Starting a Community of Practice or User Group - Planning Events

Photo by Miguel Pires da Rosa

Photo by Miguel Pires da Rosa

You recruited some other leaders, and now it’s time to plan the first event for your user group or community of practice!  You might consider scheduling your first three events at different times or locations.  This will give people with various schedules a chance to participate.  You can assess the attendance at each.  Select locations that are well known, safe, and easy to find.  Do not feel obligated to pay for each event—gather at restaurants or places where each person can pay for himself or find a sponsor.

In scheduling the first events, think of activities that are too interesting to miss.  What is the biggest challenge in your community?  What topics are people curious about?  Who would you love to hear speak?  Don’t allow events to be thought of as "just another thing to do.” Provide value early on and learn more about what people want.  Many people are willing to speak to user groups and communities of practice, so go ahead and ask them nicely.  I’ve sent emails to folks I have never met, and people usually respond promptly and happily because they are flattered to have been asked.  You may be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to arrange for presenters.

Just like a rocket leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the group will need a great concentration of energy at the beginning and less energy once it has achieved momentum. To keep the group on track, its leadership will need to consider these themes:

  • Meet the needs of your members – Communities of practice and user groups survive solely for the benefit of their members.  Keep trying to improve upon your successes and always be willing to innovate.  If lunch meetings are not working, try breakfast or dinner meetings.  Are the members too spread out?  Try forming subgroups that meet in different areas.  Bring value to your members, and your membership numbers will never suffer.
  • Attract and develop new leaders – Continually successful communities of practice have great leaders and foster the development of future leaders.  Create opportunities for members to be involved in supporting your events, like co-presenting or facilitating a meeting. Identify members who can bring their leadership talents to the community of practice to plan and execute future events.
  • Communicate often, clearly, and consistently – You will be competing for the attention of your members and must be diligent in keeping your activities in the forefront of their minds.  Hold events regularly and advertise them in advance. Consider creating a website or blog to communicating often, clearly, and consistently

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Starting a Community of Practice or User Group - Recruiting People

Photo by SHOTbySUSAN

Photo by SHOTbySUSAN

I’ve started a number of groups over the years—from communities of practice in organizations to public user groups and membership-based clubs—and I try to keep them as simple as possible to run. The most important step to take when forming a user group or community of practice is to just do it—efforts often fail because people feel like the new group must initially have a large participating membership.  Growth will probably be slow.  My guiding philosophy when starting a user group or community of practice is simply, “If you build it, they will come.”

The first step in organizing a user group or community of practice is forming a core group of leaders.  Consider the skill areas that you need help with and recruit others to fill those needs.  Some people are very social and outgoing but lack follow-through on tasks; others are great at getting things done but may be awkward socially.  What are your strengths?  Who can help you in areas where you are weak?  And who are you happy to spend time with?  Regardless of how many people show up to an event, you’ll be with the core group a lot, so pick people you want to see.  Leading a community of practice or user group is often a volunteer position, and you’ll want it to be fun and rewarding. 

Your group will probably remain rather small for a while—it takes patience.  Generally, the attendance at the first events is less than desired and may be disheartening.  This is natural, and hopefully you have other leaders to help keep your spirits up during this phase.  The core group that is active will remain small (less than 10).  You will have others that come and go, but not be part of the core group that is consistently there.  The smaller the time commitment, the larger the core group might be.

Past experience has shown that the two actions which produce the best results are to (1) start having events and to (2) tell the maximum number of people when and where these events are being held.  Every time someone new attends an event, take the time to get to know him.  I recently saw a fraternity brother at a conference that I first met at a local alumni event years ago—it was great to have had that connection established and share a new common bond!  If I hadn’t formed that group after I graduated from college, I never would have made that connection.  That’s why I love creating communities.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

How to run a great user group meeting

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

Photo by Key West Wedding Photography

I wish I could say that running an agile user group meeting is as easy as declaring, "woo woo hippie hippie agile time" and watching people self-organize a magical knowledge-sharing experience.  But after talking to people and thinking about the meetings I've attended, I must say: running a great user group meeting requires effort.

Let’s assume that you’ve crafted the invitation, taken care of the logistics, and people will be arriving for the meeting soon.  Here are my tips for what to do: 

  • Arrive early – Getting stuck in traffic and hitting technical difficulties happen, and you can minimize your stress level as an organizer by arriving early for the meeting so you can setup and relax.  This is a good time to eat some food and drink some water.
  • Make people feel welcome – Recruiting volunteers to open doors for attendees and direct them to the meeting space is a great idea.  If food and drinks are available, make sure attendees know where to find them.  Chat with them and introduce them to other folks.  Requiring people to sign in, provide their contact information, or introduce themselves to the entire group can be off-putting; focus on creating a safe environment first and foremost.
  • Allow time for networking – Whether it’s at the beginning of the meeting, in the middle, or at the end, make sure there’s time for people to talk to one another and make connections.  Many people show up to user groups looking for new opportunities or to recruit folks, and creating a community means relationship building.  I like to allow time at the beginning and at the end of the meetings for this to happen organically.
  • Give a brief introduction about the group and logistics – What is the group’s purpose?  Who are the leaders?  How can someone learn more about the group?  Where are the restrooms?  What else might someone need to know?  Keep it light.  Try to cover these topics and thank your sponsors in under 15 minutes.
  • Provide quality content – This is what drew the crowd after all!  The actual content portion can take many forms: a presentation, a formal talk, a facilitated discussion, an open space event, activities/games, or a combination of formats.  Keep an eye on the group dynamics and engagement.
  • Soak it in – You did it: you created an event!  Every new attendee is a win.  Every attendee who leaves with a new idea or something learned is a win.  Count the number of attendees, take photos, and enjoy your accomplishment. 
  • Stay a little late – Answer questions, thank people for coming, and clean up the space.  This is a good time to get feedback on the meeting and suggestions for future topics and improvements.

I'd love to hear suggestions on how to run a great user group meeting--please comment to share your ideas.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Post on DFW Scrum

Photo by webstock

Photo by webstock

The DFW Scrum User Group has a blog, but it is very, very, very rarely used.  The organizers (including myself) have not built up the discipline to post recaps after our meetings, and we certainly have not posted with much regularity about other topics.  

But I'm pleased to say that today I dug through emails, found my login, reset my password, and posted a recap of our December meeting with Esther Derby.  You can read about our meeting here.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Community Fun

Photo by Niall Kennedy

Photo by Niall Kennedy

It's only Tuesday night, and I've been to two user group meetings this week--last night was the Continuous Delivery Dallas meeting with Ken Collier, and tonight was DFW Scrum with Mary and Tom Poppendieck.  Talk about thought leaders!  I am so glad to be part of a community where we can host such leaders, learn from them, and ask questions.  It's incredible to have these opportunities right here in my own city on a fairly regular basis.

I think the success of our community's user groups can be accomplished in other areas.  Seth Godin is quite familiar with leading tribes and reminds us that, "Over time, an engaged and motivated base of followers is the single best way to earn more followers."

Seek others who are interested in learning and sharing to establish a strong user group; recruit members through actions like:

1.    meet someone by shaking his/her hand

2.    treat someone like a friend

3.    introduce someone to your friends

4.    introduce someone to your group

5.    ask someone to join

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

The Agile Community in Dallas-Fort Worth

Photo by David Grant

Photo by David Grant

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has a number of user groups related to Agile, and it's been amazing to see how our community has grown over the years.  Below are just a few of the community groups:

  • DFW Scrum - I've been attending this group for a long time, and I'm actually one of the organizers now.  We strive to have a "big name" speaker once a quarter--and we've been quite successful at that--and have more organic meetings the rest of the time.  The group has grown considerably.
  • Agile Leadership Network - Another great group, the ALN is a support group for executives, managers, and other leaders who want to increase the agility of their organizations.  A fantastic forum to talk about Agile on a different level than the "hows" of particular practices or frameworks.
  • DFW Agile Coaches Network (aka Coaches Need Beer Too) - Ok, this one's more informal.  These are irregular meetups organized by my coworker Jay Packlick, but they're always good conversation about anything related to Agile!

Update

on 2012-10-13 11:18 by Allison Pollard

There's a new group in Dallas that recently formed:

DFW Agile Community of Practice - Affiliated with PMI, the group's focus is agile project management.  It's had one meeting so far, and it looks to be a good group for those that are transitioning from more traditional project management styles.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.