Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Evolving Quality Through A Culture Of Learning with @ailuj876 : a #PNSQC2022 Live Blog

Good morning and welcome to day two of PNSQC from the Melody Center. Last night's festivities were quite enjoyable and I had a chance to go do one of my favorite "Portland Food Things", which is to get out to the various food truck areas. This was my first experience in the East side of the city. Cartopia and Hawthorne Asylum were my destinations and both offered a ridiculous bounty of riches to choose from. Very good, definitely recommended :).

Back to the conference...

Julia Pottinger,
QualityWorks Consulting Group

Julia Pottinger is the lead-off Keynote this morning and she is focusing on how we learn and the best ways to learn effectively. While conferences can be awesome, they do have expenses, not just in monetary costs but in costs related to time, attention, emotional commitment, and just how to translate a speaker's words and slide decks into actionable learning or, barring that, a plan for next steps.

This is an area I have also been struggling with a bit. How do we actively and effectively learn about things? How do we incorporate that learning? More to the point, how do we effectively put into practice what we are learning and what "learning culture" are we part of, either intentionally or otherwise?

A learning culture is not just about what you are expected to learn but how you learn it. I fully realize that some workplaces are both accepting and encouraging of conferences, meetups, and other events but that is just the first point of entry. If you have the benefit of a company that encourages conferences and sending their people to them, that's great. Many companies, however, look at conferences as taking people off of projects and the downtime is seen as a net negative compared to the learning gained. I realize that I am perhaps given more leeway because I was originally hired as someone who was known to speak and present at conferences, so I've rarely received any pushback for going and I'm grateful for that.

Perhaps the most important aspect to look at is how the company encourages learning and how they actually back it up. Many companies will expect their employees to learn what they need to but will not specifically carve out time for them to do it. It's expected that they will figure out how to learn what they need to and do what they must to learn what they must, on their own time if needs be. Fortunately, I don't work for one of those companies :). I think, in part, this comes from the fact that LTG/PeopleFluent makes software that primarily slots into the learning space and the employee performance space. Thus, we do our best to practice what we preach and sell. To that end, I can expect that, in any given sprint, I can slot out a story or two specifically related to training. It does mean I have to be forward with and advocate for my need to make that a focus. Once I have, In our sprint planning, I can look at what is on the stack, consider my time options and what has a pressing need, and based on that, I can carve out anywhere from 10-25% of a sprint to focus on training in some capacity. This is not always the case. Sometimes a time crunch or an urgent need comes up and there are sprints with no training time. However, I am encouraged to cover and discuss the learning and areas that I have mastered, even going so far as having a section in the software we use for performance evaluations so that we can demonstrate what we have learned and mastered. I often put up my conference talks that I have delivered, both for myself and to also share with others in my teams so they can learn from my presentations.

There are a variety of ways that people learn and we need to consider that when we approach both what and how we learn things. Some people prefer reading from books or online articles/sites. Some people prefer videos. Some people learn best from a variety and combinations of methods. Myself, I tend to enjoy seeing/hearing video commentary with on-screen examples because it gives me the option to rewind and re-listen to things as many times as I need to. Still, there's the watching/learning and then there's the doing/learning. As an example, I can read all I want to about how I can optimize my bench press or squat technique. Intellectually, I will know a lot but it won't matter much unless I go into a gym, load up a bar, and actually bench or squat using the techniques I've learned. The same goes for what we learn in tech space, too. We can learn all of the details about a programming language through reading or videos but we won't retain that information if we don't actually write code or implement the coding ideas presented and practice what we learn.

At a certain point, to have a true culture of learning, I feel we all have to get involved, and in some way take the opportunity to teach what we learn to others. This is not just a benefit to those who need to learn the material but it also helps us solidify our learning. There's an old Scouting principle that we refer to as "BOMOTO". That's short for "Buy One, Make One, Teach One". The "buy" is not literal in this case as it covers more than just purchasing an item. It's the acquisition of whatever skill or item is needed. "Make" is also not literal, but it refers to the implementation of whatever item or skill you want to learn/master. The "teach" is literal, in the sense that by teaching what you know to someone else, you solidify what you understand. You also identify the areas that you may still need to work on or learn about, and also recognize places where you may understand something superficially but not be as effective in explaining it to others. BE patient during the teaching stage, as it is not at all uncommon for the "teacher" to realize that they have blind spots or areas they still need to work on. Encourage that interaction. Over time, it will get better and your solidification of those skills will become more apparent. 

In short, champion a learning culture wherever you are, even if it means that "Patient Zero" is you. It's possible that you/me could be the catalyst to either introducing or improving the overall learning culture in our organization.

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