In 2017, I consulted on an enterprise scale adoption of an IT organization for a multi-national corporation. Today that adoption continues under its own power, without any outside consulting. Many of the Scrum Masters from that initial adoption push are now the organization’s Agile coaches and the scope of the adoption has grown beyond the initial pilots. One of the main reasons for the success lies with those initial Scrum Masters and how they came together as a common group and worked to improve practices across the organization.
According to the Scrum Guide, a Scrum Master’s primary job is to help the team be effective in their use of Scrum. In practice, the Scrum Master serves three customers: the Product Owner, the Development Team and the Organization. This post focuses on what service to the organization means, and explores how creating Communities of Practice can help the Scrum Master serve the organization like it did at the multi-national corporation mentioned above.
Why Serve the Organization?
If Scrum is about helping teams address complex problems, why is the Scrum Master focusing outward at all? Shouldn’t they be laser focused on the members of the Scrum Team?
Yes, the team is important, however, teams exist within a greater organization. For the team to be successful, the organization needs to “understand which of their interactions with the Scrum Team are helpful and which aren’t.” (see The Scrum Guide.)
To expand on this idea further, it helps to step back and consider the essence of Scrum. Coming out of the software development space, it’s easy for people to see Scrum as nothing more than a way to improve development practices. In reality though, Scrum, and by extension Agile overall, is a framework for Organization Change.
“Organizational change refers to the actions in which a company or business alters a major component of its organization, such as its culture, the underlying technologies or infrastructure it uses to operate, or its internal processes.” – Harvard Business School
If we compare traditional development practices like waterfall to Scrum, I would be hard pressed to say we were not altering the internal processes, how the organization operates or even its culture — moving from command and control to self-organization. To be effective, a Scrum Master needs to be a change agent who helps the organization around their Scrum Team to adapt to the new way of working that Scrum promotes.
What Does Service to the Organization Look Like?
Citing the Scrum Guide, we find the following activities focus on the organization:
- Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption;
- Planning Scrum implementations within the organization;
- Helping employees and stakeholders understand and enact Scrum and empirical product development
- Removing impediments to the Development Team’s progress
- Working with other Scrum Masters to increase the effectiveness of the application of Scrum in the organization.
The overarching theme throughout this list, and in dozens of books, blogs and videos on Scrum, is continuously inspecting and adapting towards a better whole. At Applied Frameworks, we think one of the best ways to create a continuous inspect and adapt cycle is through the use of Communities of Practice.
What is a Community of Practice?
A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common interest in a specific knowledge domain. They come together with the common goal to share information, improve skills, and actively work to advance the knowledge of the domain. Their shared goal implies a commitment to the domain, and a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people.
A CoP exists to advance the craft of the domain. In pursuing their interest, members of the community engage in joint activities, experiments, and share information. In doing so, they build relationships and skills that enable them to learn and share knowledge both in and outside the community.
In the domain of Scrum, a CoP is a key component in sustaining a strong Scrum adoption. Well-supported CoPs help drive the organic growth that is needed for any organizational change to succeed. For example, the early formation of CoPs devoted to Scrum Master and Product Owner practices can provide a highly effective support network to people as they adjust to their new roles. An engineering CoP can also provide valuable support for developers and testers as they adopt new practices, techniques and tools specific to their domain.
How Do You Launch and Run Communities of Practice?
Here is the framework we recommend for the design, launch and sustaining of a CoP:
- Define the Vision: create a vision statement that clearly outlines the value the CoP will deliver.
- Recruit the Leadership Team: a cross-functional group of three to eight individuals possessing all the skills needed to launch a CoP.
- Define the Initiatives: what will be the focus, to educate, support, encourage, or integrate?
- Enlist a Sponsor/Champion: a sponsor will help to ensure the CoP’s goals are aligned with overall company strategy and provide the resources that individual contributors lack
- Create a Plan: similar to Scrum, having a strong plan to reach your goal will ensure a greater chance of success.
- Find Early Value: look for early wins that will demonstrate the value of the new CoP to your sponsor, your membership and the organization.
- Sustain the Community: The CoP Product Backlog should continue to be developed and refined with a constant focus on growing and improving the existing CoP.
- Continuously Inspect and Adapt: at regular intervals, the Leadership team should step back and examine both the “what” and the “how” of the CoP.
If these seem familiar, that is because they are. Our CoP Design Framework leverages the Kotter 8-Step Process for Leading Change in combination with collaborative product design techniques. The Kotter method is a proven system for leading change and forms a solid foundation on which a Scrum Master, or Scrum Coach, can build a CoP.
For a detailed look at the framework and a useful graphic organizer, download our Communities of Practice Framework.
The Scrum Master’s role includes service to the organization. That means creating a learning organization that is continuously inspecting and adapting towards a better whole. One of the best ways to create a continuous inspect and adapt cycle is through the use of Communities of Practice. They are a key component in driving the organic growth necessary for organizational change to succeed. Our Community of Practice Framework can help you start using this key component at your organization.
If you would like more help regarding Communities of Practice or Scrum adoption at your organization, contact one of our experts to see how we can help. And be sure to follow us on Linkedin, Twitter and/or Facebook to hear about our new blogs and upcoming webinars.