Once upon a time, individual knowledge stayed relevant for a lifetime. A blacksmith would learn how to make horseshoes or swords as a youth and would continue making them in the same way for the rest of his or her working life. Today’s knowledge becomes obsolete on a much quicker timescale. Workers today need to unlearn and relearn much more quickly. To optimize for learning, organisations must find ways to encourage information flow and enable team members to share learnings.
The Book Club is a Pattern that can help. Since the publication of Sooner Safer Happier the Author team have been invited to talk to a number of internal Book Clubs and I am continually impressed by the enthusiasm of participants and the quality of discussion that arises – across job role, across department, across hierarchy.
Andrew Woolford has established a vibrant Book Club at Nationwide Building Society and following our Author team visits earlier this year kindly agreed to share his experiences about the value of this Pattern as an agility enabler
What’s your role in the Society?
I’m the Strategy Lead within Nationwide Building Society’s IT Service Delivery function. I work with the leadership team, creating the right environment and then facilitating discussions around how we need to adapt our traditional IT Service Delivery & Management operating model, organisation and practices, to adopt new agile and DevOps ways of working. I’m also currently establishing our IT Service Management Community of Practice to evolve agile Service Management across our business-IT aligned teams.
Why did you start the book club…what’s the intent?
Due to my role, I like to keep up to speed with what’s going on in wider industry. Business and IT books provide me personally with a fantastic body of knowledge. Before I created the book club, I would often finish a book and think to myself “so what? now what?”. I realised that connecting with colleagues, and learning with a wider group, would be better. The book club offers me and colleagues an environment for collaborative learning and sharing. Now there’s an outlet to do something more than just read the books.
While we focus on the subject matter of the books, the primary purpose of the Book Club is to drive conversations across the internal boundaries within the organisation. It’s great to learn about new theories and concepts; it’s even better to have rich discussions about how they relate and can be applied in our own context.
How is it going? Who comes along?
It’s going well. We’ve adopted a couple of Sooner Safer Happier patterns – “Think Big, Start Small” and “Invite over inflict”. We started in early 2020, where we discussed the Team Topologies book by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. We had just 12 attendees back then; through word of mouth, and a little bit of publicity, we’ve now grown to 180+ being invited each time.
What’s great to see is that we have colleagues from different areas of our organisation attend, including IT, Data & Analytics, Security, HR and our Ways of Working Enablement Team. Everyone is welcome, regardless of where they sit in the organisation.
We’ve so far covered 7 books we think are important. We’ve also reviewed The Unicorn Project, Project To Product, Measure What Matters, Leadership is Language and The Art of Business Value. All the sessions are made available as a back catalogue on demand.
What made you choose Sooner Safer Happier as a read?
Like many organisations, Nationwide Building Society wants to improve its business agility. This book is important to us as it provides a practical approach to agile, based on real-life learning and experience. We’ve already started on a journey of adopting the Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH) principles and have been running several experiments, aligned to these desired outcomes.
We’ve spent more time on this book than any other so far. Our book club sessions are usually 1 hour long. Sooner Safer Happier was given ‘special’ treatment. We wanted to spread the word about the Antipatterns and Patterns, so we arranged hour long sessions over 4 weeks covering each of chapters.
How did author Q&A sessions provide value?
It’s been great to give our colleagues the opportunity to talk to the book’s authors. Jon, Zsolt, Myles and Simon have all contributed their own perspectives across each of the topics and provided real insight about what they’ve seen work elsewhere.
We’ve had a breadth of perspectives from attendees, so all sorts of questions were raised. The Q&A sessions have gone beyond the theory in the book, to help us think about how we can apply them here. In the spirit of psychological safety, colleagues have been able to share views on how we work today, our opportunities and challenges. The authors have been honest about things they have tried in the past that didn’t go quite so well. That really helped with the open dialogue too.
Would you have any advice for other organisations considering business agility book clubs?
As well as the “Think big, start small” and “Invite over inflict” patterns, my advice would be to ensure there’s consensus within the group. We vote on the books we’re going to cover. Also, keep conversations going between each book club session and ‘join the dots’ on the different books and topics, relating them, as much as possible, to your own contexts. Try to ensure you answer the “so what? now what?” question for each book you review. What can you take away and experiment with? How can you ‘hook’ people up to continue learning together? Lastly, I’ve also made a conscious decision to include colleagues even if they haven’t read the book (maybe they don’t have the time or desire, or it’s not their preferred learning style). We generally give a (hopefully) good overview of the book in each session, so everyone is welcome.