September 25, 2021

Agilists

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Communities of Practice in SAFe


“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”- African Proverb

In light of this proverb, to go far, you need to focus on developing trust, transparency, communication, collaboration, alignment and dispense knowledge amongst your team members towards truly achieving greatness. All these characteristics happen to be the building blocks of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

SAFe presents a very organized and disciplined approach for organizations to accomplish their goals in order to produce the highest quality product in the shortest sustainable amount of time. It consists of many processes and activities that focus on building better communication and collaboration amongst the team members.

In this article, we shall discuss one of these activities which aims to help achieve a higher level of understanding and increased knowledge amongst the team members of different agile release trains, which is known as the Community of Practice (COP). We will cover the initiation and the entire lifecycle of it and discuss why it is essential to have it.

What is a Community of Practice?

A Community of Practice is a small, self managing and informal group of people that belong from one common interest of a specific technical or business domain, that band together to share information, knowledge and experiences to improve their daily quality of work.

The formation of this group can be need based or can remain for a significant amount of time. The members of this community are empowered to design the types of interactions that they want and can freely determine the frequency that best suits their needs.
It is important for every COP to have the following traits:

  • A domain that specifies an area where knowledge can be shared
  • A practice that consists of a shared body that distributes knowledge and experiences
  • A community which is a hand-picked group of individuals who focus on discussing the issues and are always willing to participate in regular interactions

Why need a Community Of Practice?

A Community of Practice aims to build better skills and relationships between the members of various agile teams across the entire organization. It can be started after feeling that there is no uniformity in the processes being followed. This practice keeps everyone up to date with the latest practices and provides an opportunity to learn from experiences of senior members that eventually builds better working and healthy relationships. People in the community are enlightened to newer and better working methods and techniques. The idea of its existence is to provide benefits not just for the personal growth of the individuals but the teams, trains and therefore the entire organization.

Examples of a Community Of Practice

Developers can have activities like hackathons with other developers of other agile teams. Designers can have posters or any other creative activity related competitions.
It is not necessary to have all these activities. There can be weekly or bi-weekly meetups where the members can sit in one room and exchange ideas.
Product Managers and Scrum Masters can have meetups from different agile teams to exchange practices and experiences in building highly productive agile teams.

The Lifecycle of the Community Of Practice

There are five phases to the development of every community of practice.

  1. Committing: The first stage of building a COP. It is when the idea to have a community of practice is thought of 
  2. Starting Up: The purpose and goals of the COP are set. The members are selected and the roles are negotiated.
  3. Operating: The COP now fully exists and it is now working in full motion in delivering knowledge. Problems are being discussed and newer ways to solve them are openly talked about. Current processes of working are mentioned and ways to improve them.
  4. Winding Down: This the point where it feels that the value for having a COP is slowly diminishing. 

Shutting Down: The ending of a COP. The purpose of having a COP is finally achieved and there is no value that can be given so the group of people slowly disintegrates.

Levels of the Community Of Practice

There are levels of participation in a Community of Practice. Any member can move freely across the levels as needs interests evolve.

 

  1. Core Team:  This is the heart of the community that organizes all the events and participations that happen in the community 
  2. Active: These members work closely with the core team to help share the definition and direction of the community of practice. They are instrumental in defining the community’s vision, purpose, roles and strategies for interaction
  3. Occasional: These members share their concern only when there are specific topics of interest being addressed  
  4. Peripheral: These members engage on a very limited basis. These could be newcomers or those who have a casual interest in the community’s activities  
  5. Transactional: These members are the least connected to the community and may connect only to access COP resources only when they want. 

 

It is common for people to move between different levels of participation and commitment over time.

Conclusion

The Community of Practice is extremely beneficial for the members of the team. It catalyzes continuous improvement, by creating an environment where knowledge is freely and efficiently shared thus enhancing the ability to quickly solve problems and to gain mastery and autonomy on their daily tasks. It can be a place for insightful and explorative discussions. This in fact helps in making better decisions and also builds a mindset of continuously learning new methods and always possessing the drive to move forward. It also helps in building better understanding of the Lean Agile Principles.



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