If you run a development organization, you have probably discussed what a project is supposed to accomplish or how to achieve that. There are uncertainties and as a reaction to that, we seek to have clear and defined goals, rules and KPIs.

The problem is that we cannot always say what is truly important. We do not know if one feature is more important than another is. We do not know how to verify everything.

This uncertainty then usually ends up with the project team, and manifests itself in vague plans and limited transparency into progress. Even further down in the project we find poorly defined user stories with no clear definition of done, and at best, a vague connection to what, if any, value it brings.

If this feels like a reflection of your organization, remember you are not alone! These are common problems, and it definitely has no silver bullets. There are no one set of practices to rule us all. However, there are things we can do. One way is to start implementing the practices described as a Learning Organization.

How do we do that? Again. No silver bullets. There are innumerous ways to go about it, but here are my top three things to get started with today!

Shared vision

Building the vision is the single most important thing for a leader. People follow your vision. Not you.

That is a hard fact for many leaders to accept, but nonetheless true.

If you want to build a vision, you have to repeat the vision. Endlessly. Tirelessly. Until you feel you can’t stand yourself anymore

And… it has to be bold. =)

My reasoning for this is quite simple. You cannot build your product alone. That is why you employ superstar developers to do it with you. Moreover, in order for them to realize the vision they have to be somewhat crazy.

For your developers to be a little bit crazy your managers have to be a little bit crazier and that means that you have to be really crazy. Trickledown effect.

Remember. Normal people achieve normal things. To achieve the extraordinary you must be extraordinary. By choice.

Focus on mastery

CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

I tend to believe that the best training for what we do is by focusing on what we deliver. To build mastery we must focus on our product. The product is the way we deliver value to our clients and as an effect, we deserve to charge for that value. Without adding value, we have no reason to exist really.

An excellent way to build mastery of our product is to implement three workshops that each team should run continuously. My recommendation is to run them each quarter.

The first workshop is to create team canvases for each team. This is a simple tool for defining the purpose of each team and establish rules where necessary.

The second is the Squad Health Check by Henrik Kniberg. The focus on this exercise is to look at what is working for the team, use the results as a baseline for improvements.

The third workshop is to look at the products ability to support your value proposition by doing a Product Agility Check by Tomas Gidén. This workshop lets the team dive in to the specifics of your product architecture and decide where to focus the attention.

Team learning

Agile ways of working helps a lot in creating team learning, because it has built in mechanisms for that. Make sure your teams use them.

The most important are the ones focusing on building feedback loops. The demo is awesome in this regard. The retrospective also.

However, there are ways to level up from what all your competitors are doing.

  • Use your team canvases to onboard new people
  • Use your health check and your agility check to visualize and find systematic problems across your teams
  • Expose your teams for each other. I really like to implement that each sprint starts with a lightning talk from another team. It can be the DevOps team talking about what they do. The marketing team, or just another development team talking about a feature they are working on

By doing this you will help your teams help each other level up in learning, and everyone will know how the others contribute to your vision.

Wrapping up

This is the end of this article; I hope it has given you some insights into how you can get started with creating a Learning Organization. Of course there are more things to do, but these are my best things to get started with.

I think my biggest take away is that everything changes faster and faster, information and knowledge will be outdated faster and faster. Therefore, I feel that I do not really have a choice, since it is about the sustainability of my business. I focus on building my team, so that together we can deliver awesome experiences for our clients.