The importance of having a safe place to listen and learn

Six months ago, after a workshop with agile coach Emily Webber, we set up a community of practice for the delivery managers here at Co-op Digital. Emily believes that communities of practice help to connect people in organisations that are scaling their agile delivery. They also support individuals and help the group avoid duplication of work.

So a group of us who work on projects including Food, Funerals, Wills and Locations Services, starting putting a couple of hours aside each week to catch up and support each other.

To kick things off, we came up with our mission and manifesto.

blue slide with white text says: our mission is to inspire ourselves and others at Co-op and beyond by setting and continuously improving the standard of agile, collaborative delivery.

white slide says: agile delivery community manifesto. we are committed to developing a community of practice thats sets and improves the standard of agile ways of working in Co-op and beyond. We will do this by: being open and honest, respecting each other and not being judgemental, putting in the effort to help and encourage each other, making time for the community and actively contributing, focus on outcomes and making them happen, setting ourselves up for learning and continuous improvement

We talked about our goals and put everything we’d like to do on a Trello board. We thought about what we’d like to be able to tell people about being an agile delivery manager at Co-op Digital, and how we could influence groups in the wider Co-op by sharing our better practices.

Just for starters

Since then, we’ve tackled a lot of stuff on the list. We’ve:

  • organised digital masterclasses for new colleagues at Co-op Digital. These sessions are an introduction to agile at the Co-op and an overview of what it’s like to be part of a digital product team here
  • introduced a section on agile working to a training course on waterfall. Now Co-op project and portfolio managers will learn about both delivery methods
  • created a place to write about and share our experiences within the community when we try something new; when things go well and when they don’t go well
  • defined which skills a delivery manager at Co-op should have. This will help us see where we need more training and what to focus on when we recruit

Our community’s work is starting to become recognised around the wider business. That’s important because it means more people will have an understanding of what delivery managers do and how we can help teams work more efficiently. It’s good for individual teams and ultimately, it’s good for the business.

Time to reflect in a retrospective

Now we’re 6 months in, in true delivery manager style, we’ve had a retro to find out how each member of the community thought things were going. We talked about what we think has gone well and what we could do better in 2017.

We drew a timeline of the last 6 months and used green post-its to mark significant events. Then we each approached the timeline from a personal perspective and added pink post-its to mark our positives and blue post-its for personal negatives. Then we worked together to come up with actions to try and make sure the bad bits don’t happen again. After that, we each used marker pens to draw our highs and our lows. Here’s Steve in action!

Steve Bruce drawing his highs and lows on the timeline

Making time for meetups

Interestingly, the timeline showed that each community member felt more positive when we’d had regular meetings. So prioritising our meetups became an action. When the workload on your team is mega, it can be tricky to find the time to step away, even for an hour, but we’ve all found that getting together helps us not get bogged down.

The community of practice and me

I’ve learnt a lot from our meetups. They’ve been somewhere to stamp our feet, make new friends, bury ourselves in post-its, support each other by giving and taking advice. Sharing how you feel in a safe environment is invaluable. Especially when you’re with the people who are best-placed to support you with the tricky parts of your job.

I’d encourage everyone to come together with their community and try it. And let us know how useful you find it in the comments.

Kim Morley
Delivery manager

Lean Agile Manchester

This month we welcomed Lean Agile Manchester to our support centre at One Angel Square for the first time. This meet-up ran by Ian Carroll brings together local Agile practitioners from around Manchester and the North West.

Picture of Lean Agile Manchester Meet up
Lean Agile Manchester

The evening started with Tom Loosemore, our Digital Services Director. Tom shared his experiences of introducing an Agile mindset and ways of working to more traditional organisations. It was a really insightful talk on some key learnings he’s made along the way.

Tom Loosemore presenting at Lean Agile Manchester
Tom Loosemore

The night was complimented by some great lightning talks. Gemma Cameron updated us on the upcoming tech events in Manchester.  Ruta Blazeviciute spoke about the importance of changing organisations from the inside. Kevin Rutherford shared with us why it’s critical to bring your developers along on any agile adoption journey.

I closed the night with a brief introduction to an estimating technique that Kevin had introduced to me a few years ago.  Rather than guess the estimate for the story, Kevin’s technique challenges the story to fit into the time and collect data that can be used to relatively size for future items. Keeping the stories small also ensures you’re not spending lots of time estimating work you may never do if priorities change. 

Picture of Anna Dick speaking at Lean Agile Manchester
Anna Dick

Thank you to all the speakers and to everyone who came along.

We’ll be hosting future Agile events in 2017, we’ll share them on Twitter nearer the time.

Anna Dick

Setting up communities of practice

This is a post about setting up a community of practice and why this is a good thing for organisations embracing agile ways of working.

Setting up a community of practice

In the early summer a group of us, herded by the brilliant Emily Webber, took a day out to talk about setting up a community of practice for agile delivery people.  We recognise that in a networked, progressive organisation of small and agile self-directed teams, there is a role for these communities to act as the glue across teams and the wider organisation.

Communities of practice: “… groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”  Etienne Wenger-Trayer and Beverly Wenger-Trayer

We wanted to create a community that:

  • could evolve naturally – for its members and by its members
  • was a safe space for open dialogue and learning
  • allowed different levels of participation – there’s nothing worse than forced fun!
  • had a regular rhythm to it

We agreed our community’s mission:

Our mission is to: Inspire others at Co-op and beyond by setting and continuously improving the standard of agile, collaborative delivery

And discussed its values:

Agile Delivery Community Manifesto. We will develop a community of practice that sets and improves the standard of agile ways of working in Co-op and beyond. We will do this by: Being open and honest Encouraging and helping each other Making an active contribution Always sharing, learning and improving Not judging

It’s early days but already there’s a growing level of self-organisation and trust amongst members.  The community is sharing ways of working, practical tips and techniques.

Beware silos

To help smooth the flow of knowledge sharing everyone is encouraged to be open.  Tools like Slack, Google apps and open invites to each team’s Showcase really help spread better practice – but only partially.  

Sometimes, everyone working in a product team is in danger of being so focussed on the thing they are making, they forget that they are part of a much wider organisation. It takes extra effort to look around, to dig deeper, to ask questions about why something works in one situation and not so well in another.  Sometimes we’re just too polite or don’t feel safe asking the difficult question.

Other communities of practice are springing up too

If you wander around our office in Angel Square you’ll see the signs of agile working blooming.  There are now more than a dozen teams working in this way, spread across the business from Membership, Funerals, Food to new digital products.  

The teams share some common characteristics (usually less than 10 people, a flat hierarchy, cross-disciplinary and empowered to experiment to solve a problem) but each team works differently.  They own their process and what works for one team might not work so well for another.  That’s a healthy thing and it’s fascinating to see how different ways of working are evolving and improving.

In fact, it feels a lot like a Co-op.  

We’re recruiting now.

Jamie Arnold
Head of Agile Delivery