Sunday, September 25, 2005

Learning and change again

I’m still in the back of the Airbus but I want to write about a different subject now so its time to start a new entry, Back in April I ran a session at the ACCU conference about learning in software development. If you know me you know that I’m passionate about both these subjects. Indeed, I wrote my MBA dissertation on exactly this subject – Software Development as Organizational Learning.

Well my conference life is quote different from my work life and I don’t tend to present this material in work. However I did last Friday.

I founded and run my company TechTalk programme. This is an hour slot on a Friday afternoon where somebody – usually from inside the company but sometimes a guest – talks about something relevant to what we do. Usually it has a technical focus but I’m also keen to include marketing, strategy, customers, etc.

I prefer not to schedule myself as a speaker because I don’t want it to be seen as “Allan’s TechTalks” – I organize it for and of the company, I want the rest of the company to be involved. But after a little reluctance I was persuaded I should do something.

The talk itself was slight abridged from ACCU but took the same form. 20 minutes of slides and ideas on learning then open it to the floor and see get the audience to contribute ideas.

I could have talked for longer but I believe that learning is best when it comes from within. Rather than me lecture the audience with my ideas I wanted them to make suggestions themselves. That way I hope more of them will take root.

I haven’t had a chance to compare Friday’s results with those from the ACCU conference but it felt there where more specific ideas about how we learn in the company and how we can improve it.

The killer question for me came after the talk when someone asked “What next? What do we do with this?” I wish I had a good answer to this but again, I don’t own this. The people in the room own it. I can’t force them to do any of the things we suggested I can only hope that some of them will try.

In that way it was a bit of “throwing mud at the wall” – we suggest some ideas and see which stick. Where someone shows an interest in taking up an idea I’ll help if I can but I can’t force anyone – its change you see.

One thing that came out more clearly this time that didn’t last was the barriers to learning. I think we can do a lot to improve our learning by just removing barriers.

And the biggest barrier? Well, I’m sorry to say it is ourselves. Too often we start with the assumption: “I can change this” – “I need a manager to change this” so we don’t change and we don’t learn.

Now, I’ve spent some time reading management literature, and I’ve talked a lot to actual managers. The biggest problem they seem to see – at least in my office – is: getting people try new things, invent new ideas, take ownership of something.

So, I think, to change the world we change ourselves, we try and do something new.