Communities of Practice – The Foundation of your Agile Journey.
Individuals and interactions over processes and toolsAgile manifesto
Agile is all about mindset and culture yet still in many transitions applying this primary value is overlooked for the agile transition itself. In general, a transition strategy, including organisational changes and process definitions, is communicated after it has been decided on somewhere in the organisation. Now if we accept an agile transition is a project and we look at the following agile principle;
Build projects around motivated individuals.Principles behind the Agile Manifesto
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.
It isn’t that hard to understand that we missed a step. Unfortunately it’s a crucial step, it’s the difference between doing Agile and becoming Agile.
Lucky for us, that step was already defined long before the Agile Manifesto, it is the Community of Practice.
The Community of Practice
Communities of practice provide a model for connecting educators in the spirit of learning, knowledge sharing, and collaboration…Cambridge, Kaplan & Suter
What is a community of practice?
- A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals.
- Communities of practice often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice. Interaction on an ongoing basis is an important part of this.
- Many communities of practice rely on face-to-face meetings as well as web-based collaborative environments to communicate, connect and conduct community activities.
Why communities of practice are important
According to Wenger (1998), communities of practice provide five critical functions. They:
- Educate by collecting and sharing information related to questions and issues of practice
- Support by organizing interactions and collaboration among members
- Cultivate by assisting groups to start and sustain their learning
- Encourage by promoting the work of members through discussion and sharing
- Integrate by encouraging members to use their new knowledge for real change in their own work.
Communities of practice are important as a professional learning strategy, because they have the potential to:
- Connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, either as frequently or at all.
- Provide a shared context for people to communicate and share information, stories and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
- Enable dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
- Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
- Capture and share existing knowledge to help people improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
- Introduce collaborative processes to groups and organizations to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information.
- Help people organize around purposeful actions that develop tangible results.
- Generate new knowledge to help people transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs and technologies. (Adapted from Cambridge, Kaplan & Suter)
The professional learning needs of educators are changing. Communities of practice offer a robust strategy for professional learning. Here is why:
- Complex problems require more implicit knowledge, which cannot be codified.
- Implicit knowledge can only be shared through conversations and observation.
- Collaborative and distributed work is becoming the norm.
- Knowledge sharing and narration of work make implicit knowledge more visible.
- New ideas come from diverse networks, often from outside the organization.
- Learning is part of work, not separate from it. Communities of practice enable the integration of work and learning.
The value of communities of practice is in the depth of participants’ reflection and inquiry, and how they put co-created knowledge to action.
Wenger has identified a number of factors that contribute to the success (and failure) of communities of practices. His ‘top three’ factors include:
- Identification: Communities of practice thrive on social energy, which both derives from and creates identification. Passion for the domain is key. This makes the clear identification of the domain a critical success factor.
- Leadership: A key success factor is the dedication and skill of people who take the initiative to nurture the community. Many communities fail, not because members have lost interest, but simply because nobody has the energy and time to take care of logistics and hold the space for the inquiry.
- Time: Time is a challenge for most communities, whose members have to handle competing priorities. Theoretically, time should not be an issue if the interest is there, but practically it remains a constant challenge. Because time is at such a premium, a key principle of community cultivation is to ensure “high value for time” for all those who invest themselves.
The research describes a number of factors for success including:
- Identifying a domain that energizes a core group
- Recruiting a skillful and reputable facilitator
- Tapping into the expertise of local and international experts
- Addressing details of practice
- Establishing the right rhythm and mix of activities
- Having visible support of organizational leaders, but without micro-management
- Accessing adequate resources in order to reduce barriers to participation.
The research also identifies these additional factors that contribute to a successful community of practice:
- a sense of ownership
- the level of trust
- recognition for contributions
- high expectations for value creation
- organizational support
- connection to a broader field
- interactions with other communities
Looking at the elements of the Community of Practice and how they match the mindset of the core agile values I hope this can help you leading successful transformations.
If you would like to know more or need help, feel free to reach out.