Getting the most out of our community of practice meetings

In the early days of Co-op Digital, our Head of delivery at the time, Jamie Arnold, brought digital people doing similar roles together by setting up communities of practice.

The communities still exist today but, 3 years on, Co-op Digital has expanded significantly: our communities are much bigger, we’re working across more projects and we’re facing different challenges. It’s important that our communities of practice change with the organisation so that we, as communities and as individuals, get the support we need in ways that suit us.

Around 6 months ago, the delivery managers shook up the way we ran our weekly community of practice meetings.

What works for us

The delivery community of practice meets weekly in a meeting room in Federation House. An hour each week feels right for us. We’ve built it into our weekly schedules and we’ve found that this is short enough for us to stay focussed (it doesn’t feel like a team social), and it’s regular enough so that problems don’t build to the stage where the whole session needs to be used to solve them.

Here are some of the things the delivery team has been doing recently in our community of practice meetings.

Setting an objective

In July 2017 we agreed on what the delivery managers’ objective should be. We decided our aim was:

Find better ways for Digital teams to work with their stakeholders, so we gain a common understanding of how we’re working and what we’re planning to deliver.

Having a clear objective that we’d reached together meant that each delivery manager was more invested in our vision than they would be if the objective had been dictated, top down, by one person.

Collaborating to get buy in isn’t a new idea, we know that.

But this is a great example of how it’s worked well: the attendance at our meetups has been consistently high, people have been enthusiastic and have wanted to be a part of a community.

Choosing inclusive topics

We don’t always have an agenda for our meetups but when we do, we make sure we choose topics that don’t exclude anyone. Nobody feels like they can’t or shouldn’t contribute.

Like with all communities in Co-op Digital, stakeholders are something every delivery manager has in common so we’ve often made them the focus of our meetings. We’ve interviewed some of them and used our time together to feed back what they’ve said. We’ve then talked about what we can do from a delivery point of view to meet stakeholder needs better, for example, how best to share what we’re working on regularly with them so they can be as involved as they need to be. We found that what works for one team and its stakeholders often doesn’t work for another.

Sharing techniques

A huge part of our roles as delivery managers is to facilitate sessions. This could be agile ceremonies such as sprint planning, retros, and show and tells but it also includes one-off workshops intended to help the team with setting direction or clarifying longer-term priorities. Because all teams and individuals are different, a technique that works superbly in one scenario may work less well in another so sharing and comparing ways to get to the same point has been really beneficial for our community.

Keeping up with current wider delivery discussions

As with all disciplines, it’s important to look outside our immediate community. It keeps us relevant and engaged. Sometimes, we talk about things we’ve read, tweets we’ve seen, arguments we’ve heard from the delivery community outside of Co-op. We’ve recently discussed Sebastian Deterding’s video on Hacking Shyness: Designing Social Interaction and Why Commitment Culture Wins by Damian Hughes.

Holding ‘open’ sessions

Every 4 to 6 weeks we hold a meet-up where there’s no agenda. Instead, everyone is given a post it note and writes either a problem, a triumph, a question or a comment on it. We dot vote on what we’d like to discuss and we talk through each topic for 5 minutes starting with whichever got the highest vote.

The benefits of belonging

For us, being part of a community of practice is more than attending a weekly hour-long meetup. It’s about having a support network of people who are best-placed to listen, understand and advise when we need it. Each delivery manager is also part of a group of 3 people who face similar challenges, for example, they’re working with more then 1 team. On a day-to-day basis, that smaller group is the first point of contact.   

Superb for personal development  

Since we’ve been running these meetups, I’ve been saving links, quotes, tweets, tips, guidelines and notes I’ve taken in our meetings – anything I think I’ll revisit. It’s my toolbox: it’s full of the knowledge and practical advice that’s been shared with me and I feel better-equipped to deliver products and services with it.

How to start a community of practice

You don’t have to work in a digital team to get value from a community of practice. As social learning consultants,  Etienne Wenger-Trayer and Beverly Wenger-Trayer said:

Communities of practice are 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. 

If you’d like to learn more or if you’d like help setting up a community, email me victoria.mitchell@coopdigital.co.uk

Victoria Mitchell
Digital skills principal

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

Hello to Annette Joseph

I’m Annette and I recently joined the Digital Services team as a Delivery Manager.

photograph of Annette Joseph posing at whiteboard.I’ve worked for Co-op for over 2 years as the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Manager for our Food business. I was seconded to the Digital Services team earlier this year and spent a couple of months shadowing delivery managers to get up to speed with agile ways of working before being hired permanently.

We’ve got lots going on so there wasn’t any shortage of great things to learn.

The digital wills team helped me to get a hands-on understanding of the role and responsibilities of a digital delivery manager. Setting the team up for a successful delivery, removing blockers and obstacles and helping the team to become more self organising. I also worked with Vic Mitchell and the team as they established a robust, but light touch governance for the wills online service as it moved toward live testing.

Picture of the output from the wills risk session
Wills beta team – output from go live risk session

The team working with Funeralcare is helping the business rethink how we deliver at-need funeral services. In an agile team, the way the team works together is as important as the work they produce so it’s important that any issues are surfaced and dealt with as quickly as possible. Working with this group, I learned about the importance of facilitating a team through different stages of maturity and how the appropriate method of support can help the team produce magic.

Picture of the Funeralcare beta team
Funeralcare beta team

The recruitment pipeline was passed to me at the beginning of the secondment. I used it to demonstrate the techniques that I learned from the other teams. The big visible displays of information keep us on track, and help us to be transparent. Regular catch-ups ensure the flow is constantly progressing, user research loops and retrospectives continuously improve the process.  

Picture of the output from the recruitment retrospective
Output from the recruitment retospective

The delivery managers’ community of practice ties it all together. We have a steady, supportive group meeting regularly. We share knowledge, resources helping us to continuously improve the standard of agile collaborative delivery across all teams.

We’re looking for more Delivery Managers right now, if you’re interesting or have any questions please get in touch.

Annette Joseph

We’re looking for Delivery Managers.

I joined The Co-op at the beginning of the year as Head of Agile Delivery. It’s my job to help The Co-op get the most out of modern ways of delivering its services, so that:

  • It’s quicker to deliver and test them with real people.
  • They’re more responsive to feedback from the people that use them.
  • Teams self organise around continuous improvement.

Generally speaking, teams and organisations that adopt agile ways of working have a better chance of delivering the right thing, are happier and more collaborative. It is perfectly suited to an organisation built on co-operation and doing the right thing for its people.

By giving a group of people authority to solve a problem we've made them feel stronger and more confident

Since joining I’ve been doing the rounds in The Co-op to explain it in more detail and how other teams can adopt this mindset to delivery. Some teams are already on their way, but others need help.

The conversation goes something like this:

“Can you help Jamie?”
“Yes, of course. You probably need a Delivery Manager to help get you going.”
“What’s one of those? We’ve got project managers. Is that the same?”

At which point I usually share this excellent post by Emily Webber explaining the role of a Delivery Manager, because the answer is, it is different in important ways:

“It describes the person on the agile team whose main concern is enabling a team of skilled people to deliver value. They create the right environment for the team. They facilitate the team and remove obstacles and blockers that might get in their way. They work closely with the product manager (sometimes known as product owner), but while the product manager is concerned with the vision the delivery manager is concerned with making it happen. The perfect visionary and doer pairing”
Emily Webber

Have a read of the post and if you’re that person and have the right experience then get in touch. It’d be good to hear from you.

You can see more information about vacancies for Delivery Managers on our career site.

Jamie Arnold
Head of Agile Delivery

We’re Hiring

We’re hiring user researchers, designers, product managers, delivery managers, service managers, service analysts, business analysts and engineers, lots of engineers…front end, back end, testing, operations and architects.

If you are motivated by values and pioneering new forms of co-operation using the internet at scale, by listening to and understanding the needs of real people then we’d love to hear from you.​

Follow the links below to apply, we’ll be adding many more roles each week.

Tom, Ben, Danielle, Jamie and Dave

Product Managers (applications now closed)
Delivery Managers (applications now closed)
Content Designers (applications now closed)
Head of Engineering (Applications now closed)