Automation Pathfinder Program

Building an Internal Community of Practice

  • 21 February 2023
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Building an Internal Community of Practice
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Remember when you started something new, like exercising, you may not have any idea what you were doing. There are free weights, barbells, bands, benches, machines, and mirrors everywhere. Where do you start? If you’re lucky, you’ll find others who are just getting started and who are willing to help each other, share resources and swap stories. The sense of community can make you feel like you’re a part of something bigger, and that you have people you to share successes with, ask questions of or get feedback from.

 

Building an Internal Community of Practice

 

Like starting anything new, people who are learning to build and deliver automations can greatly benefit by having a place they can go to share successes, ask questions, and get and give help. As an Automation Leader, this soft skill of community building may not feel natural for you, but will immensely help your automation program accelerate and deliver.

 

The Sense of Belonging

 

For humans, a sense of belonging is critically important for happiness, mental and physical well being, happiness, and even longevity. The shared experiences of going through challenges together create bonds and the association with a group helps people feel more connected with greater organizational goals. When people feel greater alignment to key objectives, it helps them to better understand how the tasks that they’re doing matter to the success of the team.

This sense of commitment and shared vision will not only create greater engagement with the team (which may actually be spread across multiple “teams” organizationally), but it will also help with retention efforts.

 

The Place to Go for Help

 

As your program is getting off the ground, one of the early focus will be identifying, documenting, and implementing some shared best practices for the way automation development will be done. Likely, this will come from experience gained in developing and delivering automations internally. It will also come from the lessons learned between people. Beyond a sense of connection, an internal community gives automation developers a place to go for help if they need clarity on using a particular product feature, automating a specific application, or sharing some reusable asset/POC they’ve created.

As an Automation Leader, it’s important that you’re helping to establish this collaboration space...and equally important that you help set the tone for a welcoming, and non-judgmental place for new people to get help. As you continue along your automation journey, you’ll likely have people with varying degrees of automation/technical experience. People should feel like they can ask questions that may feel “dumb” without being chastised or mocked. The more comfortable people feel being a part of this community, the more engaged they’ll be, and the better you’ll be able to create “something special” for those who are part of your organization’s automation initiatives.

 

Putting this into Practice

 

So we talked about why an internal community matters and the benefits to both your automation program and to the individuals participating in the community - but what does it look like practically? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some approaches that have worked well for some of our top customers:

  1. Set up a Slack/Teams Channel
    • Whatever chat/messaging platform you use, set up a specific channel where people can go to give and get help, as well as see frequently asked questions and answers. Since these channels are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this works great for globally-distributed communities of automation developers.
    • At Automation Anywhere we have dedicated channels for people looking for help on a particular package, topic or integration. And because we have a global team, it’s common to see answers popping up at all hours of the day
  2. Establish Regular Office Hours
    • A weekly or bi-weekly cadence for people to get live help or meet together is a great way to build relationships and give people the chance to connect in slightly-more real time. Consider establishing this as a time where people can drop in and ask questions (obviously you’ll need to secure a few people to answer questions) or consider inviting a team member to do a demo for each session. This will get people’s minds going on the art of the possible, as well as promote the sharing of reusable assets across team members.
    • One Automation Anywhere customer noted that because of their regular office hours, their Citizen Development program has been able to grow and be successful. Their Co-Development model for Citizen Development means that a Citizen Developer is responsible for a bulk of the automation logic, but during open office hours sessions, Citizen Developers can come and get help from professional developers, get an extra set of eyes on some logic, or prepare for their first QA testing.
  3. Giveaway SWAG
    • Never underestimate the power that affordable SWAG can have on building loyalty and engagement. Shirts, laptop stickers, and Zoom backgrounds are all relatively inexpensive, and create a sense of “being a part of something.”
    • One Automation Anywhere customer had stickers made with a robot logo in their company colors, as well as as the name of their automation program on it. The laptop stickers became such a popular item simply because they differentiated contributors from others, served as conversation starters, and actually led to expansion of their program. All that ROI for $20 worth of stickers!

 

Conclusion

 

Community building is not likely something that ‘comes naturally’ for a lot of automation leaders. While you’ve likely built and managed teams before, in this case, your objective is to create a sense of “one team” even when people may be spread out across multiple functional areas within your organization. Try some of the approaches mentioned above and see what works best for creating a unique team culture around driving automation success.

Actionable Takeaways

  • The EASIEST way to get started is to just establish a channel on your organization’s messaging platform (Teams/Slack) dedicated to automation.
    • Seed the channel with open ended questions to encourage engagement
    • If you (or someone on your team) has a strong technical aptitude, focus on providing useful, purposeful content as the community gets going
  • Even if you’ve already started on your automation journey, consider setting up regular office hours or bi-weekly meetings to bring everyone together.
    • This helps cross pollinate ideas and encourage sharing of assets across teams
    • With multiple people developing automations across your organization, it’s highly likely that people will inevitably end up building assets that could be leveraged by others so this effort cuts down on duplication
  • Provide SWAG! It’s inexpensive and can be really meaningful for the team. Consider sending out some laptop stickers and having a special Zoom/Teams background made for everyone who’s contributing to your program.
    • Create a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) for those who aren’t in the know.

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