Creating an agile community of practice helps win hearts and minds within the organization as it provides authenticity to the agile transition — signaling that the effort is not merely another management fad. Read more to learn how to get your agile community going even without a dedicated budget.
How to Become an Agile Organization — When the Plan Meets Reality
Typically, the recipe for becoming an agile organization goes something like this: you need the commitment from the C-level to change the culture of the organization and its trajectory. You also need strong support from the people in the trenches who want to become autonomous, improve their mastery, and serve a purpose. Then — in a concerted effort — the top and the bottom of the hierarchy can motivate the middle management to turn into servant leaders. (Or, probably, get rid of them Haier style.)
Accordingly, an action plan often starts with hiring a consultancy to help figure out a more actionable roll-out plan, mostly comprising of training and workshops, initial team building activities, and probably some audits concerning financial reporting requirements, technology or governance issues.
What this kind of orchestrated initiative often neglects is the grassroots part of any successful change: provide room and resources to the members of the organizations to engage in a self-directed way with the change process itself.
A successful agile transition needs an agile community of practice.
The Purpose of an Agile Community of Practice
The purpose of an agile community of practice has two dimensions:
Internally, it serves in an educational capacity for agile practitioners and change agents. There is no need to reinvent the wheel at the team-level; regularly sharing what has proven successful or a failure in the context of the transition will significantly ease the burden of learning.
Externally, the agile community of practice contributes to selling agility to the rest of the organization by informing and educating its members. The members of the agile community also serve as the first servant leaders and role models for what becoming agile will mean in practice. They bring authenticity to the endeavor.
Winning hearts and minds by being supportive and acting as a good example day in and day out is a laborious and unglamorous task. It requires persistence and being prepared not to take a "No" for an answer. Reaching the tipping point of the agile transition will likely be a slow undertaking with few signs of progress in the beginning. (Moreover, management tends to underestimate the inherent latency.)
A Portfolio of Services and Offerings of an Agile Community of Practice
Internal Offerings, Serving the Community
Improving the level of mastery of the members of the agile community of practice is not rocket science. My top picks are as follows:
Sharing is caring: The hoarding of information is one of the worst anti-patterns of an agile practitioner. Share everything, including retrospective exercises, information resources (newsletter, blog posts, etc.), and working materials and supplies. A wiki might be the right place to start.
Training and education: Organize regular workshops among the agile practitioners to train each other. If not everyone is co-located, record the training for later use (webinar software has proven to be helpful with that). If you have a budget available, invite the Marty Cagans to the organization to train the trainers.
Organize events: Have regular monthly events for the agile practitioners and others from the organization and host meetups with external speakers. Make sure that all practitioners meet at least once a quarter in person for a day-long mini-conference.
The annual conference: Consider hosting an organization-wide yearly "State of Agile" conference to share lessons learned, success stories and failures.
Communication: Use a Slack group to foster friction-less communication among the community members.
Procurement: Find a workaround to allow non-listed suppliers to provide supplies such as special pens or stickies.
External Offerings, Serving the Organization
Generally, what is working for the agile community of practices is also suitable for the members of the organization, probably with a different focus, though. Try, for example, the following:
Provide training: Provide hands-on training classes in close collaboration with the change agents. Consider a less demanding format that a typical day-long training class — a focused one-hour class in the late afternoon may prove to be just the right format for your organization. (Tip: Avoid the necessity for participants to apply somewhere to be allowed to the class. That will massively improve attendance rates.) Also, consider offering a kind of curriculum that is comprised of several of those light-weight classes.
Communication: Consider running a website or blog beyond the agile community of practice's wiki to promote the organization's path to becoming an agile organization. The best means I have encountered so far to foster engagement among change agents and early adopters is a weekly or bi-weekly newsletter within the organization.
Make agile mandatory for new colleagues: Educate all new hires on agile principles and practices to support the repositioning of the company.
Gain visibility: Selling Agile to the organization to win hearts & minds is best achieved by making agile tangible at a low-risk level for the individual. For example, organize regularly lean coffee sessions or knowledge cafés thus providing a safe environment to check this agile thing out. Invite people directly to ceremonies; for example, sprint reviews — if you practice Scrum — that might be of interest to them. Lastly, why not offer an informal way of contacting agile coaches and change agents? Some people shy away from asking supposedly stupid questions in the open and may be hard to reach otherwise.
Provide transparency: Occupy a space at a highly frequented part of a building or the campus to show what agile is about and provide an overview of practices, courses, regular events, etc.
Host events: Try to organize regular events for the organization, providing lessons learned from teams that are spearheading the agile transition. Create a schedule in advance and stick to it. Perseverance is critical to fighting the notion that becoming agile is merely a management fad that will go away soon.
Overcoming Resistance to an Agile Community of Practice
So far, I have not yet witnessed open pushback from an organization about the creation of an agile community of practice. More likely, you will encounter complacency or ignorance at the management level. Sometimes, the budgeting process will be utilized — willingly or not — to impede the creation of a community.
But even when you are financially restrained, there is still enough room to move the agile community of practice ahead. There are several services available for free that provide video conferencing and hosting, blogs, event organization, or newsletter services. In my experience, it is less a question of available funds, but you need to overcome your anxiety and get going without waiting for written approval from whomever. Assuming accountability as an agile practitioner by starting a community and thus moving the transition forward sounds agile to me.
Creating an Agile Community of Practice — Conclusion
Creating an agile community of practice is a vital part of the process of becoming an agile organization. It provides a lot of the groundwork that is necessary to convince the members of the organization that becoming agile is neither hazardous nor a fad but a trend and thus an excellent chance for everyone involved.
Do you have an agile community of practice? If so, what practices have been successful in your organization? Please share with us in the comments.
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Agile Transition – A Hands-on Guide from the Trenches
The Agile Transition – A Hands-on Guide from the Trenchese-book is a 212-page collection of articles I have been writing since October 2015. They detail the necessary steps to transition an existing product delivery organization of over 40 people strong to agile practices.