In today’s episode of Agile Coaches’ Corner, host Dan Neumann joins AgileThought colleague, Quincy Jordan, to discuss communities of practice.
Quincy is a Principal Transformation Consultant and has been with AgileThought for about one year. Prior to AgileThought, Quincy was the Transformation Lead for Pivotal’s Atlanta Office, where he consulted with clients to help them reach enterprise scale. Quincy also served as a Principal Consultant and Agile Coach at SCRUMstudy.com for over six years. Quincy’s mission is to help companies and people who are ineffective in their own mission by transforming them from what they are to what they desire to be.
In today’s episode, Quincy explains what exactly a community or practice is, what it can be used for, and why it can be so beneficial to an organization. He also offers tips on how to effectively use a community of practice, as well as how to get it started and incentivize others to show up.
- What is a community of practice?
- A group or body of individuals that have a common interest or practice
- As a group, they come together to finetune their craft
- Can be formal or informal
- It is not mandatory and is open to anyone (you only need an interest to show up)
- What can communities of practice be used for?
- A mechanism for transformation within a company or organization
- Knowledge transfer across teams
- Improve and transform the culture
- Bring teams together and improve communication throughout an organization
- Quincy’s tips on how to effectively use a community of practice:
- Invite in guest speakers from another community of practice
- It will only be as effective as it is supported (a sponsor or team is key)
- How to get a community started and incentivize others to show up:
- Food — seriously!
- Led by a team (also known as “champions”); not an individual
- As a “champion,” you gain high visibility within the organization
- Be conscious of timing — make it convenient for people to show up
- Get a sponsor on board to help with some of the organizational hurdles
- Find a suitable location
- Establish a clear purpose (every time the community meets)
Mentioned in this Episode:
- Quincy Jordan’s LinkedIn
- A Guide to the Scrum Body of Knowledge, by SCRUMstudy
- Quincy’s Recent LinkedIn Post
- Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar H. Schein
- (Quincy Jordan’s Book Pick) What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins
Like what you heard? Check out our podcast page for more episodes full of interesting discussions, agile insights, and helpful resources.
Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann: [00:19] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann, senior agile coach at AgileThought. And with me is one of my AgileThought colleagues. Quincy Jordan, a principal transformation consultant. And he holds the distinction of co-authoring all three additions of the Scrum Body of Knowledge. So thanks for taking time to join us today at Quincy.
Quincy Jordan: [00:37] Hey Dan. Thank you. Yeah, happy to be here.
Dan Neumann: [00:40] All right. Today’s topic is going to be about communities of practice and you know, sometimes I feel like we get stuck in fancy words in our industry. So for folks who maybe aren’t familiar with the community of practice, how would you describe that?
Quincy Jordan: [00:55] So yeah, I would describe a community of practice as simply a group or a body of individuals that have some common interests common practice some commonality that where they come together on some frequency, some cadence, uh, to really just kind of fine tune their craft. Um, and talk about their interests. Um, as it pertains to that particular topic. If you think of, um, how meetups or run, uh, communities of practice are very similar. I mean a meetup is really basically a community of practice that’s open to whatever individuals that are part of that meetup, but they can exist within organizations and different companies. And there’s a whole host of reasons that we’ll probably get into today, um, to have communities of practice.
Dan Neumann: [01:52] Yeah, definitely. I like that analogy of meetup groups cause I think it takes some of the, I don’t know, the formality of the mystery of what a community of practice is. It’s, it’s a group of folks getting together to learn something. So, you know, you mentioned mutual interests having a cadence and then, um, kind of the focus on their craft being three elements that go into that. Yeah. Very cool. Yeah. And I think, um, one of the things I like about communities of practice is that they can be as formal or informal, maybe as is appropriate. So, sometimes there’s formal membership, but most often I think it’s just people who are interested opt into that. Is that a, is that similar to how you see things?
Quincy Jordan: [02:35] It, it is, I actually think it’s better, um, where it’s okay, formal in terms of, yes, there should be some structure there. Uh, so that the community of practice is sustainable, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best idea to make it a requirement or mandatory that folks should join that particular community of practice. Especially. My view oftentimes is from the perspective of transforming organizations. And so when you have communities of practices that are being used as a mechanism for transformation, um, oftentimes that question does actually come up. You know, well, do we need to make it mandatory or required for folks to come? And my response is generally, well, no, not really. You know, we want to make it available. Uh, yes, we want to incentivize folks to come. Uh, and we want to encourage, but you know, I mean it’s kinda like, dude, you really want to force people to come and talk about stuff, you know, and that that’s not probably going to be all that much fun.
Dan Neumann: [03:52] I think I’ve seen that where you have people who for some reason feel an obligation to attend, but they’re not engaging. And in that how it just kills the mood. It sucks the energy out of the group. Something awful.
Quincy Jordan: [03:58] Yeah we don’t particularly advocate the uh, check check box attendees.
Dan Neumann: [04:02] No, definitely. So you mentioned the communities of practice as they relate to transformation and I think that’s something to maybe pull, pull on a little bit. So you’re a transformation consultant. We alluded to that in the introduction. How do you see communities of practice playing a role for organizations that are trying to really increase their agility?
Quincy Jordan: [04:26] Sure. So one thing is when you’re looking at a transformation, there are so many different aspects to it, aside from just that you’re trying to have that organization to transform from doing something one way to doing it another. But there was also significant knowledge transfer that needs to take place. There’s significant education and needs to take place. And more importantly, which encompasses all of what I’m saying now is the culture, uh, needs to transform as well. And so when you have a community of practice, you know, if think about, so I’ll give an example. Uh, there’s a client that I was working with recently and I am fairly certain because where our entry point was with that particular client, I’m fairly certain if I would’ve gone in and said, hey, look, I want to meet with all of your Scrum Masters and uh, there’s some perspectives and approaches I will like to go over with them and make sure that everyone is align. I don’t think they would have said, okay, because that wasn’t our entry point at that time. Uh, so instead what I did was I said, okay, well, um, I’m going to help you guys to um, establish a Scrum Master community or practice. Oh, and guess what? Guess who’s there? All the Scrum Masters in the organization. So it was a very easy and strategic to gather everyone who has that interest in either being a Scrum Master, either they were currently a Scrum Master or they want to be a Scrum Master or they’re just interested in understanding more about the Scrum Master role. It was a very strategic and easy way to get all of them in a room on a very regular basis. We set up a frequency or cadence for it and anything that I notice, uh, were challenges across either different teams or different products I could easily introduce at the community of practice. And, uh, let’s say if there were maybe 17 different Scrum Masters, there, 15 to 17 or so, uh, that represented 15 to 17 different teams. And in that environment that was over maybe three or four different products. So it was a very easy and strategic way, and I hate to keep saying it, but it was, uh, to be able to disseminate knowledge across the organization, across different products, across different teams in one shot, and to be able to, to evaluate how effective that is all at the same time. So there wasn’t too long of a answer to a short question.
Dan Neumann: [07:18] No, I don’t think so. Um, you did touch on something in there that I thought was really, um, well you touched on several things that are important. One, yeah, a really valuable way to reach across the organization easily, you know, the ability to have 17 teams represented and interacting with each other. Like that doesn’t happen very often in a lot of companies. People get into their little silos and they get, they get stuck. They’re just talking to the same people they talk to every day. So now you’ve got this really broad perspective.
Quincy Jordan: [07:49] Correct. And I like to even take it a step further. Uh, so I’ll give it another example from a, another past client. And so in this particular environment, they had a product managers, a UX, uh, software engineers that was kind of like the crux of the makeup. And so we establish a community of practice for each one of those capabilities. So the initial thought sometimes is wait, but aren’t you creating silos by doing that? And the short answer is yes and no. So we are creating silos in terms of that particular community of practice is focused on that particular capability. But as I said earlier, it’s not mandatory, it’s not required and it’s open to everyone. Um, and if you are very strategic about it, um, you can also, and these are some of the things that I’ve done before, is invite folks from one community of practice into another community of practice as guest speakers. So let’s say if it were a Scrum Master community or practice and what we’re going to focus on for this particular, uh, event is, or this particular session is that well we’re going to focus on how the Scrum Master can help support and work with the product owner. So in that case we would bring in some key folks that are product owners out of the product owner community of practice as guest speakers into the Scrum Master community of practice. And then you have a roomful of Scrum Masters or, or folks that are interested in that. And they have the opportunity to hear firsthand the perspective from the product owner and the product owner kind of gives some insight and respond to some questions and then they can also in turn build some empathy towards the role of the Scrum Master at the same time. So it is siloed, but it also kind of breaks down some of the silo at the same time.
Dan Neumann: [10:00] Right? Yeah. When you said siloed and then the description you used, the word that came to mind for me was almost focus. Like the focus is product management, correct?
Quincy Jordan: [10:11] Yes. Yes. That’s a better way of looking at it. Yeah, I like that.
Dan Neumann: [10:15] And the other thing I think you mentioned that was also really important, um, is you don’t have to have the title of Scrum Master to go to the Scrum Master community of practice. You know, we’re not, we’re not checking credentials when people come in the door. It’s like if you are interested in the topic, the door is open. Come on in.
Quincy Jordan: [10:36] Absolutely. Yeah. It’s, and I like to even take it a step further and say, not only do you not have to have the title, you don’t even have to have any of the experience. The only thing that you need to have is an interest, you know, as we said earlier, as far as what a community of practice is. So you just have to have the interest, you know, I don’t really know anything about that particular thing, but I’m interested in learning more about it and you show up and um, from there you start growing and start learning and start contributing and participating and so forth.
Dan Neumann: [11:06] Definitely. Yeah. I could, you know, a product manager who’s attending the Scrum Master community to practice or, or vice versa. I think they’re going to learn a lot. And you know, we talk about t shaped skills in the agile community where you have a deep specialization and then some generalization as well. And communities of practice can be a great place to start to kind of broaden out that the top of that t for sure.
Quincy Jordan: [11:28] Yeah. Yeah. I personally see the communities of practice as like the secret ingredient to transformations. I think it flies completely under the radar oftentimes. And what you’ll find is even when a transformation does not intentionally and strategically use community of practice as a mechanism, you’ll find that it’s, sometimes we’ll start cropping up on its own because folks will just kind of start getting, getting together and talking about some things and then that kind of grows and then that kind of grows and then that kind of grows. Uh, and they may not formally call it a community of practice, but in function its still the same thing.
Dan Neumann: [12:12] Agreed. One of the, one of the analogies I use when people are trying to figure out what a community of practices, I’m like you think of not so much anymore, you think of the smokers and they go outside together and you’ve got all these different skills represented. They’re talking about everything that’s going on in the company, the rumor mill, the what they’re working on. And in a way, um, this is like a healthier version of the smoking community of practice here.
Quincy Jordan: [12:43] Yeah, it’s interesting. I recently did a, a a post on linkedin and what I mentioned in the post was that if a transformation was how I put it, if a transformation was the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices, then a community of practice would be one of those.
Dan Neumann: [13:02] Nice. I liked that. We’ll make sure to get a link to that on the show notes page and, and uh, make sure folks can find that. It’s, yeah, the, I love love analogies. It really helps wrap one’s head around what some of these, these concepts aren’t, makes them so much more approachable. I wanted to talk you’d, you’d alluded to incentivizing and encouraging people to attend. We don’t want to make it a requirement and we don’t want that incentive to destroy the intrinsic motivation of going much like a lot of times rewards and, and bribes to do something can. What types of incentives have you seen work? I mean for me, food, you know, you feed people and they will show up. That to me is kind of one of the bigger incentives. Um, but I was curious what you thought.
Quincy Jordan: [14:02] Yeah, food definitely does it. Uh, for sure. Uh, sometimes because of the timing, food isn’t always, uh, and sometimes because of the budget, food isn’t always, you know, uh, something that they can do. So, uh, with one past client, and I’ll kind of get to how I’m going to answer the question in just a second, but one past client. So when we first started, the initial product manager community of practice was, I want to say, I think it was maybe around 40 to 60, I believe folks that were showing up fairly consistently and we grew that to slightly over 200 that were showing up on a regular basis. So if you say, well, you know, we’re going to provide food for 200 people plus like every time as kind of a tough one. Um, but you know, there are some other ways to incentivize folks. Um, one is I always recommend and strongly encourage, and from a transformation standpoint, I really require that the community or practice is led by a team, not by an individual. So you can hear these sad stories of communities of practices that started a organization. It was going really great and then the person that was heading it up, um, either left a company or they just got really busy with too many different things and then it started waning off. And next thing you know, you know, folks are talking about, uh, you know, what happened with what, what the community of practice that used to be and how it used to be so good and so forth. So I always recommend that there’s always a team that team is often referred to as agile champions, uh, assuming that it’s an agile transformation, but they’re always referred to as champions, um, via an agile or any other approach. And so, uh, with that group of champions, that also means if you are a champion, then you’re now by default in a high visibility position, um, because you’re having to help facilitate the communities of practice, the different events and help coordinate things. Uh, you may have to reach out to different folks to bring in guest speakers, uh, and, and then, you know, showing some of the effectiveness to leadership. So that opportunity for the high visibility within the organization is an incentive. Uh, so then sometimes the question comes up, well, but does that incentivize people to just kind of do it so they can be seen? Well, maybe initially, uh, they can have that perspective, but once the work starts, they quickly weed themselves out. Um, so there’s another client, uh, and you know, I helped them to start their community of practice and I said, hey, well, you know, we’re, uh, first thing is we’re going to need to identify, uh, some agile champions and these are the criteria and the kinds of things that we’re looking for and agile champion. And I kind of suspected that they heard the word champion and didn’t hear the rest of it. And so as we start getting into it and we started preparing for events, uh, they were very quick to say, okay, sorry, this isn’t what I thought. Like it’s not as much glory in it as I thought it was going to be when I heard the word champion. So there’s a bit more, a bit more effort and grunge work going on than I thought was gonna happen. And so that quickly they weeded themselves out. They selected themselves out, um, and eventually there probably will come back in.
Dan Neumann: [18:04] Right. And I think the, the champion role is a very active one. One of the things I think also goes with it related to the champion is having that sponsor. So somebody who is, uh, providing support, whether it’s financial support for budgetary things, you know, if you can get the food, that’s awesome. And also for time, those, those champions, those people who are leading the communities of practice and need to invest some time in that activity to make sure that communication is happening and they’re bringing in other people and doing the follow-ups that might come out of that. So those, those people who might not be able to do as much of the, the grunt work was the phrase might be able to help clear some hurdles for the time and the money that goes with some of those lending their name. Yeah. It’s one of those things managers, what can a manager do in an agile organization? It’s help clear those organizational hurdles for time and energy and, and putting in that investment over time.
Quincy Jordan: [19:08] Absolutely. Yeah. And that actually brings up a really good point because the community of practice is just as anything else. It’s only going to be as effective as it is supported. And if it’s not supported by leadership, if the organization doesn’t support it and it doesn’t have to be supported by everyone, it’s like you said, you just need a good solid sponsor. Preferably again, a team just like there’s a team of champions that, uh, facilitate and run the community of practice. It’s better if there’s also a transformation team that helps support that effort. Um, from a strategic standpoint as well, but it’s definitely important to have some folks that will clear the path, make it a little easier to get things going and you know, where folks don’t have to scramble for space, you know, meeting space and you know, the other logistical things that can slow things down.
Dan Neumann: [20:09] Right. Yeah. You’d mentioned your product owner example where you had a couple of hundred people. That space becomes a very meaningful challenge at that point. And so, yeah, the somebody who can engage with facilities. One of the anti patterns I’ve seen it, you know, we talked about a team, I’ve seen a rotating kind of like a handoff. So you think of it like a relay race where somebody runs for a quarter of the lap and then they hand the baton to somebody else where each session or each couple sessions had a different facilitator. And that fell over very fast. At some point somebody had dropped the baton and it just died. I don’t know. Have you seen that too versus a true team where everybody’s working together?
Quincy Jordan: [20:48] I have, uh, and it’s, it’s just as you said it, it can work okay. But it’s bound to run into significant challenges because at some point it’s going to conflict with one person. And if that one person happens to be the person that is supposed to take the helm at that time, then, uh, then you’re gonna run into the same situation as if it was only one person all, you know, from the beginning. So I have found far more success in having a team because even with having a team, um, I’ll, I’ll go back to another example. Uh, so there were I believe five, um, champions identified on the team and, uh, there were, for lack of a better term, a reorg that was about to take place. And so that was causing a change in the atmosphere in the company. And so, uh, as we were preparing for what, what we refer to as forms and core practice talks that we, one way that we utilize as a mechanism within community of practice, three of the champions showed up and the other two did not. And so it was fine. And then when we got into our forum, uh, one of those two that didn’t show up, showed up and one that actually did show up for the prep didn’t show up. So we still have three different facilitators there. So it, it’s really better if you do have that team because it’s, something’s always going to fall through and if you don’t have a backup, then that’s where you run into problems. So it’s just much better to have a team so that you have some built in redundancy. Uh, so you don’t lose that consistency.
Dan Neumann: [22:45] Definitely. Implicitly, we touched on some tips for getting a community started and maybe as we close out this podcast, we can just share a couple of examples of this. So a team of champions was one of the things that we had alluded to. Having a sponsor who can help clear some of those organizational hurdles, time, money, kind of lending their name and their coattails to it. Um, having a location that’s suitable. Food. I love food, you know, and getting people there, especially if it’s over lunch, get them the food. Like, I don’t care if it’s 5 people or 200 people. Like if you’re asking somebody to contribute their lunch. Yeah. Kick in the food. What other tips might you have for getting a community going?
Quincy Jordan: [23:34] So I think in the last thing that you just said actually is one of the other things to consider is the timing of when the community of practice meets. So, um, so you do have to be very conscientious about that. Do we meet during lunch? And if we do then as you said, definitely we need to spring for food. Now you can also sometimes take an approach where it’s, you know, it’s a brown bag thing, but I like to be a little careful around not mixing the concept of a lunch and learn with the communities of practice cause you know, so that people make sure that they’re very clear on, uh, what the activity is. But, uh, some of the other things to consider is when you are seeking that sponsorship, that leadership really needs to know things as far in advance as possible. So if you can send out a roadmap and say, you know, every so many weeks we’re going to meet, uh, and we anticipate it will be x number of people. Um, maybe every so many weeks in between those we meet and we anticipate it would be so many people or, or we’ll meet once a once every two months or something like that. I wouldn’t extend the meeting time to where it’s too long. Uh, typically I wouldn’t go past about six weeks because if you go past that, you know, people kind of, you lose your momentum and you don’t, and you may never even build it like you really intend to. Um, so how you’re going to build a momentum is something very important for folks to keep in mind and keeping the sponsorship very aware, uh, as far in advance as possible. Everyone else doesn’t need to know as far in advance but leadership, I mean, they do have to consider budget. They do have to consider, you know, timing, they do have to consider those things and you want to be empathic to that, to the leadership the same way you want the leadership to be empathetic to the teams and those who are trying to build their knowledge base.
Dan Neumann: [25:37] Definitely. Yeah. Cadence is critical. Um, yeah. I know you’d alluded to six weeks. I love, you know, for some communities a weekly cadence makes sense. Sometimes it’s every couple of weeks. I find that when it gets out to three and four weeks, people start to get back together and they don’t remember the last session they had together. And then the clear purpose, um, was also something that you touched on in there. Just making sure that people know, is this a place where they show up and listen, is this a place where they show up and engage? Like making sure that they know what the community of practice is for.
Quincy Jordan: [26:09] Yeah. And actually I am a firm believer that that actually needs to be stated every time the community meets like every single time. There’s a quick blurb right at the beginning, um, that says, hey, this is the community of Scrum Masters and this is our purpose. This is our vision, this is what we seek to do. Um, and this is our topic for today, or this is how it will run today.
Dan Neumann: [26:32] Very cool. Yeah. Having that framework is, is outstanding. Well, good. Thanks for exploring the topic of communities of practice. I want to shift to something that’s going to be a recurring part of these podcasts and that is focusing on continuous learning as folks in a knowledge economy and folks who are doing agile work or trying to continue to stay relevant. I feel like reading and continuing to grow is, is super important. And so I’m curious what you’re reading these days.
Quincy Jordan: [27:04] Sure. So, um, I’m very big on a nonverbal communication. Um, that is the number one way that we communicate as human beings, uh, long before anything that we say. Um, but our nonverbal is very important. So, “What Everybody is Saying,” by Joel Navarro, um, I think is a good read. You know, that’s out there. Uh, there are plenty of others on nonverbal communication. Um, but I find that to be very important in transformation work, uh, and really just all the way around. I think it just helps if you’re pretty good at recognizing some of the cues that we give off as human beings. So anything around body language and communication I think is very key.
Dan Neumann: [27:57] That’s cool. I have not read that book. It’s, it’s on my backlog, but it hasn’t quite got to the top. Is it, for folks that are interested, is it something that you find building your own awareness of your own body language? And maybe the signals you’re sending? Does it talk about, uh, how to read the signals of other people or is it both? Like how has, how has that helped you?
Quincy Jordan: [28:18] Uh, it’s a little bit of both and yeah, so it’s what you notice from other folks giving off and what you can be more conscious of that you’re giving off yourself. Uh, and how to interpret some of that just as with anything else in like when someone takes the polygraph and all those kinds of things is not about what someone does one time, but it’s about the patterns that they show and the conditions in which they demonstrate them. And so I find that to be very useful when negotiating, when trying, trying to relate to clients or potential clients and you know, and, and also, you know, let’s face it, you know, just because you’re spot on with what you’re seeing and interpreting ,doesn’t mean that you can actually do anything about it, you know, but it does make you aware of it.
Dan Neumann: [29:13] Yes. And something that, um, while I haven’t read that book while you were describing it, it, I’ve read a different book called “Humble Inquiry,” and it’s about being able to genuinely be curious about what’s happening. And so I would imagine if you’re seeing certain signals being sent off, then there’s the opportunity to go, hey, you know, maybe I’m noticing this and, and genuinely be curious about what is, what is causing that, you know, did I say something? Are you concerned about, about, um, the approach, the question, the proposal, whatever’s on the table there. And so just genuinely being humble and curious, not in a leading questions kind of way or not trying to trap somebody in the questions kind of way, but just really being curious. Yes. Yeah. Well, fantastic. So we’ll put a link to what everybody is saying then as well on this. And so with that, thank you very much for joining and enjoy the rest of your day.
Quincy Jordan: [30:10] Absolutely. Thanks for having me and it’s been very enjoyable. Um, hopefully I’ll be able to come back.
Dan Neumann: [30:15] Of course.
Quincy Jordan: [30:16] I had a great time.
Dan Neumann: [30:18] Look for the calendar invite.
Quincy Jordan: [30:20] All right. Thanks a lot, Dan.
Outro: [30:22] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner Podcast brought to you by AgileThought, get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.