From Grass Roots to Brush Fire: Creating Massive Organizational Momentum Using Communities of Practice During a Global Pandemic (US 2021)

Our Fortune 200 organization was committed to a product and agile change journey. The pandemic hit. The struggle to find a way to put our values into action and find our cultural mojo was immense. We experimented with treating a community of practice experience as a product with the goal of creating the best 60 minutes of a team member’s week. And holy cow! It spread like fire. Join MC Pillz and DJ E$ as we give you a special edition of the Product CoP and discuss tips, tricks and tactics for creating a high-octane virtual learning, sharing and connecting experience.

breakoutuslas vegasvegas2021

Jill Mead

Enterprise Agile Product Coach, U.S. Bank


Eric Kramlinger

Product Manager, Traive



We hope you enjoy our upcoming segment at the 2021 DevOps enterprise summit with our talk from grassroots to Brushfire Eric, Eric, you're on new.


Welcome to the product community of practice. My name is DJ E money. Also known as Eric Crowder. I'm here with my trusty cohost jimmied, Jay pills. And first off we want to keep


Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi.


All right, so we don't want it. Oh, I gotta grab the bread.


Welcome to the product community of practice. My name is Imani also known as Eric cram linger, and I'm here with my cohost Jay pills, Jimmy, Jill, how you doing today?


I'm doing awesome Imani and I could be more excited to be here at the 2021 DevOps enterprise summit. And you know what guys and gals, this is the first time that Imani and I have been in the same room ever,


But it's not the first time we've met. We've been working together for years in fact, but two years ago, we started a product community of practice. And today we're here to tell you our story about how we treated a product community of practice in a large enterprise, highly regulated institution, like a product, and tell our story about we had downs and ups and ultimately how we got results.


All right. I know what you guys are thinking. Talking about a community of practice, a K C O P at a large conference, such as the DevOps enterprise summit. I know I was there too until this very experienced and we want to be able to share our insights, our successes, our trials, and tribulations


With you. Before we get too far into this, what is the community of practice? How do we define it? Let's Google it. A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. We're going to share our experience with you today. Like any good product. It has to start out with a problem pain point a gap, something that's affecting people. And for us, as we mentioned before, we're in a large enterprise fortune 200 organization. That's not a long-term change, dirty DevOps, agile product. As many of us can probably relate to first off problem. Number one, we're so large. We recently went through a global pandemic. We've already worked silos, but now we're in our individual vacuums. We didn't have a common area to connect, to be humans together.


To understand each other's personalities. Number two, we can all read books. We can all understand how man, I think ideally product agile dev ops. It works. There's no doubt that it works, but it doesn't work in our organization because we've got real constraints. That's something that we both constantly heard. And there was a real lack of examples coming from within the organization. And the third, it's really difficult to say, I don't know, in an organization where the culture is, you're expected to know. We wanted to create a space where you come in. And when you said, I don't know it wasn't looked at as, Hey, you're lacking knowledge. It's looked at you are curious, and we're going to dig into that and walk together and figure it out. That's why we started it. And we decided, Hey, let's have an experiment in start a group. Uh, we didn't even really consider it a cop. At first. It was a group of people getting together. When we started the cop, we had a problem and we had a very simple set of non-negotiables. We wanted to stick to those, give it a try, experiment in, see what happened. What were those non-negotiables again,


One, we really did not want to have leadership mandates or mass invite pushes. So we wanted people to be part of the conversation, the community, because they wanted to be there.


And number two, we're always working with these people, um, whether it's developers, product managers, executives, to try to get them to think differently. Again, we're in a rigid hierarchical organization talking about product. What is product? Well, what better way to talk about it in instill it then live it. So we decided to treat the cop like a product we're going to get into that in more detail, but that's really at the heart of, I think what made this a great experience for us in how about the


Number three was role modeling the behavior, the mindset that we wanted to create across the organization. So it's so important to be able to eat your own dog food, to practice what you preach. And for some people, they weren't getting that type of environment of psychological safety in their current team. And so they could come on a weekly basis to this environment and feel safe and kind of get that taste of what the culture is that we're trying to create here at our organization,


Looking into something like this, the dev ops, 2021 summit. I go here to get energy. I go here to get pumped up and bring it back to my team. We wanted it to create a little slice of that in our organization. And although you can't pivot the entire organ and dime, Hey, maybe we can slowly and surely develop something really unique one hour, each week. So like any product we had to find that product market fit. And in order to find that product market fit, we had to really understand what's our problem. And why are we doing community of practice in the first place? I think the community of practice happened to be a solution that eventually caught some traction. But the problem that we were experiencing was a lack of fertile cultural grounds to be able to experiment with the learner's mindset. That said, it's a really hard thing to influence an entire hierarchal organization in one swoop.


So again, we had our one hour in some of the things that we really wanted to focus on were let's create the environment that we want to be able to be successful. And for us, the problem was as you've referenced before, and we can't hit on this point enough, the most powerful thing that we could say was, I don't know, because it turned into curiosity and an opportunity to really dig into real gaps that our customers, people that we worked with on a daily basis had. So make sure that you understand what the problem is and intentionally experiment with. It may not know the solution, but that's the whole point. And that leads us into probably our most important point number two,


Kopi like a product. So in our case, we had the product community of practice and it was critical that we were eating our own dog food, following the product values and tactics as part of this community of practice experience. So couple of things that we did was we made it to ensure that there was relevancy of topics. So you got a community which I would consider your customers and they have unique needs, desires, and challenges that they would like to discuss. So one of the things we did was we used a tool called mural, which is essentially a virtual like whiteboard, and we pulled our community on a regular basis. And we continue to do this, to understand what type of topics, issues, concerns that they want to talk about and dive into. And as part of that, they can in this mural tool, this virtual whiteboard, which is pretty darn cool to ensure that we have, we're addressing essentially the most critical topics as part of the,


Okay, like to, with that tool. You know, we can all work on it at the same time. And even within a cop, sometimes we'd go in with an intention, a topic, and we set it up in a way where there's micro feedback, that people for a way, for people to communicate what they were thinking and questions that came up during the cop and the ability to pivot quickly and really listened to you. Like how short can we make these feedbacks loops to ensure our assumptions aren't dominating the topics, real listening to the customer and addressing those.


Another thing that we did was we experimented with our frequency. So I think initially we had a need to meet on a weekly basis. It was important for us to create some momentum and to keep the conversation going over time with breaks in between. We realized that maybe we don't need to meet on a weekly basis. Maybe we can meet on a bi-weekly or a monthly, but at the end of the day, you're not tied to a certain frequency, just experiment with it. If weekly is too much, you guys all know if monthly is too little you'll know, and you'll be able to schedule accordingly,


You know, within such a large organization like ours, there's a lot of opportunity to experience other communities of practice. And in this sense, we had a lot of opportunity to see what's out there, what's working, what isn't working and beyond the organization itself, we're able to get outside, go to a meetup, see where the magic is and try to recreate that. It doesn't have to be all original pull from what's working and what's out there in the industry and take that incorporated into yours, make it your own.


Um, and you know what? You just reminded me, that kind of sounds like product discovery, a critical element of product management.


So this community of practice in itself community is the key word, and it always felt a bit strange to be radio DJs and we'll get into why are we radio DJs first place? Cause it at points, it kind of felt like, are we making this about ourselves? You know, I think the point that we figured out is like any good product. There needs to be a product manager behind it. Someone who's consistently focused on taking in feedback, listening to the customer, driving it forward, really creating an arena in a space for people to assemble. And I think what we realized, it's not about us. It's about us hosting it's about us having the consistent spot for people to get together and create a culture. So always have a point person, product manager, whatever you want to call it, to keep driving forward.


Another point related to treating your cop like a product is that having that forum is magic as far as being able to record a session for your customers to be able to self-service.


You know, I think about the times when unexpected gold came out and I was always thinking, man, I wish this was recorded because we could cut the segment out and it would really hit home with people. And I realized we didn't record it. How do we know that we're successful? You know, you think about good product management, you gotta live in the data. So for us, we kind of had to figure out what is the data that's important? And Jill did a really good job of continuing to push on that and figure out ways that we can explore what's working and what isn't working. Can you tell us?


Sure. So just like a product it's important to have kind of those, those measurements as part of how do you know that your product is providing an exceptional experience to your client's customers? How do you know that your product is effective? And for us, the, the obvious, uh, net promoter score, which really looks at customer satisfaction and whether that particular team member or customer would actually recommend it to a friend or another colleague. So that was definitely a no brainer for us, but then we had some other things that we looked at such as you, like we said, before we recorded the sessions, we looked at how many of those community members or even, uh, community members that by word of mouth told their colleagues, Hey, listen to this content to kind of see how many people are actually taking the time after the session to review the content, the baby, the experience. And so that was really insightful for us because a lot of times you think, Hey, you're recording this thing. No, one's probably going to listen to it. It was unbelievable how many actually took that extra time to do so. Okay.


Absolutely. And I think it's about inviting people in, right. This is a really special, exceptional experience that we get to have weekly throughout the week and you see exceptional, special things or even frustration. And I think having the opportunity for us to say, Hey, Keegan, or Hey Joe, or who any of our colleagues are, would you be willing to share that with a group of folks in the community of practice, it was a way for us to acknowledge, Hey, there's something here and I want to help amplify that for you and bring it to a group of people that I really care about. I think having that opportunity was a really cool card to play as coaches, especially to


Absolutely. Another thing that we did look at now that I think back is every session that we had, or we continue to have, we have a captive, engaged audience, which can be hard to measure exactly. But at the end of the day, our community, when come back, week after week, if they did see value with.


So when I think about the park, that is probably closest to my heart and has been the most fun. It's creating the culture that we wanted to exist in the entire organization. It's hard to influence that overnight, but we had a one hour each week on Fridays where we could do our best to create. Then you're probably wondering why is this guy calling himself DJ Imani and MC pills? Why is he wearing a big time cash, necklace, et cetera? Well, it was a total experiment. Um, I was invited into the cop five pills and, um, my dog happened to take a bite out of this necklace and it was right by my desk chair. So I said, welcome to the show. My name's DJ Imani. And I think what it boiled down to was creating an experience that was different from our status quo, from our day-to-day meetings, putting ourselves out there and taking a risk to say, Hey, I'm trying to do something different. I'm trying to have fun here. And it gave, I think it gave looking back at it, other people, maybe some more freedom and assurance that I can explore and I can be different in this one hour. That was something that honestly we hadn't planned for it, but it came up and we rolled with it.


So another thing I wanted to call out Imani is that one really big thing we did as part of this forum is we created a traditions around this product cop. So traditions are a ways of connecting people to a common purpose to the culture. And some of those things that we did was yes, we had a radio show. We kinda, you know, we, we had the silly necklace, but we also had things like gratitude Friday. So we met on a weekly basis on Fridays and, you know, we kick it off with, you know, what people are grateful for. So we'd have 1, 2, 3 people share some most things that they're grateful for. And it was just really an uplifting, positive experience for people, especially with sometimes, you know, things aren't always as positive and uplifting in the workplace. So, and especially with the times right now with, you know, just the pandemic and COVID, uh, we really wanted to provide some light in people's days.


The other thing that we did that I thought was really fun is we had lead in songs and lead out songs, which we have a staple lead outside that we continue to play, uh, that really inspired, excited people to just have fun with their work. And, you know, it was a really fun experience and continues to be a fun experience for the participants. And then lastly, what we did was we had like a front man, which was Imani, where we would do really creative posters featuring Imani a lot with photos of the community on a weekly basis. So we would send out the agenda, we'd get people excited about the upcoming topic. It was a really cool thing that we did together. We continue to do. And lastly, you know, I look at having, you know, mascots and we have what we call, uh, our mascots, baby agile. It's, it's just a way to add some fun into a forum like this,


You know, and the last point that I want to hit on is I don't think any of these things would have existed if we didn't just go with the flow. None of them were planned. And many of these traditions that we had were crowdsourced things. People did that really. We came to expect each week and gave people purpose. For example, one guy had an instrument and every time somebody did something, well, we'd say, Hey, Dan, play it. And sure enough, you know, he'd play it. I think whatever the traditions are, whatever you do to put yourself out there to take some risks, it doesn't matter what the things are. It just shows that there's a willingness to explore and to try and to create an open forum for everyone to participate. So put yourself out there and just give it a shot. That's really what it boils down to.


So some things went well, but I don't think we would have ever discovered things that went well. If we didn't have things fall flat on us and recognize that as a growth opportunity. So one that I can think of is starting out. It was easy to fall into a mindset of a rigid, prescriptive meeting. Like many of our others where the goal was to go through content, ensure that we get through all the content. And more than that, ensure that we use up the whole hour had finished, because that means we did our, and I think we discovered that doesn't equal value. Um, so for us, you know, treating it like every other meeting just didn't work. And especially in this case where, you know, a big sign of value, it was people returning. And we went through some ups and downs. And I think something that occurred early was we talked about empathy before as one of the values that we really connected to.


And, uh, as people started to get more comfortable in this forum, sometimes we'd take a 90 degree shift in, in totally talking about a different topic because it was important to the people there. And I think it was those organic topics where we'd pause and listen and realize, Hey, we don't have to stay on topic. We have to go to the spot where the energy is, where the pain point is. We've got a group of people here who can rally together and talk about it. So I think that flexibility and understanding that, Hey, maybe we have nothing to talk about on this Friday. And we just want to play the song, you know, do our outro dance a little bit, make people feel better. There were some times that that happened as well. And that was a success. And that's okay. So understand that it's not a meeting, it's an experience


Too, with some tribulations that we experienced was pretending like we had all the answers and not,


I remember there are a couple of times when, you know, we had people come in, we call it, uh, it artifact blitz, right? And it was people coming in and showing us maybe a product charter or their objectives and key results, things of that nature, it sort of started off as like, alright, presented in the coaches. They're going to tell you how you can improve it. Um, the gaps, et cetera. And I think we realized quickly, Hey, we don't have enough context to really accurately be able to do that, but be in the, in the larger point, the power of it was the hive, mind the group. It doesn't matter what your position is. It doesn't matter what your title is. There's so many people that have had similar experiences bringing people in and understanding this is a conversation and we're walking side by side that that created a better organic experience.


I think, no, I think another one too is because it was a psychologically or ease rather a psychologically safe forum. And of course it takes a while to develop that. And we consistently have to understand there's new people coming in. We're adapting, we're changing, we're going through cultural differences. We have to continue to try to create that, um, from week to week and just not have the assumption that, Hey, this is a psychologically safe environment, um, was giving people the opportunity to, um, express frustrations and, um, you know, sometimes vent and sometimes show some doubt. But within that, how we frame this, it, it could have easily turned into negativity and an opportunity to talk about how we wish the rest of the organization was doing something different or there's a constraint that just absolutely can't be moved instead, try to frame it as, Hey, this is a real life example and it is a big constraint or you are feeling that way. Who else is feeling that way? And what are you doing about it? It's a form of growth. You


Know, one of the really cool things we did, um, is that we have a tradition, hint, hint, hint, that involves stories of impact. And this was great because a lot of the people that come to kind of share their story has had just that they had helplessness doubt, not really believing product, you know, the product values, agile DevOps, and they really shared their story of how they've overcame it and actually have become an advocate for it. So this is a great example of being able to speak to those people in the community that might have some doubt around what we're trying to do from an organizational standpoint.


So when we look at these tribulations, you know, we walked through it and talked about how do we navigate these, uh, these blows at times. But if it wasn't for those, we wouldn't have had the learnings. And I think it comes down to anything it's resiliency and understanding that because we had the opportunity to have some real flat meetings that felt like every other anxiety about feeling like we needed to have the answers. There was some pretty, pretty frustrating and venting sessions. Um, it gave us the opportunity to think about, we don't want this to sink our ship. How do we keep floating on?


We've had some really good success. We've had definite learnings from a lot of the tribulations, right? I just want you guys to know what the DevOps enterprise summit and our community that we don't think we're the best thing since sliced bread. We would like to share some stats with you. So couple things, since we've started this product community of practice, we've just hit our 39th session. That's like unheard of in community practice land.


It doesn't feel like we're dragging a car where the tires are flat out. It feels like, Hey, we've put chains on the tires and now we have wings.


Absolutely, absolutely. We started this whole product cop experience with 20 participants. And over time it has gained steam. At this point, we have 172 average attendees per session, and we have roughly 900 attendees on the invite


And let's get back to the principal. It wasn't blasting those 900 invites out. It was organic growth. Hey, if you like it invited.


Absolutely. And that's an important one to call out Imani. And lastly, our NPS score net promoter score has ranged anywhere from 55 to 70 on a consistent basis, which if you guys know anything about net promoter scores, that's pretty darn.


And we wanted to give you an idea of how are we measuring in? What does that look like? So those are some of the stats that we used. All right. So we've heard it from our perspective, but let's hear it from the people who really made this community of practice successful and have made it a fun experience from week to week, our colleagues, our customers, and our friends. We were lucky enough to get some snippets about how the community of practice that we've put together has affected them. Dre,


What does the product community of practice mean to me? Oh my gosh, the going gets tough. The tough go to the community of practice.


Hey everybody. My name is Tracy. And two years ago I changed my career from being deep data analyst into a scrum master.


Hi, my name is Marilyn and I'm a learning partner of Eric and Jill's otherwise known as Imani and pills.


Okay. This is . I just want to say a few words about the product CLP and what it has meant to my team. And to me personally, as a scrum master


Now add in this global pandemic to a new career. And that just is a recipe for stress and loneliness.


So how do you fix something like that? Be a part of a community.


I worked with Jill and Eric over the past year on different wording events. And I didn't quite know what to expect when I attended their first community of practice. They invited me. So I show,


Let me about the product. Community of practice was a game changer for me.


I've been here at this thing for two years. I went to one of the main practice meetings and was blown away my team members. After the first time we had new products and you have no idea,


I was a new ScrumMaster serving on the newly formed team. And we were all illegal between blaze the product mindset, but it's been a bit of a community like this is the exposure that you suddenly have to many practices into the expertise of so many people coming from different areas of the banks.


We have worked for us bank for almost 18 years and sitting for the first time. Uh, I have found that community of people, uh, that really love to get together and talk about and brag about the awesome work that they're doing with their products.


I'm no longer alone. And let me tell you about my community. They are energetic, exciting, and altogether just empowering.


It was unlike anything I had ever participated in before. It was so engaging. It was so much fun. They were in character and, um, just generated enthusiasm and engagement the entire time to have some


Really, really needy conversations facilitated during every single CLP. And I feel like each week I'm going to a product agile conference. That's how much from probation is just packed into that one hour each week,


By the positivity, by the people, helping people by the sense of community


Specifically for my team, I remember that we wanted to learn more about, okay, offs. So we found a very passionate coach within the community and we laid her off broad one of our initial attempts back to the farm. So we could get some candid, constructive feedback.


This community allows me to have a space, a safe space to learn the things that I need to be successful at my job.


Uh, the community of practice has done everything from workshops to presenters, uh, to, you know, bring your examples of something that you've done.


It's free each other, and an acknowledgement of hard work that's been done, which is always such a good example. The teams to hear that and celebrate almost everything, whether it's a failure, um, overcoming failure, uh, whether it's big man, whether it's just being a good shooter.


And along with that, I get a chance to practice. I get a chance to learn and gain perspective from everything


I attend as much as I can. And if I can't, I try to go back and listen to the recording.


I have referred numerous people to talk to, um, you know, Jill specifically about starting up a community practice and, um, just love to have that energy in any of our learning events. So thank you, Joel and Eric, you guys are doing an amazing job,


Keep it up. And as we continue trying to build inspiration, uh, about what it means to be a great product manager, having this community to step back into, uh, has meant, um, that we never get stuck.


It's fun, memorable experience. And as an active participant, ever since I came to realize that the more you share, the more you're brought


Up to


Be, there is the best cop in the tab.


And if you're a part of ours, we always end with a dance party,


Dance party,


The energy and excitement that the coaches bring to this group are just immeasurable. Immeasurable game has a, an, um, uh, an unwavering sense of excitement and optimism that we can keep moving forward. And that's exactly what you need.


All right. So we heard from our friends, our colleagues, like we said, we couldn't have done it without them. So we would take a moment to pause and give some gratitude. So a thank you to everyone in the community of practice who helped us get it to where it is today. Uh, honestly, couldn't and wouldn't have done it without you. Who else do we want to thank


You guys. The DevOps enterprise summit, we are just so honored to be here this year, sharing our story, and we hope that you guys and gals can find tidbits to apply in your own situation at your origin.


And also we want to thank our production partners, putting this together, Keegan, uh, thanks for making it happen for us. As we talked about, we wanted to make this community of practice different and take a risk presented differently, get feedback. And that's what we were attempting to do with this talk as well. So we hope that you enjoyed it. Uh, we put ourselves out there and gave it a shot. So I can't believe it's the end of this very special episode of the product community of practice live or semi live at the enterprise dev ops summit. Thank you so much for having us. We want to make sure that we hear from you. We'd love feedback. We'd love to talk to you. We'd love to engage, and we've got some plans to continue on as well. So please be in touch. Here's how you can reach us. Please reach out. We'd love to chat. All right. We're at the very end and we've saved our favorite tradition for less. This is how we lead out of every community of practice MC pills. You know what to do hit it.