A Community of Practice must has a have a common interest.

A Community of Practice must has a have a common interest.

I am often asked to describe a community practice.  We defined a community of practice (COP) as a group of people with a common area of interest to sharing knowledge. The interaction and sharing of knowledge serves to generate relationships that reinforce a sense of community and support.

An example of a recently formed COP:

Organizational context:  The organization is a large multinational organization with four large development centers (US, Canada, India and China). Software development projects (includes development, enhancements and maintenance) leverage a mix of Scrum/xP and classic plan based methods.  Each location has an internal project management group that meets monthly and is sponsored by the company.  This group is called the Project Manager COP (PMCOP).  The PMCOP primarily meets at lunchtimes at the each of the corporate locations with quarterly events early in the afternoon (Eastern time zone in Canada). Attendance is mandatory and active involvement in the PMCOP is perceived to be a career enhancement. Senior management viewed the PMCOP as extremely successful while many participants viewed it as little more than a free lunch.

Agile COP: The organization recently had adopted Agile as an approved development and software project management approach.  A large number of Scrum masters were appointed.  Some were certified, some had experience in previous organizations and some had “read the book” (their description). The organization quickly recognized that the consistency of practice was needed and implemented a package of coaching (mostly internal), auditing and started a COP with the similar attributes as the PMCOP. Differences implementation included more localization and self-organization.  Each location met separately and developed its own list of topics (this allowed each group to be more culturally sensitive) and each location rotated the meeting chair on a 3 month basis.  Participation was still mandatory (attendance was taken and shared with senior management).

In both cases the COP included a wide range of programming including outside presenters (live and webinar), retrospective like sessions and practitioner sharing.

In order to determine whether a COP is positioned to be effective, we can use the four attributes from Communities of Practice to evaluate the programs.  If we use the framework to evaluate the two examples in our mini-case study the results would show:

 

PMCOP Agile COP
Common area of interest Yes, project management is a specific area of interest. Yes – ish, The COP is currently focused on Scrum masters; however, Agile can include a very broad range of practices therefore other areas of focus may need to be broken up.
Process Yes, the PMCOP has a set of procedures for membership, attendance and logistics The Agile COP adopted most the PMCOP processes (the rules for who chairs the meeting and local topics were modified).
Support Yes, the organization provided space, budget for lunch and other incidentals. Yes, the organization provided space, budget for lunch and other incidentals. 
Note in both the Agile and PMCOP the requirement to participate was considered support by the management team but not by the practitioners.
Interest The requirement to participate makes interest hard to measure from mere attendance.  We surveyed the members which lead to changes in programming to increase perceived value. The Agile COP had not been in place long enough to judge long-term interest; however, the results from the PMCOP was used to push for more local, culturally sensitive programming.

 

Using the four common attributes needed for an effective community of practice is a good first step to determine the strengths and weaknesses of a planned-to-be-implemented community of practice.

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