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By Andrew Holway - Otter Networks Founder - 2nd February 2018

Skill Sprints: The effective way to adopt new technologies for tech teams.

Out with training and consultants. In with knowledge sharing and ownership.

Productivity Engineering

Adopting new technology on tech teams is essential, but doing so remains risky, unsystematic and unpredictable.

In our rapidly evolving technical landscape, a lack of viable solution for technology adoption prevents otherwise innovative or capable companies from reaching their true value potential. Tech teams need a better adoption standard – one that creates immediate business value, empowers developers and controls/minimizes associated complications or risks.

Teams currently choose from several options, which tend to have low return on investment and lengthy time to MVP:

  • Tackle the problem alone and hit insurmountable hurdles
  • Hire new employees at a high cost, while forgetting about potential in existing staff
  • Hire consultants who lock them into costly support services and bar them from ownership of both information and infrastructure
  • Undergo expensive supplementary skills training, after which they fail to retain newly acquired knowledge.

The Skill Sprint, a type of orchestrated learning experience, is a technology adoption solution that bypasses these common learning challenges and technical roadblocks.

Skill Sprints are one-week, cost-effective processes for important change within organizations. They help to manage technical risks and nurture individuals who become continual agents for transformation within their teams.

In a Skill Sprint, the future operators of the infrastructure build it and manage it themselves – thus instilling ownership and knowledge in ways that other methods do not. It typically consists of 3 participants: 2 engineers from an organization’s development team who assume the roles of ‘Driver’ and ‘Navigator’, plus an outside subject matter expert called a ‘Captain.’ The Captain provides specific best practices and pattern guidance while the Navigator and Drivers code and build.

The Skill Sprint is designed to address the team’s specific and immediate issue (e.g. infrastructure complexity), maximize existing skills of team members and drive business value by reducing technical debt.

The Skill Sprint works because it allows teams to build essential tacit knowledge and own both their skills and infrastructure.

Research shows that individuals retain less than 10% of what they see and hear in a lecture or demonstration after a week. In contrast, they remember 90% of what they learn when they use knowledge immediately or teach it to someone else.

Traditional training fails because trainers often teach either by demonstrating concepts themselves or instructing trainees to build a copy of an artifact that has little real world value to the trainees. Trainees, therefore, can’t apply or utilize any exact learned skills in a real business environment. Essentially, teams don’t retain new skills from traditional training, because they can’t apply them post-training.

The reason for this is that expert, technical knowledge is tacit – or the type of knowledge that can’t be easily communicated through words. It must be built by doing – through repetition and high quality social interaction. The Skill Sprint is centered on these two characteristics, as developers are trained by building the very artifact associated with their MVP.

Once teams establish their own mechanisms for tacit knowledge sharing, they are able to develop Transactive Memory Systems (TMS), or collective mental models that encompass the way knowledge is stored, shared and accessed among groups of individuals. Building TMSs is a powerful, essential component within teams looking to gain a competitive advantage in developing new products and bringing them to market.

The Skill Sprint is a new standard for adoption of new technologies – one that allows for a team’s full ownership over both skills and infrastructure.

When teams have a predefined MVP, guidance by a subject matter expert and access to proven methodologies for learning, they have an effective springboard for business evolution.