Viewing Posts by Lenka Pincot
By Lenka Pincot
As COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted, companies are finding new strategies to handle traffic in their offices and ensure the well-being of their employees. Going forward, it’s expected that employees will use home offices more than before, physical office spaces may shrink, and traditional formats of team interactions may not return anytime soon.
Even before the pandemic, many of us were already working on virtual teams and relying on online collaboration tools. But we took for granted that we could meet our colleagues face-to-face if we wanted to, and we expected regular all-team meetings at least a few times a year.
When rethinking my old ways of working with larger and cross-functional teams, I came to the realization that it is more important than ever to encourage forming internal Communities of Practice that provide platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and professional development.
What Are Communities of Practice?
Communities of practice (COPs) are informal groups of practitioners with a shared profession or passion. The group’s identity is defined by its domain, members and practice. We don’t have to look far to name one of the best examples: PMI, the global community of practice for project management professionals.
COPs may also be formed internally within companies. They are supposed to be created organically as a response to the needs of professionals.
The COP concept is often part of agile frameworks as a recommended way to foster cross-team experience exchange. Imagine a COP for all scrum masters who are part of various different teams across the company. Regular meetings and interactive platforms help them learn and encourage networking. Scrum masters may discuss how their job differs or what challenges they face. They have their community to find a safe space, to discuss best practices or to propose new concepts to experiment with. If they don’t belong to the same organization unit, a COP may be the only way to gather.
The Benefits of Creating COPs
Reflecting on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we work, I would recommend actively encouraging the formation of COPs within your organization, with these three main reasons in mind:
1. They allow teams to quickly respond to new needs.
The reaction to circumstances driven by COVID-19 may put teams in different situations. Some teams may be using more digital collaboration tools because they were partly virtual, others may be forced to learn new skills.
Creating platforms and encouraging experience-sharing for professionals across these teams through COPs may speed up the learning process. On top of that, the groups could be geared toward specific professions, increasing the likelihood of fast adoption of the concrete recommendations.
Take me for instance: I’m a coach and transformation leader. I rely on non-verbal communication when conducting 1:1 sessions, and my favorite way to progress with my agenda is to facilitate workshops. But physical flipcharts and whiteboards are off the table now. Sharing my challenges with colleagues who happen to be in a similar situation, and at the same time are familiar with company resources, tools and options, would be more than welcome.
2. They foster inclusivity and a sense of belonging.
Not everyone is set up for the same work conditions when moving to remote work. It could turn out that the regular team meeting time is not the best for everyone. Some people may concentrate better in the morning, while for others it may seem impossible. Requirements on the profession itself may change completely.
COPs offer a safe space and enriching environment for members, because they operate in the same domain. Using community resources and reaching out to peer members is less stressful. COPs are inclusive and are there to provide support and a sense of belonging. We all know how good it feels when we can share our challenges and learn that we are not alone.
3. They enrich online trainings and virtual conferences.
With the need to switch traditional events like conferences or learning sessions to an online setup, we’ve gained much more flexibility. We can schedule our learning at our own pace and choose the best timing. But we’ve also lost something: The possibility to raise a hand and ask a question on the spot, or to simply look around to confirm that the group is on the same page.
Recently, I recommended that a group of colleagues go through online training. But the feedback was that the topic was difficult, and they were not sure if they could complete it individually and ensure they understood the points correctly. We discussed forming a COP, in which sharing learning points from the course and clarifying difficult passages would be a great start to building connections and supporting each other.
As a next step, it would be natural to set up regular meetings and address how each member of the community is putting the new knowledge into practice within their teams, and further supporting the COP by setting up an online interactive platform for communication outside of the regular events.
Have you been part of a community of practice? What has been your experience?
By Lenka Pincot
Project management affords a great opportunity for professional and personal learning with the identification of lessons learned as one of its standard practices. Discussing the lessons learned within the team or sharing them with other colleagues outside of the project is all about looking for ways to do things better next time. But what can be done to maximize the use of lessons learned?
There are numerous examples in which the ability to identify opportunities for improvement and put them into practice falls fully within a team’s autonomy. These may be, for instance, suggestions on how to prepare for a kick-off meeting, tips on how to onboard new team members faster or how to better engage project stakeholders. But there are also points that can’t be addressed within the project, because they are in the hands of teams outside of the direct project manager’s influence. The team may be challenged to stay motivated during the lessons learned session while they express doubts that any change will occur.
I came across the aforementioned frustration when discussing the topic of lessons learned during one of our PMI chapter events. When I recalled my own experience and efforts to maximize the benefits of identifying lessons learned, I realized there are three focus areas:
Lessons learned sessions are no longer expected to happen only after the project is delivered. Learning is a continuous process and, as such, should be encouraged by frequent lessons learned gatherings. But it is also important to note that we learn when we need to learn—when it is useful. And when we need something, we take the path of least resistance to get the piece of knowledge we are looking for.
When we say lessons learned repository, we probably imagine an Excel file or database. Is there a way to make the content more visible and instantly accessible? To have it in front of our eyes and updated frequently so we have a rough idea of what information we can find there?
At present, I mostly work with teams using agile project management methods, for which lessons learned sessions are replaced by frequent retrospectives. We look back at a specific short time frame and are expected to agree on what experiments the team will try in order to achieve improvement. Outcomes of retrospectives are written on white boards, then placed either in a physical team space or a digital space (their interactive wiki pages.)
Kaizen comes from Japan and is a term that refers to good change, continuous improvement or change for better. Kaizen is based on a reflection of the team’s performance, addresses inefficiencies and is delivered in increments.
When you discuss the lessons learned, empower your team to make a difference by translating the areas of improvement into smaller steps that are within the team’s influence and can be delivered. Encourage them to execute these steps. As they are less complex and more achievable in short time frames, the team can experience benefits sooner and realize that the change is in their hands.
Projects do not exist in a vacuum. The way they are delivered is highly influenced by the entire organizational setup. In order to change the determining environment, look for ways to use the power of project learning to influence the organizational environment. In my experience, it only works when you are able to identify the value that the change brings to the other parts of the organization.
In one of my assignments, I had often heard complaints about insufficient testing and training of users of a new information system that was the outcome of IT projects. The lesson learned was that users were not involved soon enough, the training materials did not meet expectations and that it should get more attention next time. We identified a solution that we applied to our project with positive outcomes. How could we prevent this situation from happening with the other projects that were coming down the line? What was needed was to make our approach an organizational standard so that other projects could benefit.
If you don’t have the mandate to make a change, use your influencing skills. Raise awareness of the topic, use success stories collected throughout your project to demonstrate that there is a way to solve the issue, make allies by delivering good work and network to spread the good news. When the decision-makers start to get curious, have your recommendations at the ready.
How do your project teams use lessons learned to grow?
By Lenka Pincot
When crisis strikes, the first thing we’d like to do is quickly re-prioritize, re-assign resources to the activities that provide the most value under the current circumstances and materialize the benefits as soon as possible. While this may be a distant dream for some organizations, it is far more realistic for those that have gone through at least the early stages of agile transformation.
Why is that?
In the 13th Annual State of Agile Report, the ability to manage changing priorities was listed as the top reported benefit of adoption of agile practices. It’s followed by project visibility. These two factors go hand-in-hand.
Companies with multiple project portfolios that have adopted large-scale agile practices must find a way to align priorities across compact cross-functional agile teams. This may be done in various ways, whether we call it Program Increment Planning (SAFe framework), Scrum of Scrums or Quarterly Business Reviews (inspired by Google and Netflix, and popularized by ING). These alignment activities all require agile teams to define their initiatives so that benefits are traceable and achievable on a short-term timeline. As such, it doesn’t leave much space for building dazzling business cases, right? At this point, the project visibility to all parties involved in prioritization and planning is crucial.
The OKR Method
Because agile teams maintain a certain level of dependencies among one another (e.g., shared technological platforms), their initiatives must be prioritized with this in mind. There is certainly more than one way to get these project teams on the same page and across the finish line together. I am preferential to the OKRs method, which involves translating business objectives (O) into actionable, quarterly-based commitments, or key results (KR). While objectives should describe what you want to achieve in a 12-to-18-month period, quarterly, measurable key results explain how you get there and are regularly redefined.
Next, ask agile teams to provide you with a clear link that shows how their initiatives support the quarterly key results. As a result, activities are exposed to an open discussion to determine how they support project goals and if they are enough to help project teams achieve what they need to achieve.
When strategic priorities change (e.g., a company needs to strengthen its online operations during the COVID-19 crisis, when a month ago its main revenues came from physical customer interactions), you assign higher priority to the respective OKRs and move the linked initiatives to the top of the list. But this only works if you’ve achieved a high level of transparency and trust across the organization. And agile teams provide smaller and more measurable product increments, so that their business value is easy to understand.
Because agile teams are stable, they have resources to execute the top priorities instantly. The agile mode of delivery is iterative, so there is no need for detailed analysis prior to the actual implementation. Teams are actionable right after re-prioritization occurs.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience such high agile organizational maturity firsthand. It is fair to say that achieving the organizational capabilities described above takes many years and a lot of persistence, coaching and awareness-building. But once you’ve moved to such a stage, you know that the agile approach will have your back when you need it most.
How has agile helped your team manage changing priorities?