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How to Kick Off some knowledge meetings

I've gotten some questions about Knowledge Meetings after I presented them as one of our agile practices at FrOSCon some weeks ago. Here are some more ideas/thoughts on how to do them:

What are they?
One hour every week. Gather the whole team together, and learn something.

What should we learn about?
Anything that will be of interest to your team, work-related. Some examples:
  • This new open source library/project/technology we (can) use
  • New programming language
  • This cool testing technique
  • A certain module of the business application
  • The hardware architecture of our data-centers
  • Some applied computer science (algorithms and stuff)
What is the concrete contents of a Knowledge Meeting?
Anything that'll make you learn. Examples:
  • 10 minute lightning talks/ignites
  • Coding Katas, or Randoris
  • Longer presentations (try to not go over 30 minutes)
  • Lots of discussions!
  • Lots of live coding!
Remember:
  • Let people present the things they already know, but..
  • Give people time to prepare their presentations (1 hour per 10 minutes of presentation, as a rule-of-thumb, perhaps?)
How do I get started?
You need support from up top. You simply can't yank people one hour out of their working time every week.

If you don't get support from up top, you're gonna have to do it on a volunteer basis. I've written some strategy for this in my post about workshops. Over time, management will hopefully see value of the knowledge meetings, and start sponsoring them before people start leaving for companies that invest in people's knowledge.

Some tips

  • Give people plenty of time up front to prepare their presentation (one month)
  • Always have the knowledge meeting the same time, week after week
  • Point out a person to make sure the meetings go smoothly (prepare agenda).
  • Over time, let this "knowledge facilitator" role rotate.
  • If it gets hard using the internal knowledge to keep the meetings busy, increase budget: either give people more time to research/preparations, send them to conferences/courses, or hire in some externals to do the occasional gig with presentation.
  • If the knowledge meeting starts losing time to other activities, like retrospectives, try to get a new time appointed to it.
  • If you run out of content and discussion, cut the meeting short
So, I scribbled this together rather quickly, so let me know if I left something out, or if you've got any questions.

Comments

  1. Nice post, thank you :) Two further questions:

    1. You said there should be live coding, does that mean that everyone should sit in front of a PC? We don't have laptops so we couldn't go to the meeting room, and I've learned that meetings in a regular office are far less productive than in a meeting room.

    2. I know a few people that are not particularly interested in technology (probably add "anymore") - how to handle them?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for commenting, Felix :)

    1. Hm! I have mixed feelings about this one. I'd say: for workshops, everyone can have a PC (you could perhaps make these LAN-party style). For live-coding in knowledge meetings, it should be one PC on projector. Perhaps your office can dedicate one PC to be a live-coding station?

    2. Fire them! I mean, it's their job to be interested in technology, right? Seriously though, if someone has no interest in the meeting, they can skip it. It's far more dangerous if people skip the meeting because they don't get time, are too stressed, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cool, thanks. I think you're a bit hard about 2, don't you have 50something co-workers? But it's a good idea to give them the chance to skip the meeting if they are really not interested.

    I think I was a bit harsh too: Everyone is probably at least remotely interested, I just meant that some just don't do non-work-related programming and are content with knowing a few languages sufficiently to get the job done.

    Sadly, not every IT company consists only of geeks, I would really love that :) I fear they are becoming a minority...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Aha, now I read you. I'm talking about knowledge meetings in our own little Java team (18 people). The other departments, like management, QA, non-Java developers, they don't participate (with the occasional exception). So by definition, all participants are Java programmers. This allows us to really nail down the context for the meetings.

    If the team doesn't have a problem with it (some get nervous presenting for bigger crowds), you should of course open up/invite the other parts of your company.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for these framework of a knowledge meeting. Do you have any experience with a distributed development team? 3 offices over 500km away from each other, think this need tools :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Marquies, thanks for your comment.

    I have little experience with distributed teams, although I was at a shop once where they had heavy integration of tele-presence/video conference equipment. Every knowledge meeting was video-conferenced to their other offices. If you've got the money for it, set up some kick-ass TANDBERG equipment. If not, set up some PC's with webcam, running Skype or Oovoo at every meeting.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Thomas: No you got me right the first time, I didn't mean 50 devs, I meant 50 year old devs :) The team is not that big.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't think 50 year olds should get any special treatment :)

    I think the key is to make it clear that participation is about contribution. The wise elders of the organization can contribute a lot! Not only in presenting/producing knowledge, but also commenting on youngsters' contributions.

    If they feel they don't need to participate because they are knowledge-full, then they've misunderstood the contribution part.

    If they are too busy to contribute, you've got bigger (management/organizational) problems.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I found someone who was interested in the idea and together we introduced knowledge meetings in my team. Here's how we do it:

    - We do them every two weeks. There's not yet enough velocity for a weekly meeting.
    - We did them outside work hours because we didn't dare to ask. Attendance was pretty good anyways (~60%). After a few successful meetings, we moved it in work hours.
    - We made it voluntary. That way, people genuinely not interested in a topic don't have to feel like wasting their time. Makes for a friendly atmosphare, and attendance is still high enough.
    - We have a rather fixed structure: 1 10 min talk, 1 30 min talk and subsequent discussion. Might do some workshops/katas in the future.
    - There are few (if any) suggestions, so I just approach people and ask them if they want to talk about a topic. Today will be the first meeting where I'm not giving one, that's a big success :)

    ReplyDelete

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