circle back on product feedback

1 comment

Mohammed Amine Community Leader Mar 26, 2021

Thank you for sharing.

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