Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Learning Organization: Improving on the code randori

For most of the past year, I have been pushing to make my workplace more of a learning organisation.  I'm doing this for purely selfish reasons - I simply enjoy working in a place filled with smart, motivated people.    A focus on learning and continuous improvement tends to attract people who enjoy that, and chase out people who don't.  (Senior management expresses it differently, but I think my reasons are more honest.)

A big part of this effort has been to run a regular "craft day".  "Craft days" are  in-house software conferences with a heavy emphasis on hands-on practice of programming skills.  (This has been disappointing for people who wanted to make beaded purses and wallets, or whittle figurines from a block of wood.  You just can't please everyone.)

It really is awesome that I can do this during working hours, unlike what Chad Fowler describes and which most of us have had to do - learn almost all of our new skills outside of work hours.

But...

The down-side to craft-days is that we can only do them every other month.
While it's great that we can do this sort of thing at all, it's only going to give us a limited return.  We need to do hands-on practice regularly to really take the lessons to heart.  It also servers to stoke the fires of geekiness in our pocket-protector-covered hearts, motivating us to stay on top of the technology curve.

It becomes much easier to engage people and figure out what they really need if you spend more time with them.  Bob Martin has a pretty good (and pretty honest) explanation of why occasional exposure to learning doesn't really help much here.

Accordingly, I volunteered to to a twice-weekly Code Randori sessions.  The first session wasn't very valuable, so with the help of the group (there were 25 or so people in attendance), we're going to try the following tweaks for the next one:
  • A simpler problem (but still a real one that we encounter at work), with no code written for it.  (TDD the whole thing.)
  • The problem visible to all even while code is being written. (Whiteboard)
  • The skills we're focusing on visible to all.  (Whiteboard)
For anyone who is interested, I'll put the retro conclusions in the session notes.

Photo by some guy named zimpenfish on Flickr
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