I’m a strong believer in learning by doing. I also believe that learning will be better when supported by an agile community of practice (CoP). Communities of practice allow self-selected members to develop their “capabilities, build and exchange knowledge”. In my professional life, I am involved in several communities including larger associations such as IEEE and ACM but also more focused communities at work including on Enterprise Architecture, E-health and Agile.
Guilds and Chapters
New article: Scaling Agile @ Spotify with Tribes, Squads, Chapters & Guilds. http://t.co/KDj5Bcwd
— Henrik Kniberg (@henrikkniberg) 14 november 2012
Of course, communities of practice have been around a lot longer than that and under different names. I choose to use the more generic term Community of Practice here.
How to make an Agile Community of Practice work
Given that Agile Communities of Practice seems to be a popular concept, the question is: “How do we make them work?” Maria Paasivaara and Casper Lassenius of Aalto University have studied this at Ericsson.  Paasivaara and Lassenius list the following success factors for software engineering communities of practice (followed by my comments):
- Good topic. This is probably self-selecting and not really a big problem.
- Passionate leader. I have had the privilege of working with several passionate community leaders.
- Proper agenda. This is self-explanatory.
- Decision making authority. I’ve never seen this as an issue. This is probably also self selecting so that communities which are “only” discussion clubs die after a while.
- Open community. In my experience, these communities are open to all who fit the profile and are willing to contribute.
- Supporting tools. At Capgemini, one of our main tools for supporting a Community of Practice is Yammer. [2, 3]
- Suitable rhythm. The communities I participate in have a monthly or bi-weekly all hands call to exchange information and collaborate.
- Cross-site participation. All the communities I participate in are global and cross organizational boundaries.
- A supportive athmosphere. As consultants we are expected to bring thought leadership to our customers and thus participation in CoP:s is expected and encouraged.
- A suitable infrastructure. This is a wide concept that probably deserves its own blog post.
Paasivaara’s and Lassenius’ checklist for agile community of practice success factors will be useful for anyone who wants to understand why certain CoP:s fail while others succeed. I think an important observation is that it isn’t a question of knowledge management (putting documents in repositories) . It is a question of knowledge co-creation between the community members .
Finally, CoPs have an importance beyond the participating individuals. They allow and enable positive change in the whole organization.
“CoPs were initially used to support the agile transformation, and as part of the distributed Scrum implementation. As the tranformation progressed, the CoPs also took on the role of supporting continuous organizational improvements. CoPs became a central mechanism behind the success of the large-scale agile implementation in the case organization that helped mitigate some of the most pressing problems of the agile transformation.” 
Paasivaara, M., & Lassenius, C. (2014). Communities of practice in a large distributed agile software development organization case ericsson Information and Software Technology DOI: 10.1016/j.infsof.2014.06.008