A Guide To Build and Run CoP

A Community of Practice (CoP) shares a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic; consisting of individuals who — in the pursuit of fulfilling both individual and group goals — come together. They often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice: a key factor of this is continual interaction.

Components of a CoP

  • Domain — An area of shared interest
  • Practice — A shared body of knowledge, experiences, and techniques
  • Community — A self-selected group of individuals who care enough about the topic to participate in regular interactions
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/etienne_Wenger — Fig. 1.1

Agile framework supports cross-functional teams to help focus on a specific outcome. While this is a great way to remove functional silos where people doing the same role sit together, in an Agile setup, communication among people doing the same role is still vital: Engineers need to talk to other Engineers; Architects to other Architects; Scrum masters need to communicate with their peers from other Agile Teams; et cetera.

There are two types of Communities of Practice that can work in an Agile Organisation:

  • A Role-based CoP
  • A Topic-based CoP

The former tends to exists longer than a Topic-based CoP. It is always better to start with a Role-based CoP before creating CoPs of the latter kind.

Role-based CoP:

A Role-based Community of Practice brings people performing the same role in multi-disciplinary teams together to interact regularly whilst keeping the value of the multi-disciplinary team. This is critical in leveraging the multiple experiences and different types of practical knowledge available.

Topic-based CoP:

As the Role-based CoP gains acceptance and popularity, Topic-based CoPs emerge. They are focused on a particular topic and would last as long as the agreed goals are achieved: Topic-based CoPs typically entail more diverse activities than their Role-based counterpart.

Benefits of a CoP

So, how does one start out?

Good leadership and support

*Having support from the senior leadership team also helps.

Creating clear vision and goals

An example of a mission statement is provided below:

Our community of practice will help set and improve our skills and competencies as a <role> , to enable us to contribute and adapt better to < any vision>We will do this by :

<list of actions and good practices you want the community to follow>

Be aware of the experience and knowledge each member brings :

“Always pass on what you have learned.” — Yoda

A community only works with people’s participation. To encourage people in making more effective contributions, attempt to understand the knowledge and experiences of each member. This helps in generating content for discussion and thus encourages people to share knowledge. Albeit that people are generally interested to share knowledge, it is vital that a leader of the community identifies what every member can share: this will motivate the individual and also benefit the community. This is more effective in a Role-based CoP as you (the members) perform the same role (meaning greater quantities of experience)

Patience , Patience and More Patience

These behaviours are completely normal; soon you will notice people wanting to participate more, wanting to talk about something they have learned and even thanking you for a good session.

Fostering a safe and supportive environment

A key factor in ensuring productivity, therefore, is a secured environment for the member. What are the consequences of developing this environment?

  • The encouragement of sharing stories and challenges will enable members to start building trust.
  • Consequently, problem solving is improved as a wider range of people will be willing to work to solve issues.
  • Better working practices will emerge.
  • The validation of ideas and accelerates learning will be facilitated

Make CoPs a part of the learning and development plan

Learning is more effective when it is done as a group as individuals are able to collaborate and build upon others’ work. In a Community of Practice there are various ways to support learning:

  • Presentations by internal and external speakers
  • Practicing new skills in a safe environment (I often encourage my members to create a working group to research on a topic and come and present their ideas).
  • Making individuals Proof-of-Concept new ideas and present them back to the community
  • Organising games and workshops; assorted teambuilding exercises.

Meet Regularly

Ultimately, let the community evolve. When strong bonds and trust starts developing among the members of the community, it is able to self-sustain: this is when it becomes an integral part of the organisation.



Engineering Lead

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