How do you help people in a large organisation find out about the benefits of agile ways of working? Where can people go with specific questions about agile and how they should use it in their role? How do agile coaches like me find out what problems people are facing?
None of these are easy problems to solve. Most of the time, most people struggle to have enough time to think about their day-to-day work, let alone new ways of getting it done.
Down in our Bristol office, we've been thinking about low-key, commitment-free ways of thinking and talking about agile.
The first is simple: a Slack channel called #agile-enthusiasts, where people can ask questions, swap tips and share ideas. It's an easy and accessible forum for people who want to know more about agile, or ways of putting it into practice, without having to set up meetings, book meeting rooms, and take too much time out of already-busy days.
Chit-chat and paperbacks
The second does require a little time investment, but we make it happen at lunchtimes to minimise the impact on people's working hours. It's an hour-long weekly meetup, also called "agile-enthusiasts".
The format for the get-together varies from week to week, but it's almost always a conversation of some kind. We might just chat informally, or use structures like lean coffee or open spaces to make sure that the conversation is as helpful as it can be, to as many people as possible. We also maintain a Trello board of “Requests” and “Offers” for particular sessions; we can scan what’s on the board to look for matches, and vote to decide which topic is covered next.
The beauty of something like this is that it's very open and inclusive. Anyone can attend, even if they only feel enthusiastic about agile for just that one hour. Or even if they don't feel enthusiastic about agile at all, but just think that they want to learn more about it. We take our lead from the open space principle “Whoever comes along are the right people to attend.”
And because it's a conversation, rather than a formal talk or training session, we can tailor the content to meet people's needs. Sometimes it might end up having the same effect as an introduction-to-agile session, if there are several newcomers present. Sometimes it might end up being a practical problem-solving session. And sometimes, it's just a good way to for people to get things off their chests and clear the air.
During the early agile-enthusiasts sessions we found ourselves talking about and recommending books. With help from Defra’s Learning and Development Department, we've created a little community library. Topics include coaching, leadership, design, organisation and personal productivity.
Keep it simple
Formal training has its place and is a really good idea for anyone wanting to learn more about agile. But this informal, make-it-up-as-we-go-along approach to shared learning, conversation and debate has proved useful for teams that would struggle to free up time for people to go on lengthy courses.
By keeping agile-enthusiasts low-key, low-stress and low pressure to attend, we’ve made it something that people can easily fit in around their daily work as and when they feel the need and have the time. Which is quite a nice way to be quite enthusiastic about something.