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InfoQ Homepage Articles Augmenting Organizational Agility Through Learnability Quotient (LQ) - an Architect’s Perspective

Augmenting Organizational Agility Through Learnability Quotient (LQ) - an Architect’s Perspective

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Key Takeaways

  • Autonomous teams form the bedrock of organizational agility. They provide the stable platform upon which the dynamic strategy gets executed. One way to achieve autonomy of teams is filling the gap between plan and action, which is knowledge, through learning. With ever-changing and evolving tech, this becomes much more important and challenging in tech organizations, more so in growing startups.
  • Organizations heavily rely on managers, directors, and other senior management to achieve agility via organization structure and process. However, even architects as leaders of the organization have a role to play by improving learnability.
  • Incubating a learnability culture in growing startups is possible with a suitable framework, which grows hand in hand with the organization.
  • Cross-pollination of knowledge across teams and organizations is important in achieving collaboration and work towards the common goal of solving problems for users.
  • Architects, with the help of management and human resources, can help implement the framework and thereby improve social capital. Note that we need to have several initiatives like Halodoc university, internal hackathons, etc. to make this possible.
     

Premise

Organizational agility is the ability of an organization to adapt to changes quickly and succeed in a rapidly changing environment. Agility requires a stable platform for the dynamic capability of an organization to be built upon. Dynamic capabilities are the org’s ability to innovate, adapt to change, and create change that is favorable to customers and unfavorable to competitors. With the ever-changing and evolving tech, improving the organization’s learnability quotient (LQ) proves to be an important step.

Autonomous teams are vital for operationalizing tech and bringing in agility. Gregor Hohpe, in his seminal book The Software Architect Elevator, talks about the importance of autonomous teams and the way they function.

Adapted from The Software Architect Elevator

Enabling people to get on with their jobs, having the right strategy with a well-defined decision framework, and shorter rapid feedback loops make autonomous teams possible. Teams need to be able to see and comprehend the consequences of their decisions.

Organizations like Spotify achieve organizational agility through autonomous teams. Many companies across the industry are adopting the Spotify model, in one form or another, suitable to their needs. When an organization grows, the engineers/leaders must have the flexibility to make the team autonomous and yet achieving consistency across the organization. These are two conflicting thoughts that need to be balanced, and the Spotify model helps in this case.

Sociotechnical Architect

Architects have an important role to play as well in achieving organizational agility. There are articles and books which talk about achieving the stability of the tech organization via design patterns, reference architectures, best practices, leveraging checklists, etc. One good example is Fundamentals of Software Architecture, by Mark Richards and Neal Ford. To instill and improve the dynamic capability of the organization, technical directions alone are not enough. The architect’s vision and strategy for the organization can only be achieved if the organization is capable of executing with the right knowledge. With ever-changing and evolving tech, having social capital across the organization is vital. More so in growing startups where the organization’s dynamics keep changing rapidly. Focusing efforts on the learnability of the organization by building a learning community and having a learning culture across the organization is crucial and architects become the linchpin for that. Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais summarize perfectly well: Modern architects must be sociotechnical architects; focusing purely on technical architecture will not take us far.

Organizational agility through learnability

At Halodoc, a growing startup, we were able to build a learning community. We defined a learning framework for the entire organization which was improved with regular feedback and the implementation via Halodoc University and chapter meetings.

Organization Learning framework

Halodoc University was formed to build a community of learning across the organization. This involved sessions from experts of certain tech verticals to the entire org. 

The spectrum of learnability techniques (Inspired by SRE training)

When we started Halodoc, with few people, sink or swim was the approach we followed. In the sink or swim approach, engineers are expected to learn on the job from day one. Without the proper framework, we realized the perils of sink or swim, like people having half-baked knowledge at work, stress, imposter syndrome, and not-so-good results.

We moved on to the self-study curriculum by making changes in the delivery process. Emphasis on documentation, like design, product requirements documents, tech evaluation documents was made mandatory. These are helpful in onboarding and revisiting and they allow the flexibility for engineers to work on any project with ease. The self-study curriculum provided a framework and the order in which one can self-onboard a team. We must ensure the study materials are up-to-date, a price we need to pay for the lesser effort. 

The buddy system helps engineers, especially new joiners to the team, to plug into the system seamlessly. Buddies provide context and help in the nitty-gritty, (often not asked for by new employees), which can be both technical and non-technical. The buddy system helps boost productivity and lessens complaints by new employees. Also, the buddy can learn about new employees/teammates. Checkout Every New Employee Needs an Onboarding “Buddy.”

Cross-pollination of knowledge can be achieved through ad-hoc classes. These classes are held periodically by subject-matter experts and led by architects to ensure the knowledge gained by tech adoption and the learnings from a project of a particular team get cross-pollinated across the organization. Initially, motivating the speakers and ensuring audience participation was tedious, but the growth of the program made people want to participate. Sessions were recorded and stored in a vault which eventually was used as a self-study curriculum. 

A systematic training program is an approach we take to add new/enhanced skills, which can be done with external trainers. The effort and investment involved might increase the participants’ time away from work. Therefore, we need to be vigilant to make the program systematic concerning the curriculum, ensuring participants attend in person and preferably on workdays.

Halodoc University, tying it all together

Halodoc University is an initiative started at Halodoc by the CTO and architects to increase the learnability quotient (LQ) of the organization. The framework discussed above was implemented as follows:

Sourcing of training needs

  1. Team sourcing: Each team working on business verticals have their needs of upskilling. Collecting the needs from the team and incorporating them in the training curriculum is a quarterly exercise we followed. There are scenarios where these needs were better addressed with a self-study approach in which we provided books or external online course enrollments.

  2. Anticipate the needs: Architects need to continuously monitor the team’s weak areas— RCA reports, talking to engineers, chapter meetings (discussed in the upcoming section), and help in planning the future needs.

  3. Onboarding: Onboarding new and existing employees (when they switch teams) is a daunting task. Seamless onboarding helps integrate the engineers at a much faster rate. A self-study curriculum and buddy approach should be followed for a more fine-grained onboarding.

  4. Boot camps: This is a series of training geared to help the engineers develop in certain niche areas, such as AI and machine learning.

  5. Inter-team empathy-building: Often, a back-end engineer wants to know about mobile application development and vice versa. These intro sessions help engineers gain an end-to-end perspective of the entire system being developed.

  6. Inter-org empathy building (tech, product, marketing, etc.): It’s necessary to build empathy across the organization. This helps engineers, designers, product managers, marketers, etc., to understand the efforts of each other, the ways of working, etc. Inter-org empathy-building fosters collaboration, thereby working harmoniously to figure out overarching common goals of solving for users.

Setting up the session and socializing

People across the organization must know about the sessions and their schedules. Socializing is an important aspect to ensure participation. A dedicated calendar was created to ensure people could make themselves available and plan their work accordingly. Interactive sessions with assignments and live demonstrations were usually encouraged. In pandemic times, most of the sessions were remotely held and were no less effective. People from other geographical areas were able to attend at their convenience. Logistics were easy as the tools used for delivering remote sessions came with built-in recording capabilities and whiteboarding.

Using a vault as a self-study curriculum

All the sessions were recorded and stored in an accessible vault. The vault was later used by engineers who couldn’t participate, onboarding new employees, and so on.

Inviting experts from the industry

Learning is ubiquitous. We are a growing company and can learn from people who have been there and achieved gigantic scale. We invite industry experts to come and talk to us for a wide variety of audiences, not limited to tech. We started Halodoc University as a learning platform for tech, which evolved into inter-org improvements and eventually led to inviting industry experts.

Chapter meetings

Business verticals consist of engineers across disciplines, like web, mobile, and backend to achieve their business goals. Chapter meetings are a rendezvous point for people across the organization who belong to the same tech vertical. That is, there will be regular, separate chapter meetings for Android, iOS, web, and backend.

Coming together with tech experts of a particular platform helps in the cross-pollination of ideas and best practices across the org, thereby achieving consistency. Note that this is a form of eventual consistency that is arrived at. New Tech adoption and Tech roadmap discussions do happen here under the supervision of Architects.

Upcoming Initiatives

There are few efforts we are planning to do as we grow:

  1. Hackathons: Hackathons help drive sustained innovation and crowdsource solutions to address real-life problems. They are an excellent avenue to invite like-minded people to be involved in solving problems with a selected theme. We had an internal hackathon that resulted in the spinning off of a product, Period Tracker for female users. We are planning to have external hackathons post COVID-19 pandemic days.

  2. Open Source contribution: We are staunch believers of open source and we started providing pull requests for various projects we use like Angular, TestNG, CocoaMQTT, and so on. We are planning to open-source some of the components we developed in-house as a “give back” to the open-source community. 

  3. Internal tech conferences: As Matthew Skelton and Victoria Smith rightly describe in their article, internal tech conferences are a powerful way of communicating and celebrating technology teams that build and operate the quintessential software systems. Internal tech conferences increase the learnability aspect and encourage and motivate engineers to approach their work, which can be made presentable. 

Conclusion

Architects as leaders, apart from technical acumen, play a vital role in improving organizational agility. Improving learnability is one such effort. In this article, I’ve spoken about my experience at Halodoc in building and augmenting the learnability quotient (LQ) of the organization. Being sociotechnical architects is the need of the hour for architects, more so in growing startups. This will overall contribute to the organization clueful index score, which attracts talents all over.

About the Author

Abhijith Krishnappa is the Architect at Halodoc with over 15 years of experience in mobile apps and platforms. He is currently responsible for the architecture of various platforms, technical strategy, and organization development at Halodoc. With an inclination towards innovation, Abhijith holds 4 patents in USPTO. Abhijith has an MS in Computer science from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.

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