How to Create a Community of Practice for Your Team

15 July 2022

Rocketech

Software Development Company

At the outset, when the team is still small, all interaction is based on personal contacts. But with the team growth, these contacts are interrupted. Over time, the question arises, "How to maintain synchrony in architecture, technology, and standards and processes tasks?" The answer is to implement a Community of Practice* approach.

*Community of Practice are professional communities or groups that regularly collaborate to exchange information, develop their competencies, increase productivity, and strengthen general knowledge in their profile.

Specialized CoP teams act as processes and standards synchronisation centres and perform the knowledge accumulation and the development of each competence within Rocketech.

We have known through experience that some key factors affect the successful ​​creation and development of specialised communities within the team. In this article, we will review developing a Community of Practice in a remote team and discuss the main mistakes in project implementation. We hope you will avoid these mistakes and quickly create conditions for development and exchange of experience. In general, this approach will help you open up unique opportunities for your employees to influence business development.

Basic mistakes

Like many teams, we started the Community of Practice creation on a volunteer basis. We had seen the need for specialists to exchange experience and suggested that the team leads will conduct this project on their own. But it was the main and most common mistake: you shouldn't assign the responsibility for the community management and development to one leader.

However, it's not enough to provide your employees with an opportunity to exchange experiences. It is vital to support this idea and create conditions for its development. At the start of the project, it should be considered that you need to have resources for launching and organising the systematic community work, as well as for implementing the ideas developed by the community and simply ensuring the regularity of meetings and observing their format.

And the scrum masters' time became such a valuable resource. They were involved in the project and took over the management and support function. 

The Scrum team has developed the following things:

  • the Community of Practice concept;
  • structure and number of communities in Rocketech;
  • methodology for planning work within the community;
  • a list of the company's priority tasks (at the launch period), which each community could take on.

The start of the project showed that the decision to increase the resources and invite a scrum team to manage the project was the right one. Sometimes, you should invest extra time and effort to get a functional product. Involving a scrum team to manage specialised communities made it possible to ensure systematic and regular community work.

Communities of Practice 3.0 at Rocketech: How To Build Communities

The Communities of Practice are based on the initiative of people who are willing and able to share and transfer knowledge. We keep this principle despite our communities moving away from self-management to Scrum team management. The mission of the Communities of Practice project is to create a space that encourages people to develop themselves and help others to do so.

As for now, we have launched four specific communities (Scrum, Back-End, Business Analyst, and Quality Assurance) and plan to launch the iOS community soon.

The global goal of all communities is to ensure a high level of quality when executing projects. "Quality" in the project context means:

  • The development and implementation of standards and ensuring compliance with them for each competency.
  • Creating the competence working principles.
  • Creating the libraries and directories, setting up a repository, and adding specific problem cases to the database all help to systematise the work standards and accumulate the experience that can be useful for future projects;
  • Introduction of mentoring and support practices;
  • Developing the culture of learning and mentoring within the company (we plan to organise workshops, case studies, and joint work on complex tasks as part of the Communities of Practice).

The whole community idea is based on two main functions:

  1. A project function is the knowledge systematisation and standardising of the work in your profile.
  2. A current function is becoming a shared knowledge centre where everyone can pass the mentoring with experienced developers and managers, get advice, or share the experience with someone. 

"The emotional component of Communities of Practice is the opportunity for developers to feel that they are not alone with the tasks and difficulties on their project. The community will help to make sure that the chosen solution is correct and avoid the feeling of loneliness and isolation. It is crucial for remote work and projects with no large teams and many specialists of the same profile,"

Natalia Chistyakova
Lead SM

How Communities of Practicw Affect the Working Conditions of Their Participants

Several regular meetings were added to the working calendar of the project participants, and a fire lit up in their eyes :) The reason is simple: they create a new reality personally and influence changes in the company.

Other than that, all the community work implies a specific algorithm. First, each group sets goals for the month. They present these goals to the Communities of Practice team lead (as mentioned above, this person is not a community member but a representative of the scrum team). The criterion for choosing a goal is the impact on improving the quality of our work. It refers to the quality of the code, processes, and team interaction quality (in other words, quality at every project development stage). Based on the volume of tasks, the participants agree on the frequency and format of working meetings. At these meetings, the period results are discussed, and the backlog for the next one is formed. 

Working meetings are held once a week. Moreover, the community gathers at a set time to present the results of the month.

Let's take the CoP tasks for July 2022 as an example:

  • CoP Scrum Master - developing a common understanding of the service quality and customer-oriented service for the whole team.
  • CoP Business Analyst - process standardisation to improve interaction with the customer and increase the interaction comfort and quality of service.  
  • CoP Back End - updating the standards for the initial project stages development.
  • CoP Quality Assurance - updating the standards for working with documentation on maintaining bugs to improve the testing quality.

Based on the goals, tasks were determined for each specific area, and now we can see the first results. For example, CoP Scrum Master is already implementing a new approach to working with customer expectations (we will write more about this project in our following materials). They are collected at the Kick-off session stage.

"It is necessary to organise effective interaction between the customer and the team at the initial stage. We plan to conduct reviews between the product owner and the team constantly to move in sync. We are proud of this block because it will affect the entire project,"

Aizhan Bermanova
CoP Scrum Master

Also, we can see the first results in the work of the CoP Business Analyst. The team has created Development Standards to use on projects and interviews with candidates for a BA position in the company. The team also plan to improve the Discovery process.

 "Community of Practice is a key component of the Dedicated Team. The more well-developed internal competence we have (for example, BA or QA), the more competitive we are and the better service we offer to customers. Thus, the successful CoP launch and the development of quality improvement approaches in all development areas are crucial for us,"

Alexander Rocket
Co-Founder Rocketech

Main Community Principles

  • The CoP is a voluntary story, so participation is not required. However, it is mandatory to follow the standards and processes developed by the community and attend the meetings at the end of the month to learn more about the implemented changes.
  • The company pays for all tasks and project meetings.
  • There is no dictation or task distribution. The communities themselves decide what needs to be done to improve the processes within this competence. 

At the same time, specialised communities act as a classic hub where participants exchange experience, mentor newcomers, and discuss solutions and questions on current and new projects. It is a place where you can always find support and ask a friend for help.

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