Microsoft Fabric adoption roadmap: Community of practice
This article forms part of the Microsoft Fabric adoption roadmap series of articles. For an overview of the series, see Microsoft Fabric adoption roadmap.
A community of practice is a group of people with a common interest that interacts with, and helps, each other on a voluntary basis. Using a tool such as Microsoft Fabric to produce effective analytics is a common interest that can bring people together across an organization.
The following diagram provides an overview of an internal community.
The above diagram shows the following:
- The community of practice includes everyone with an interest in Fabric.
- The Center of Excellence (COE) forms the nucleus of the community. The COE oversees the entire community and interacts most closely with its champions.
- Self-service content creators and subject matter experts (SMEs) produce, publish, and support content that's used by their colleagues, who are consumers.
- Content consumers view content produced by both self-service creators and enterprise business intelligence (BI) developers.
- Champions are a subset of the self-service content creators. Champions are in an excellent position to support their fellow content creators to generate effective analytics solutions.
Champions are the smallest group among creators and SMEs. Self-service content creators and SMEs represent a larger number of people. Content consumers represent the largest number of people in most organizations.
All references to the Fabric community in this adoption series of articles refer to internal users, unless explicitly stated otherwise. There's an active and vibrant worldwide community of bloggers and presenters who produce a wealth of knowledge about Fabric. However, internal users are the focus of this article.
For information about related topics including resources, documentation, and training provided for the Fabric community, see the Mentoring and user enablement article.
One important part of a community of practice is its champions. A champion is a self-service content creator who works in a business unit that engages with the COE. A champion is recognized by their peers as the go-to expert. A champion continually builds and shares their knowledge even if it's not an official part of their job role. Champions influence and help their colleagues in many ways including solution development, learning, skills improvement, troubleshooting, and keeping up to date.
Champions emerge as leaders of the community of practice who:
- Have a deep interest in analytics being used effectively and adopted successfully throughout the organization.
- Possess strong technical skills as well as domain knowledge for their functional business unit.
- Have an inherent interest in getting involved and helping others.
- Are early adopters who are enthusiastic about experimenting and learning.
- Can effectively translate business needs into solutions.
- Communicate well with colleagues.
To add an element of fun, some organizations refer to their champions network as ambassadors, Jedis, ninjas, or rangers. Microsoft has an internal community called BI Champs.
Often, people aren't directly asked to become champions. Commonly, champions are identified by the COE and recognized for the activities they're already doing, such as frequently answering questions on an internal discussion channel or participating in lunch and learn sessions.
Different approaches will be more effective for different organizations, and each organization will find what works best for them as their maturity level increases.
Someone very well might be acting in the role of a champion without even knowing it, and without any formal recognition. The COE should always be on the lookout for champions. COE members should actively monitor the discussion channel to see who is particularly helpful. The COE should deliberately encourage and support potential champions, and when appropriate, invite them into a champions network to make the recognition formal.
The overriding objective of a community of practice is to facilitate knowledge sharing among colleagues and across organizational boundaries. There are many ways knowledge sharing occurs. It could be during the normal course of work. Or, it could be during a more structured activity, such as:
|Discussion channel||A Q&A forum where anyone in the community can post and view messages. Often used for help and announcements. For more information, see the User support article.|
|Lunch and learn sessions||Regularly scheduled sessions where someone presents a short session about something they've learned or a solution they've created. The goal is to get a variety of presenters involved, because it's a powerful message to hear firsthand what colleagues have achieved.|
|Office hours with the COE||Regularly scheduled times when COE experts are available so the community can engage with them. Community users can receive assistance with minimal process overhead. For more information, see the Mentoring and user enablement article.|
|Internal blog posts or wiki posts||Short blog posts, usually covering technical how-to topics.|
|Internal analytics user group||A subset of the community that chooses to meet as a group on a regularly scheduled basis. User group members often take turns presenting to each other to share knowledge and improve their presentation skills.|
|Book club||A subset of the community select a book to read on a schedule. They discuss what they've learned and share their thoughts with each other.|
|Internal analytics conferences or events||An annual or semi-annual internal conference that delivers a series of sessions focused on the needs of self-service content creators, subject matter experts, and stakeholders.|
Inviting an external presenter can reduce the effort level and bring a fresh viewpoint for learning and knowledge sharing.
A lot of effort goes into forming and sustaining a successful community. It's advantageous to everyone to empower and reward users who work for the benefit of the community.
Rewarding community members
Incentives that the entire community (including champions) find particularly rewarding can include:
- Contests with a small gift card or time off: For example, you might hold a performance tuning event with the winner being the person who successfully reduced the size of their data model the most.
- Ranking based on help points: The more frequently someone participates in Q&A, they achieve a change in status on a leaderboard. This type of gamification promotes healthy competition and excitement. By getting involved in more conversations, the participant learns and grows personally in addition to helping their colleagues.
- Leadership communication: Reach out to a manager when someone goes above and beyond so that their leader, who might not be active in the community, sees the value that their staff member provides.
Different types of incentives will appeal to different types of people. Some community members will be highly motivated by praise and feedback. Some will be inspired by gamification and a bit of fun. Others will highly value the opportunity to improve their level of knowledge.
Incentives that champions find particularly rewarding can include:
- More direct access to the COE: The ability to have connections in the COE is valuable. It's depicted in the diagram shown earlier in this article.
- Champion of the month: Publicly thank one of your champions for something outstanding they did recently. It could be a fun tradition at the beginning of a monthly lunch and learn.
- A private experts discussion area: A private area for the champions to share ideas and learn from each other is usually highly valued.
- Specialized or deep dive information and training: Access to additional information to help champions grow their skillsets (as well as help their colleagues) will be appreciated. It could include attending advanced training classes or conferences.
Communication with the community occurs through various types of communication channels. Common communication channels include:
- Internal discussion channel or forum.
- Announcements channel.
- Organizational newsletter.
The most critical communication objectives include ensuring your community members know that:
- The COE exists.
- How to get help and support.
- Where to find resources and documentation.
- Where to find governance guidelines.
- How to share suggestions and ideas.
Consider requiring a simple quiz before a user is granted a Power BI or Fabric license. This quiz is a misnomer because it doesn't focus on any technical skills. Rather, it's a short series of questions to verify that the user knows where to find help and resources. It sets them up for success. It's also a great opportunity to have users acknowledge any governance policies or data privacy and protection agreements you need them to be aware of. For more information, see the System oversight article.
Types of communication
There are generally four types of communication to plan for:
- New employee communications can be directed to new employees (and contractors). It's an excellent opportunity to provide onboarding materials for how to get started. It can include articles on topics like how to get Power BI Desktop installed, how to request a license, and where to find introductory training materials. It can also include general data governance guidelines that all users should be aware of.
- Onboarding communications can be directed to employees who are just acquiring a license or are getting involved with the community of practice. It presents an excellent opportunity to provide the same materials as given to new employee communications (as mentioned above).
- Ongoing communications can include regular announcements and updates directed to all users, or subsets of users, like:
- Announcements about changes that are planned to key organizational content. For example, changes are to be published for a critical shared semantic model (previously known as a dataset) that's used heavily throughout the organization. It can also include the announcement of new features. For more information about planning for change, see the Tenant-level monitoring article.
- Feature announcements, which are more likely to receive attention from the reader if the message includes meaningful context about why it's important. (Although an RSS feed can be a helpful technique, with the frequent pace of change, it can become noisy and might be ignored.)
- Situational communications can be directed to specific users or groups based on a specific occurrence discovered while monitoring the platform. For example, perhaps you notice a significant amount of sharing from the personal workspace a particular user, so you choose to send them some information about the benefits of workspaces and Power BI apps.
One-way communication to the user community is important. Don't forget to also include bidirectional communication options to ensure the user community has an opportunity to provide feedback.
Resources for the internal community, such as documentation, templates, and training, are critical for adoption success. For more information about resources, see the Mentoring and user enablement article.
Considerations and key actions
Checklist - Considerations and key actions you can take for the community of practice follow.
Initiate, grow, and sustain your champions network:
- Clarify goals: Clarify what your specific goals are for cultivating a champions network. Make sure these goals align with your overall data and BI strategy, and that your executive sponsor is on board.
- Create a plan for the champions network: Although some aspects of a champions network will always be informally led, determine to what extent the COE will purposefully cultivate and support champion efforts throughout individual business units. Consider how many champions is ideal for each functional business area. Usually, 1-2 champions per area works well, but it can vary based on the size of the team, the needs of the self-service community, and how the COE is structured.
- Decide on commitment level for champions: Decide what level of commitment and expected time investment will be required of champions. Be aware that the time investment will vary from person to person, and team to team due to different responsibilities. Plan to clearly communicate expectations to people who are interested in getting involved. Obtain manager approval when appropriate.
- Decide how to identify champions: Determine how you will respond to requests to become a champion, and how the COE will seek out champions. Decide if you will openly encourage interested employees to self-identify as a champion and ask to learn more (less common). Or, whether the COE will observe efforts and extend a private invitation (more common).
- Determine how members of the champions network will be managed: One excellent option for managing who the champions are is with a security group. Consider:
- How you will communicate with the champions network (for example, in a Teams channel, a Yammer group, and/or an email distribution list).
- How the champions network will communicate and collaborate with each other directly (across organizational boundaries).
- Whether a private and exclusive discussion forum for champions and COE members is appropriate.
- Plan resources for champions: Ensure members of the champions network have the resources they need, including:
- Direct access to COE members.
- Influence on data policies being implemented (for example, requirements for a semantic model certification policy).
- Influence on the creation of best practices and guidance (for example, recommendations for accessing a specific source system).
- Involve champions: Actively involve certain champions as satellite members of the COE. For more information about ways to structure the COE, see the Center of Excellence article.
- Create a feedback loop for champions: Ensure that members of the champions network can easily provide information or submit suggestions to the COE.
- Routinely provide recognition and incentives for champions: Not only is praise an effective motivator, but the act of sharing examples of successful efforts can motivate and inspire others.
Improve knowledge sharing:
- Identify knowledge sharing activities: Determine what kind of activities for knowledge sharing fit well into the organizational data culture. Ensure that all planned knowledge sharing activities are supportable and sustainable.
- Confirm roles and responsibilities: Verify who will take responsibility for coordinating all knowledge sharing activities.
- Identify incentives for champions: Consider what type of incentives you could offer to members of your champions network.
- Identify incentives for community members: Consider what type of incentives you could offer to your broader internal community.
- Establish communication methods: Evaluate which methods of communication fit well in your data culture. Set up different ways to communicate, including history retention and search.
- Identify responsibility: Determine who will be responsible for different types of communication, how, and when.
Questions to ask
Use questions like those found below to assess the community of practice.
- Is there a centralized portal for a community of practice to engage in knowledge sharing?
- Do technical questions and requests for support always go through central teams like the COE or support? Alternatively, to what extent is the community of practice engaging in knowledge sharing?
- Do any incentives exist for people to engage in knowledge sharing or improve their skills with data and BI tools?
- Is there a system of recognition to acknowledge significant self-service efforts in teams?
- Are champions recognized among the user community? If so, what explicit recognition do they get for their expertise? How are they identified?
- If no champions are recognized, are there any potential candidates?
- What role do central teams envision that champions play in community of practice?
- How often do central data and BI teams engage with the user community? What medium do these interactions take? Are they bidirectional discussions or unidirectional communications?
- How are changes and announcements communicated within the community of practice?
- Among the user community, who is the most enthusiastic about analytics and BI tools? Who is the least enthusiastic, or the most negative, and why?
The following maturity levels will help you assess the current state of your community of practice.
|Level||State of the community of practice|
|100: Initial||• Some self-service content creators are doing great work throughout the organization. However, their efforts aren't recognized.
• Efforts to purposefully share knowledge across the organizational boundaries are rare and unstructured.
• Communication is inconsistent, without a purposeful plan.
|200: Repeatable||• The first set of champions are identified.
• The goals for a champions network are identified.
• Knowledge sharing practices are gaining traction.
|300: Defined||• Knowledge sharing in multiple forms is a normal occurrence. Information sharing happens frequently and purposefully.
• Goals for transparent communication with the user community are defined.
|400: Capable||• Champions are identified for all business units. They actively support colleagues in their self-service efforts.
• Incentives to recognize and reward knowledge sharing efforts are a common occurrence.
• Regular and frequent communication occurs based on a predefined communication plan.
|500: Efficient||• Bidirectional feedback loops exist between the champions network and the COE.
• Key performance indicators measure community engagement and satisfaction.
• Automation is in place when it adds direct value to the user experience (for example, automatic access to a group that provides community resources).
In the next article in the Microsoft Fabric adoption roadmap series, learn about user support.