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Jeff Foster on Creating Space for People to Learn through 10% Time, Open Space and Conferences

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In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Jeff Foster of Red Gate on their approach to continuous learning through 10% time, open space and running an internal conference.

Key Takeaways

  • The best software is software that people
  • The only secret to great engineering is simplicity
  • No matter how hard you try to enable people to take the 10% time, they take their deadlines to heart and the natural inclination is to focus on the work rather than the learning time
  • Teams should not focus on the backlog items they are completing, rather on the difference they are making for the end user of the product
  • Running a conference is tough, but by engaging the people in the event organisation it can be powerfully successful

Show Notes

  • 00:27 Introductions
  • 01:12 Red Gate produces products for Database DevOps
  • 01:47 The best software is software that people use
  • 02:22 What makes a great engineer?
  • 02:50 The only secret to great engineering is simplicity
  • 03:23 The responsibility of leadership is to create the space to enable great engineering to happen
  • 03:32 The value of “10% time” for people to invest in their own learning and development  Soundbite
  • 03:55 Giving people the space isn’t enough – they need some structure to make the best use of that time
  • 04:20 No matter how hard you try to enable people to take the 10% time, they take their deadlines to heart and the natural inclination is to focus on the work rather than the learning time
  • 04:50 The idea of running internal open space events to help people move away from the daily work and enable learning
  • 05:12 Describing how Open Space events work
  • 06:03 Expanding to running a full-day internal conference in a separate conference facility
  • 06:38 Recognising that a conference is not just a larger open space event – it requires much more preparation and planning
  • 06:51 The super-power of naivety
  • 07:15 A looming deadline as a great way to force creativity and engaging people in the organising
  • 07:55 Introducing Red Gate’s Level Up conference
  • 08:48 Building the conference around sharing all the work across all the roles in Red Gate product development
  • 09:28 Looking for content that went beyond sitting in a hall listening to lectures
  • 09:35 Giving the best chance of learning taking root and being ready to use in the teams
  • 09:51 Identifying themes around the challenges facing Red Gate – scaling & growing; building ingeniously simple software; focusing on the outcome not the output
  • 10:23 Teams should not focus on the backlog items they are completing, rather on the difference they are making for the end user of the product
  • 10:28 Learning and development built for teams and with purpose
  • 10:54 Creating the program by asking the whole group three questions:
    • What do you know that you can share with others?
    • What do you want to learn?
    • What problems should we tackle?
  • 12:02 Consolidating the ideas and needing to filter the content to fit in the available time
  • 13:22 Describing the final structure of the day
  • 13:48 Realising just how complicated the actual running of a conference is – logistics, catering and all sorts of little things that need to be taken care of
  • 14:31 The event was a resounding success – sessions were well attended, the logistics worked fine and people learned lots of new things
  • 14:41 The mindset of people was “I’m here to learn, to change the way we work at Red Gate”
  • 15:13 The way the SR-71 Blackbird was built is an example of agile ideas in practice
  • 15:33 The 14 rules of the Skunkworks team that built the SR-71 are very similar to the principles of the Agile Manifesto
  • 15:51 Empowered small teams can accomplish great things
  • 16:29 Part of being a leader is humility, and being able to hear the uncomfortable truth
  • 16:49 Briefly describing Objectives and Key Results to create autonomy for teams
  • 17:23 The leadership intent and team interpretation of the OKR ideas was not necessarily aligned
  • 17:47 One of the conference sessions was focused on “OKRs – are they worth it” which surfaced lots of uncomfortable feedback which has resulted in changes to the way they are applied
  • 18:49 Advice on scaling – listen to the teams
  • 19:00 Explaining the stress which was put on the Tech Lead role and ideas on removing some of that stress
  • 20:05 Step back, listen and find out where the stresses and strains are coming from, then work together to reduce them
  • 20:25 Incrementally adjusting, continually learning – agile organisational design
  • 20:45 The cost of the event was about the same as sending two people to a flagship conference
  • 20:49 Exploring the value derived from the event
  • 21:15 Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive
  • 21:28 Examples of how the knowledge gained from the event was applied across the organisation
  • 21:58 The conference has changed the way in which people work and the ideas have been shared across the organisation
  • 22:15 The event was totally worth a day off from everyone in the office
  • 22:44 Advice for others who may want to run such an event
  • 23:05 It’s always about the people

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