How to train team members about business knowledge
In a modern high-performance cross-functional IT delivery team (such as Scrum or DevOps) all team members together have all technical knowledge and skills to deliver the right system to support a business process. But they also need knowledge of that business process, as described in our previous blog post Do cross-functional team members need business knowledge? In this blog, our experts Eva Holmquist and Rik Marselis share their insights.
For a team to be able to deliver a system that meets the business needs it is essential that the team understands the business. There are different levels of business knowledge. Not all team members need to be experts, but they all need enough knowledge to understand the goals and purposes that the businesspeople have.
But of course, it’s hard for team members to be ultimate experts in the entire business of their organization. Especially when they first join, team members need to be trained in business knowledge. How can we train them? In this blog, we’ll discuss this.
(This is the fourteenth blog in the series “How to train cross-functional teams”, for links to previous blogs please go to the end of this blog)
Continuous learning is an important part of the team culture. This is especially important when it comes to business knowledge, because different aspects of the business are important dependent on what the team is currently working on.
All team members need to be willing to learn. No one can know everything. But when you are curious, interested, willing to learn and eager to grow, you will be a valuable member of the team. And instead of expecting to know everything at once, learn about the business one detail at a time.
Continuous learning needs to be a mindset and permeate everything the team does.
Personal experiences and interests
If you have personal experience with the subject matter or something similar, use that knowledge. For instance, if the business is in banking, you can use your experience as a client to understand the business. The business expert can also use those personal experiences as a way to explain how it works to others. Even if it’s not exactly like your experience, the similarities can give valuable insights.
Personal interests can also be used to understand the business. By highlighting similarities and differences we can understand the business more thoroughly. For instance, if you fly small planes on your free time, you can use that knowledge when working on a flight control system.
Business expert in the team
It’s beneficial to have a business expert in the team. Not just for having the knowledge available, but especially in order for the other team members to be able to quickly ask questions, learn a lot and discuss when new situations pop up. This way the business knowledge in the team as a whole, will grow during the progress of the work, which is good since cross-functional teams usually work on the same IT system for a longer period of time.
An efficient way of learning is to work together with the business expert and learn on the job. Joint testing lends itself very well to a learning purpose. For instance, you can have exploratory testing sessions with the main purpose of learning. In such a situation the business expert is one of the testers. In fact, pair testing with the business expert is beneficial both from a learning and a quality perspective in all types of testing.
Interactive sessions are another way to support the learning. It can for instance be a business process walkthrough where businesspeople explain to the team members what they do and why they do it. It can be a conceptual modeling session with business experts, where concepts are discussed, and their relationships explained. This is just two examples. There are myriad other interactive sessions that will accelerate the learning.
Also, a lot of business knowledge can be transferred by general and specific training courses. For instance, if you work for a bank, you can take a generic training course about financial transactions, which is basically the same for many banks. On top of this an organization can create a specific training course tailored to their situation.
Internship and observation
Internship and observation are powerful techniques for learning. In observation, team members closely watch the business process and ask questions about what is happening. You can also arrange a dry run of the business process where a representative does the same actions, they normally do but with no client involved. This can be useful if the business deals with sensitive matters or to give the team members more time to ask questions.
Team members may participate in the business process themselves so that they get first-hand experience with the actual operations in their organization as a form of internship. This can be for a short period, like a part of a day, or as long as the organization deems necessary.
Some organizations even have a short internship with the business as a compulsory part of the introduction for a new recruit.
For a team to be able to deliver a system that meets the business needs it is essential that the team understands the business. If you don’t support the learning it will likely take too long time and the quality will be suffering. There are however as we talked about in this blog post several ways to do that. If you haven’t used any of those consciously, try them out and see which ones suit your needs.
What is your favorite way of supporting the team in their learning of the business? And what is your favorite way to learn about the business?
Please, let us know in the comments below!
This blog has been co-authored by Rik Marselis, Principal Quality Consultant at Sogeti in the Netherlands.
(For other blogs in the series “How to train cross-functional teams”, use this link: https://labs.sogeti.com/training-cross-functional-teams/.)