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How to scale knowledge transfer and keep your daily business

In this document I describe one possible approach to scale the knowledge around a new technology into the organisation. I will show a way which is flexible enough to meet the personal needs. But which is managed enough to not leave people alone. And shield your staff from the daily business but on the other side avoid an impact to it.

Background

Lately I finished a whitepaper around how to innovate with new technologies. I had the pleasure to work here with the former head of Software Engineering Swiss Railway Company Stefano Trentini. One part was knowledge scaling of the new technology where I want to elaborate a bit more in this blog on one possible setup: the “on-thy-fly-academy”.[1]

Management Summary

In this document I describe one possible approach to scale the knowledge around a new technology into the organisation. I will show a way which is flexible enough to meet the personal needs. But which is managed enough to not leave people alone. And shield your staff from the daily business but on the other side avoid an impact to it.

Acceptance and Inspiration

That a team is looking constantly for ways how to become more efficient should be anyway out of question. There are certain ways how to do this which is not part of this blog. But still I want to highlight one aspect coming along with agile methodologies. Since meanwhile many companies are running on agile methodologies and have constant improvement embedded into their daily work. Sometimes they find a new way of coding or a new framework. Or just something with a positive impact to either efficiency or stability. A team does a pilot on this new idea. They are verifying the case and elaborating on the benefits. Later they show the results not only to the management but to all later being affected.

This step is highly important since why should I buy a new car if I don’t see the sense in driving?

If this step is done you should go on with further experiments around this new technology. This time they should include an Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to show it is also proving right in a productive scenario.

Identify key (business) stakeholders having touch points with the MVP and involve them in defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measuring the success. Later on in a validation phase they will collect these KPIs and presented them to the big round.

After that you can assume that the acceptance of necessary people is done. Now starts the challenging part of all: the knowledge transfer and training part.

Typical DON’Ts in knowledge transfer

First of all what you don’t want to do:

  • DON’T put the workload on top of the daily business and leave the impression this is now something additional everybody has to do beside the normal work. This will lead to your staff being exhausted but also unmotivated to learn, since the whole action starts with a negative touch.
  • DON’T fail to protect your SMEs in the sense that all the people, the smart and key resources who maybe were even driving pilots and MVPs around the new technology are now used as trainers. Do they have the right profile as a trainer? Are they happy with that? Is it a good idea to give them such repeatable jobs since they were the people who started to search for a more efficient way!
  • Let’s imagine you are running on an agile methodology and you are using SCRUM. Here the Product Owner is responsible for delivering the defined book of work. You don’t want to leave this person in the conflict to have now a side task affecting the resources and still struggling with the daily work. This person needs a “management call”, from top down, a decision that certain gaps can occur. So, in the preparation phase of this whole action you should take care that you DON’T leave relevant (business) stakeholders uninformed, so that later they are able to manage the impact.

One example how to scale

One possible approach to handle the training situation I want to explain in detail is the “on-the-fly-academy”. As the name already says it is an approach which works on-the-fly to the daily work:

On-the-fly

The idea of the model is that you can drive the training activities as much as possible in parallel to your daily business. You can choose for example between an 2-6h or 1-7h approach. Which means 2 or 1h would be reserved for training. In these slots you should work with time blockers (visible in tools like the business calendar). You also should switch off all kind of communication tools and only focus on the training. If you are using an agile methodology there is a straight forward way to carve out time you need for training. You can reuse the reserved time for refinement or stretch targets.

Consolidated and structured material

We are using within Red Hat the Learning Subscription[2] approach. This gives you access to a portal with all relevant information:

  • Training material
  • Scripting demo and
  • Support

In short: you will find here everything you need to get the job done.

Management

It is not a good idea to drive this fully self-organized. It can help if you put certain people into separate teams. Then the teams compete against each other. For example who is first in managing the next training block. Or they have to summarize certain aspects and present them to each other (train the trainer). But at the end you should take care that there are some milestones as an orientation help. Of course you should discuss and adjust them on a regular basis. But totally without it will be vulnerable to other side tasks which are coming in with business pressure.

Support

Even though a setup where people can choose the time to learn on their own and have all the relevant material in self-service has a lot of advantages it is not a good idea to leave them alone. Some people are faster in self-acquiring knowledge, some others are more efficient with a little help on a regular basis. So, it makes sense to have regular checkpoints where all coming together, can ask questions, maybe answer them out of the team but if not that a trainer is there to help and accelerate the learning process as well as restructuring it if required. Here we have another advantage that comes along with the Red Hat learning subscription. It includes access to an online trainer who can be used for exactly such checkpoint meetings.

Aim for gold

Personal development should not only be in the individual priority list but in the interest of the company itself. Since as a company it is a huge benefit and asset to have certified employees. So, if the technology is completely new, plan enough batches of trainees to do at the end of a relevant module the certification and reward them as well. Follow the goal to train them well enough so that they can leave the company any time but keep them happy enough, so they will never do this.[3] The Red Hat learning subscription provides another big benefit here. Since they have certification support and fees included for all relevant technologies.

Feedback to the community

Don’t forget to feed your experience back to the respective community; more people, more opinions forming better solutions. But on the other side there are also people who like to have a platform for visibility to share their new skills. If you host some of these characters why not let them participate in events, exhibitions or some other platform as a speaker. This also throws a good light on your company as being up to date with new technologies and a place to be; a very cheap way of marketing.

Key takeaways

Enabling your team so that it can strive for more efficient ways of handling daily work is one central corner stone. This to-do becomes way easier when using agile methodologies. Since there this part of the whole story is already covered. But beside that let me give you some key aspects on your way:

Inspire your people to get their motivation

  • Try early and often
  • Do small, limited shots to production
  • It’s ok to fail, but learn from mistakes

Provide the platform and space to learn

  • Leave enough space and time for the innovation teams
  • Management call top down to assure enough capacity and expectations towards business but 
  • not to dictate the doing part

Decouple and shield the training activities but avoid too heavy impact on the daily work

  • Intelligent upscaling of SMEs through managed learning by doing actions and constraint
  • management to daily business
  • Use the remote upskilling and certification possibilities woven into the daily business

Sources

[1]  How to innovate with new technologies? Link to the whitepaper: https://www.redhat.com/en/engage/innovate-new-technologies-s-202105210302

[2] More information around Red Hat learning subscriptions can be found here: https://www.redhat.com/en/services/training/learning-subscription

[3] Abstracted from a quote of Richard Branson, source: https://quotefancy.com/quote/285423/Richard-Branson-Train-people-well-enough-so-they-can-leave-treat-them-well-enough-so-they

By Michael Siebert

Solution Architect with Red Hat Switzerland, working in the Zurich office, responsible for the Pre-Sales business with the top 13 Global System Integrators and technical SPOC for the big three hyperscalers.

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