You Can't Train People on Values
"Profit, smarts, and growth is essential, but the meaning of work-life must extend beyond the bottom line." - Jonathan Wolter
At ThoughtWorks, our values and mission are at the heart of how we work. My colleague Jonathan Wolter, has written eloquently about our mission to advocate social justice. While our mission and values are at the core of our DNA, I don't believe we can train anyone on this. We can do great presentations and elearning courses and convince ourselves that we did a great job, but frankly you believe in a mission by pursuing it. You cherish values by living them. Teaching of any kind lacks the realism to drive home a passion for missions and values. At ThoughtWorks Univeristy, we set our graduates the task of enabling Sukrupa - a local school that's on a mission to educate children from Bangalore's slums. It's amazing how a challenge with a real world impact can galvanise people. In solving this problem our grads not only pursued software excellence and helped change the world in their own little way, but they also lived ThoughtWorks' values as a means to the end. If you read about our values you'll soon realise how a small, real world problem can easily help them live each of our cultural traits.
Experience is the Biggest Teacher
"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted" - Randy Pausch
Often it takes seeing what doesn't work, to realise what could actually work. We took a risk by starting the project with little upfront analysis. In the initial weeks of the project we were literally playing it by ear, taking our clients' requirements as they came. While we took this chance knowing the potential benefit for Sukrupa and for the graduates' experience, the uncertainty and the lack of coordination on the team was disconcerting. There was even an occasion when our otherwise affable client was put off by our amateurish approach. When you put a group of talented, passionate people together though, problems are only an opportunity for greater responsibility. A quick shuffle of team roles and our analysts had nominated a testing lead, a UX analyst, a project manager and backlog cop. From that point on we never looked back. The graduates have forged such a strong relationship with our client, that it'll drive most experienced account managers to shame. Technically, and process wise - our graduates struggled; but their passion kept them resilient through ups and downs of the six weeks. The role of the trainers was just to be coaches - guides on the side, who would chip in with their experience and help the project along in the right direction. At the end of the day, the trainers have learned heaps about leadership and the students have learned heaps about client management and software delivery. We didn't teach them anything - they learned through experience.
Nothing Succeeds like Success
"You know that you've done well, if your customer breaks out in tears during a showcase." - Patric Fornasier
You can teach people all you know, but they'll never know what it's really like until they achieve real success. In the past six weeks our graduates wrote real tests and real code, configured one-click deployment for the project, elicited and delivered real user stories, worked in a true Agile environment, and managed a real client relationship. As I sat through graduation on Friday, I looked at each of our 20 new consultants -- their confidence and energy was evident. As I later wrote to these consultants they aren't rookies anymore - they know what it takes to release software. They can now stand alongside their more experienced team mates and still be confident given their success on our project with Sukrupa. I hope it's heaps easier for them to pull their weight on a project, knowing that they've seen real success.
This ThoughtWorks University brought for me, my happiest moments as a ThoughtWorker. It's been an absolute privilege working alongside each of these 20 young people - and it's an experience that'll take some beating. It's also provided evidence to my hypothesis that challenges and failure can be great catalysts to learning. I've seen that smart, passionate people, given a worthy task, will learn and rise to challenge. I hope our story can inspire you to make real work an integral part of your learning programs. Do chime in with your thoughts in the comments section - I'm very keen to hear what you think. And by the way, please donate unabashedly to Sukrupa - a small donation from your side could go a really long way for this really special school.