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whitesmith.co

How we are trying to accelerate learning

Rafael Jegundo

As a company, we believe the way to progress and get closer to our medium-term vision is enabling processes that give our team the ability to learn more and more.

Today, we share what we are doing to make our team learn more.

Training

At the current state, it feels a lot like most of the things we need to know in order to improve dramatically are already somewhat present on our company. The challenge is more about actually applying the things we learn in our daily work while bridging the gap between different trades so that we can work more efficiently and effectively together.

Lunch-and-Learns (LnLs)

Almost since the beginning of the company we do LnLs where every Friday, a member of our team shares a topic of his interest, whether it's something related to tech, business or even life-hacking.

However, LnLs don’t always follow the needs of what feels most important to improve at a given time, and frequently there is a delay between problem or inspiration and an opportunity to discuss and build a case study for improvement.

Workshops

To address this, I recommend we do more ad-hoc workshops that people can decide to join or not depending on the topic. It’s important to understand that in this case we shouldn’t feel obliged to attend just because our friend spent time preparing it. The idea here is to promote more learning in an informal way without compromising progress on other fronts if people think that is best.
It goes without saying this workshops must be remote first and that we should also record them so everyone can benefit from them.

Personally, I have been thinking for a while and getting feedback about this, in particular on the topics which are cross-disciplinary, which is where I feel we can still optimize and improve the most in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
Therefore, whenever I feel like I have enough time or a fresh topic according to what’s happening in the company, I’m planning to promote a session time-boxed to 1h on Fridays. This might cover Lean, Agile, DevOps, Project Management, Product Management, Mental Models, Systems Architecture, Strategy, Incentives alignment, etc - the main criteria is things that are relevant and worth knowing, at least at a high-level, by everyone in the company. In some cases, these sessions might also be some sort of public retrospective on a given problem or project.
Workshops will also be recorded and people who prefer to not attend at the time can see/listen to it as a podcast. It will have the quite presumptuous but hopefully adequate name of the Tao of Whitesmith, and a minimum quorum of 2 people to occur.

Learning fund

In 2015, we started our Book Club because we think that books are amazing to learn. Since then, we made 100$/month available for any Whitesmithian to buy Kindle books.

In a retrospective way, that budget has helped contribute to a nice library, and many people have used it to learn and improve. However, there still is some friction in the process of ordering books though, and the current way has some constraints in terms of sellers and mediums, which restrain a bigger usage.

For this reason, starting this April, we will provide each person with a 50€ budget per quarter to spend in learning and self-improvement: books & online courses.

Sharing resources internally is naturally very welcome, but not mandatory as it won’t be equally easy/beneficial for all items.

Technical residencies

Technical residencies are something completely new that we started implementing last month to catch up the trends.

Purpose

Catching up with state of the art has been a hard problem that we are aware as we kind of know what we need to learn, but we lack the time, focus or right mix of people and talents to do it. While time passes, we are losing ground and it will be harder and harder to catch up.

To address this, we are starting a sort of technical residency program where one person that’s really into a given area has a time and a small budget to learn and leverage our company in one specific space. In a way, this will be like curricular internships but without the usual academic restraints, and probably more focused on an area than a concrete project. The final milestone could be for us to acquire consulting service in that area to prove we know enough about it to be dangerous or build relevant products with it. During the process, the people would be incentivized to show and tell through demos and/or do mini-workshops on Investment Time so that knowledge is spread throughout the company.

This program will also need to have ensured we gain knowledge on the business models and UX behind these technologies. In some cases, we already know that we can build this or that if we have enough time or money to take risks, but beyond the hype, there is a lot of noise about how VR, conversational interfaces, and drones will fit our lives in the future. So beyond building a proof of concepts and acquire skill, the secondary challenge will literally study the state of the art and, with some healthy skepticism, see which products are appearing on the space, which ones have success and why.

This seems like a good strategy to get ahead of the curve on the trends (where we have been losing ground) while acquiring and training more unconventional/trained talent. We are now starting an experiment regarding this with Filipa Cruz for around 6 months and will probably launch one or two more until the end of the year.
If this works well, it might replace the usual patterns of curricular internships and complement summer internships as a way for us to move forward faster.

How we are going to do this

Each Residency will have a starting document that states the scope and general goals it intends to address. This document should help guide everyone through the process but it will be highly experimental so we should review regularly if it still makes sense.

By default, these residencies will be part of Investment Time and therefore fit the structure of planning, demo, and review of it. Each person is responsible for thinking through and plan the weekly and monthly goals to pursue the vision defined by the initial document.

We will try to share more about these technical residencies, so stay tuned!

Wrap up

It's very important for us as a company to learn more and more, but we also think that sharing what we learn with the community is a plus.
First, you can follow our slideshare account where we share some of our Lunch-and-Learns. You can also check our blog, you will find posts about tech, business, and culture. Finally, you can also follow Filipa's technical residency about Virtual and Augmented Reality, check out her column: Mixed Reality.

Don't forget to share with us your thoughts about this topic. Find us on twitter!


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