Setting Direction for Your Community

Understanding members’ problems, needs, and goals is essentially to facilitating a thriving community.

Building a successful, thriving community—whether it be an Enterprise Transition Community, community of practice or temporary, project-focused community—requires understanding the problems, needs and goals of the community members.

For example, when we started the IBM Scrum Community, we asked team members, “What is the greatest challenge you’re experiencing in relation to embracing Scrum?” The top answer was that community members were having difficulty using Scrum as distributed teams. Most teams had members located in different cities, countries and continents. Many had issues using Scrum while working across extreme time zone differences. That became a top focus for the community with members working to influence team organization, while also getting gathering and disseminating methods from successful distributed agile teams through forum Q&A, job aids and live discussions.

Great facilitators find ways to:

  • Draw out what’s most important to the community
  • Help set the vision and direction based on the needs and goals of the community members, and
  • Actively engage with all members of the community to ensure their voices are heard and that they are included in setting the direction for their community.

Understanding the challenge and focus of community members helps to amplify the energy, passion and interests of the community.

Determine community direction by asking and rank-ordering your focus list.

Effective community facilitators provide ways for members to express what their greatest problems are related to the community focus and what they wish their community would work on. For large groups, it’s essential to group responses, look for patterns and create a list of needs, the things of greatest interest and value to the community.

Once the list is established, organizing it into a rank order of value helps everyone in the community to understand what they’re focusing on, to understand why the community as a whole is focusing on those items and to see where other requests fall in the backlog. Rank order is typically established based on overall value to the community members, teams, the enterprise, and ultimately an enterprise’s customers, as well as timeliness, pain of not taking actions and other criteria that the community and facilitators determine to be important.

Be sure to include broad input from the community in setting direction.

For cross-corporate communities, it’s important to include a good, representative, diverse mix of people from across business units, roles, geography, experience levels, etc., as appropriate. Depending on the type of community, it may be important to ensure that different programming languages, tools and types of development are included.

We have engaged in discussion groups where two successful teams have argued the exact opposite of whether certain techniques would work, only to discover that one person had experience working with a custom application created for A customer, while the other was working on software for many customers.

What works in one situation may not work in another and it’s very important to gather the viewpoints and understand the context.

It’s not enough to talk to one person and use that to make assumptions about how others might respond.  It’s not enough to talk to people only in the convenient time zones or to avoid enterprise groups that are trying to push specific agendas that may or may not align with the needs of the community. It’s important to understand up front where there are differences of opinion and consider those in setting direction and focus for the community.

Review the rank ordered list with stakeholders to optimize the focus.

Once the list is put into order, it’s important for the community (volunteer members and/or facilitators) to take the list back to members of the community and stakeholders (anyone who may be impacted by the list) to obtain feedback, determine if the prioritization makes sense and resolve any inconsistencies or differences of opinion.  

The goal is to deliver the “biggest bang for the buck”—to identify where community members’ efforts will deliver the greatest value to members, stakeholders, the business and customers.

Working on the right problems energizes the community.

When we’re working on the right problem, and people care about the outcome and results of what they are doing as part of the community, and the community is going to make a difference for them. That’s when people truly want to contribute and be a part of the change the community is creating.

Communicate broadly.

Once the rank-ordered list is complete, it’s important to provide an overview of the problems and to discuss the rank ordering of the problems. When that’s done, objectives become obvious and easier for others to support.




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