How to establish Communities of Practice?


Sparking off from the discussion about Developing people in agile teams:

Working with several agile teams, Communities of Practice (CoP) can provide an instrument to establish learning across the teams. That’s what I derived from the discussion mentioned above.

Anyhow, when thinking about setting up CoPs, I am worried that this might bring too much disruption to the setup in the agile teams.

I have teams of various agile levels, from a quite advanced group with a lot of initiatives up to a beginners team, sticking to conventions to get on. All teams share a common “platform” and work on products around the same business.

I can see communities on general concerns, like quality or security, as well on specific implementations, e.g. authentication and authorization. But, I have the understanding that

a) responsibilities for deliverables have to stay with the individual teams
b) prioritization for topics have to stay with the individual teams

Otherwise I would fear, that some “replacement” structures will come in place, as CoPs will start to act like Agile Teams itself. But this again would mean that people work in multi teams, which does not work for me. So how can this work out?

I have heard about black belt classes. These are groups with the pure interest of becoming better in a topic and make the knowledge available to the rest. If teams now can decide to send delegates to these black belt classes, this sounds to me the most reasonable way to get to Communities of Practice.

UX within scrum

@hdietrich I would be more than happy to discuss some of my experiences setting CoPs up. Honestly it’s a mixed bag of results but often its worth the effort.


Also here’s a post a friend of mine wrote about them:


And slides:


So I’ll give you an example of a COP I currently run. It’s a Scrum Master community of practice. Every week we pick new topics to discuss, usually something I initiate but sometimes it’s from feedback from the others. We start off the meeting by talking about things we need help with or concerns for about 10 minutes then move into the topic at hand. Sometimes it’s a presentation, usually it’s some kind of exercise or game to drive the point. I’ve also been using a tool I co created to identify areas that the SM feel they need help with and then they become future topics as well. Here is a screenshot. As you can see they currently need a lot of help but this makes it all transparent. And I wasn’t even aware of some of these issues before doing this at our community of practice.


Thanks @chrismurman! This is a great source if inspiration.


Thanks @troy! The tool looks interesting. I will have to align with my Scrum Masters and give it a try.


Sure anytime.


I don’t mean to be difficult or split hairs about minor details, but there’s something bothering me here…

When I see us say “Communities of Practice” and even add an acronym (CoP), the impact on me is a feeling of corporate formalism. Why must people getting together to learn, share, and practice be a “thing?”

Must there be boundaries and rules to this? Why can’t it just be part of our behavior or culture?

Ignore me if I’m alone in this feeling; I often end up against the grain (unintentionally…)


First off, you aren’t against the grain or splitting hairs. You’re asking questions.

Think of it this way. It’s not a must or even a need. As Doc Norton told us at Agile and Beyond last week, it’s an invitation. Communities of Practice can include lunch-and-learns, lean coffees, practice groups in the office, and even meet-ups outside of work. All have the expressed intent of gathering curious people who want to learn together. Don’t take my word for it:

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”


Yes, and I love being invited to participate and collaborate with people!

This is probably (or certainly) a character flaw of mine. I simply feel uneasy when things I perceive as basic human needs (at work) become a “thing.” Maybe it’s fear that someone will decide the “thing” should be “owned” somehow, as growing orgs (think an eclipse of Dunbar’s Number here) are wont to do.

I can rewrite that definition as a personal need for my happiness at work: “I need to be part of groups of people who share a concern/passion and interact with them regularly to learn together.”

It’s typical for me to feel quite alone in my thoughts/perceptions, so pay no further attention to me on this one lol :smile:


Who is inviting you? I guess you need someone who sets a direction by sharing a vision. And I also assume that it would be good if that person or group is paying some attention to you. How is this going to happen with you?


I apologize for being slow to understand, but I don’t understand your question or the context you’re using.

Are you asking how I’m going to make people pay attention to me?


I am trying to understand how to establish something like communities of practice (following your definition). You are feeling uneasy about “things”, which are “owned”. This is setting a benchmark. So I try to understand your context and how it works for you.

People are inviting you to participate and collaborate. As you are saying you love to be invited, there must be some context, where this is happening:

You will not want to participate in something, where you do not know what it is for. There needs to be a purpose. Correct?

You also will not want to participate in something, which does not fit in your context (skillset, tasks, interests, capacities, etc). There needs to be room for improvement. Correct?

And you will not be invited by people without telling you about where they want to go. There needs to be a context, which forms a community or coalition. Correct?

Consider that I have multiple teams with a huge diversity in skills, mindsets, and interests. Anyhow, they do not define a purpose by themselves and do not form communities by themselves, even though they would have room and capacities. Who is inviting and what does this person have to bring with her/him, so it would be working for you?


[quote=“hdietrich, post:14, topic:833”]
You will not want to participate in something, where you do not know what it is for. There needs to be a purpose. Correct?[/quote]

Absolutely. CoPs are best utilized when they have a small and finite vision for use. A Scrum Master CoP can be for SMs but also for anyone in the organization curious about how the practice can be used and improved. Same for product, UX, etc groups. Hell it can be for coffee making or social groups.

The first session should be about setting that context. A company-wide email can be the invitation, and a desire to connect with like-minded individuals. The rest should take care of itself.

If you have any further questions, feel free to email me and I’m happy to pair with you on this effort at your organization.



I actually do formalize this. Especially at large stodgy enterprises that feel like you’ve entered a time capsule that has remained buried from society for the last 22 years.

Where I consult now, I actually waited. I waited 13 months. I actively run our Coach community as logistics master and facilitator. I would share what we’ve accomplished with other people. I would describe the satisfaction I personally get from the group.

Want to know how many other “CoP’s” surfaced? Zero.

Want to know how many surfaced after I invited people and hosted a session to describe what this could be for folks? One.

In some orgs, you need to help people feel empowered. This new group is excited, and were probably doing some things organically (and by that I mean talking with people they sit around in similar roles), but they were not expanding beyond random conversations with neighbors.

I hope this evolves into something that is not formal - but initially, I have found it can help when a ‘leader’ casts a light down a path they didn’t know existed.


For me, the key word is “Community,” which, to me, brings to mind an organic group of people who share something in common (interests, roles, etc.) and who enjoy getting together to exchange ideas, learn from each other, network, etc. As long as the people involved are getting something from the group they’ll remain engaged.

I agree with what Jason was saying - it takes work to facilitate, you need an engaged leader or visionary to get the group started and to keep the group going. You’ll always be fighting entropy - when things start to stagnate and get boring, the group will start to fade away.

But it’s so worth it - the benefits can be huge. I’ve seen a CoP drive organizational growth and create new competencies within a company. Employee satisfaction and engagement also tend to go up when folks are involved in a thriving CoP. I should caveat this though and say that I’ve seen this with grass roots-driven CoPs, I’m not sure you would see the same results with formal, top-down initiatives where people are voluntold to participate.


This makes sense to me; I don’t mean to imply a community can (or should) simply emerge organically. I’m simply uncomfortable with experiences where the idea was hijacked (with good intentions), and quickly subverted, to conform with the corporate status-quo.

IME, “just barely enough” formalization is essential to encourage collective ownership. Plus, I agree 100% with your comment about people being held down… telling them “be empowered” is practically abusive when their experiences have been anything but.

Source: Consulting for large orgs and currently “agile coach” (whatever that is) at a Fortune 500 company.


I think this is a good opportunity to call to mind the original point of this particular thread. A member of the community was interested in information about how to get a CoP started at an organization. He was looking for just basic “how do I get started” and the conversation has diverted.

@cusack and @zachbonaker I love that you have used this to share your experiences with trying to start them. Just like trying to “buy agile” or “do scrum” on teams, there’s a wrong way to do them and it sounds like we all have experiences with poorly run CoPs.

Love this point Jason. Sounds like you are calling out that you don’t necessarily want to have to lead them, but recognize that when starting these groups it helps to buld a vision and let them fly free from there. I worked at org where the boss started it off and would often not attend to allow the group to stand on their own two legs. Was pretty successful.

Zach, I hate that this has been your experience. It’s come through loud and clear so far the dangers of a poorly led and run group. But if this is your experience, awesome but I would not call that a CoP. Just like you can do Scrum without retrospectives, just don’t call it that. Same here.

The point is, it’s valid and duly noted. It does seem like you are hammering the same point home over and over and it concerns me that we are potentially harming the future experiences of other community members (who just wanted information) by telling them over and over “it sucks”.

Can we try and reframe this to be more encouraging? Thanks and much appreciated.

Completely agree Marissa. As soon as a new group forms you are fighting it’s death with every meeting on the calendar. I’ve been a part of several meetups in the Agile community and they all say the same thing. “One month it was just 3-4 of us and we wondered if we should continue. But we kept fighting for what we wanted and used the time well.”

Probably something in there to positively reinforce our transformation work too. :slight_smile:


It sucks that my input came off as, “it sucks.” That’s the last thing I would have wanted, or intended, which makes me feel awful.

I’ll definitely withdraw and appreciate being checked here to prevent further damage.