Make sure learning happens by design; not just trial and error.
By Pierre Moncassin
One of the often-overlooked aspects of building an effective cloud organization lies in the training and development of team members. My customers often ask, “How do I accelerate my IT organization’s transition to cloud?” Well, there is much more to my answer than relates to deploying toolsets.
What the IT organization needs is accelerated learning—learning at organizational level as well as individual. All too often, that learning happens in part by accident. An enthusiastic project team installs the technology first, sometimes as a pilot. The technology works wonders and produces great initial results, e.g., IT services can be provisioned and managed with levels of speed and efficiency that were simply not possible before. Then sometimes, the overall project just stalls. Not because of a technical shortfall. The reason is that the organization has not completely figured out how to fully leverage that technology, and more importantly, how to fit it in with the rest of the IT organization. This is a shortfall of learning.
Faced with the challenge of learning to leverage the technology, many organizations fall back on the tried and tested approach known as “learning on the job.” After all, this is an approach that has worked for centuries! But in the fast-paced cloud era, you want to accelerate the learning process. Really, you want learning by design not just by trial and error. So, where do you start?
Here are some practical lessons that I have collected by supporting successful projects with customers and within VMware:
1. Design a plan for the organization.
It stands to reason that the future organization will be different from the current, “pre-cloud” organization. However, the optimal structure will not be reached without planning. In practice we want to gradually flesh out your tenant operations and infrastructure operations teams, as describe in more details in the white paper: Organizing for the Cloud.
In turn, this means orchestrating the transition from the current roles into the target organization. Each transitioned role will require a skills development plan adapted to the individual.
2. Plan for formal skills development.
The fist step to plan skills development is to carry out a gap analysis of each selected team member, against their future roles (e.g. , service owner, service architect, and so forth). Each role carries specific requirements in terms of technical skills—without delving in all the details, a blueprint manager will need deeper knowledge of VMware vRealize Automation than a customer relationship manager; however the customer relationship manager will need some awareness of the blueprints and how they can be leveraged to meet customer requirements effectively.
3. Reinforce learning with mentoring and coaching.
Mentoring and coaching are effective ways to reinforce the individual’s own learning. Typically mentoring will focus on knowledge transfer based on personal experience. For example, encourage sharing of experience by pairing up the new service architect with an experienced service architect (either in another part of the organization—if existing—or from another organization).
Coaching will focus on individual skill development—either by learning directly from the coach, or from the coach supporting an individual’s own learning journey.
Although coaching/mentoring is by definition highly personalized (learner centric), it is a good idea to establish a formal structure around it. For example, assign coaches/mentors to all future cloud team members, with a mechanism to track activity and results.
4. Develop leaders with both business and technical skills.
As when building any team, it is important to identify and nurture a cadre of leaders for the cloud organization. These leaders will be both the formal leadership roles (tenant operations leader, infrastructure operations leader), but also critical roles such as service owner and service architect.
Such leaders will hold a key role in representing the cloud organization within the broader business. Part of their development will include broadening their understanding of the business. For example, by assigning them mentors within the lines of business—this is another example where mentoring comes in handy.
However business acumen, whilst important, is not enough. These roles also need to develop broad technical skills to be able to articulate solutions across technical silos and understand the new capabilities introduced by cloud automation.
5. Reach out to the broader organization with a champions community.
Champions, a.k.a change agents, are advocates within the rest of the organization (especially within the lines of business) who will spread the awareness and support for the cloud. These champions help bridge the silos with business users and win “hearts and minds.” Refer to my earlier blog where I explained how we leverage a change agent program within VMware and the lessons that can be inferred. Your change agents will make sure that the broader organization/business learns about the cloud project and ultimately adopts it.
- Plan the transition and learning curve both for your organization and the individuals.
- Combine formal learning with individual-centric learning (coaching and mentoring).
- Invest effort in developing at an early stage, the future leaders and champions for cloud adoption. Make sure that their planned learning spans across both technical and business knowledge.
Pierre Moncassin is an operations architect with the VMware Operations Transformation global practice and is currently on long-term assignment in Asia-Pacific. Follow @VMwareCloudOps on Twitter for future updates.