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Hi all,

Summer is back in Montreal and with the sun comes a new post.

I would like to share with you the work that colleagues and I have been doing to drive knowledge sharing, professional improvement, mastery, diversity and the list goes on. This work takes the form of the common tactic known as “Communities of Practice”. The motivation as stated below was obvious to us and most people we talked to so this got off to a rather good start.

It might of been my naive sense of belief that people in our profession have a natural desire to share and explore new ways to implement or test software, but we hit a Wall*. Here at the top factors that stopped us dead in our tracks:

  • Culture
  • Time
  • Leadership
  • Fragmentation

Culture: As much as we would of loved to have this great organizational culture where people value strong community values such as volunteering, mentoring, supporting others, etc. we realized that while we thought of ourselves that way, the truth was a very different thing. We found a beast of a culture that the individual rules and while education is important, driving that knowledge forward and challenging it with a greater community to ensure great standards is not something that made the top of the list. The approach is rather one of micro decisions made a either at the department or Team level. Be mindful of this if you are considering implementing communities.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. 

– Bertrand Russell

Time: As Mr. Russell so pleasantly points out, this is what we believe would motivate people to get together in order to exchange on approaches or practices to develop software. Have a structured approach to discovering and establish common standards across a wide range of people within the organization. What we did not count on is the prior point “Culture” leaks in heavily into what people deem important to spend Time on. Ultimately we ended up with a pattern of everyone who showed interest into doing this fell one by one to the excuse: “I don’t have time”. I believe that not taking the time is more costly then taking any amount to have people discuss and be aware of the immense resources available to them to face their complex work.

Leadership: Simply put, the lack thereof made it very difficult to make the communities “stick”. There no way for my colleagues and I to be at the heart of every single one of them and make sure they would be driven forward and purposeful. Whether it be individuals in Teams, Managers and our Executives, the “sponsorship” and expectation towards our development people was never made clear that this initiative is to be used and leveraged to better the whole of the organization. This leads us back, full circle, to Culture. This is key to a successful implementation, the drive coming from leadership positions to instigate the flame.

Fragmentation: Lastly, in a recent reorganization the words “startup” came up a lot. As you may of experienced or heard before, the approach is to get Team or departments to act like their own small companies. The unfortunate side effect to this is that while it provides great decisiveness and quick action, establishing cross sweeping standards and practices is “shunned” since Team want to run “their way”. This simply means that gathering people from different “startups” and having to exchange on practices meant that it was like wanting oil to mix with water. If you prefer, all silos no bridges. 😛 This is a blocker, though I believe that while it didn’t help us if the others were present, this would be “superficial”.

While there is hope, there is a way. Be mindful of the above before committing to putting this forward, though in a positive light we have had great success with positions that are more soft skill oriented.

Thank you and cheers PS 🙂