How can you, as a team, start with continuous improvement when your company does not want to give you enough time? And if they do not give you a budget to spend?
A learning lunch - where, once a week, you use your lunch time to learn something new - can be a great starting point. And it requires only a small investment of your team members’ personal time and money.
My name is David and in this video series, I will talk about things you can do to become a better software developer. I will keep the videos short so you can watch them while commuting or during a break. Either alone or with your team.
I have been a freelance consultant, coach, trainer and developer for more than 12 years now. And in those 12 years, I have learned a lot - mostly in my spare time.
And I am still learning. But now I have a family and learning or working in my spare time is not feasable anymore. Also, I think nobody should be required to learn in their spare time.
So how can you learn and improve continuously - alone or as a team - without “wasting” your precious free time?
Today I want to show you one technique that could work for you. Today I want to talk about the “learning luch”. Try to spend one lunch break every week or every two weeks learning new things together with your team. And convince your manager to “pay” for half of the time.
Question / Problem
If you want to get good at developing software - as a developer, but also as a team - you have to learn a lot. I mean, a lot! When I started collecting topics for this video series, I was baffled by the number of things I want to talk about. And I am still in the process of learning most of those things myself - even after more than twelve years of working in this industry.
So, there is a lot to learn. You’d better start now.
Just… The day has only so many hours. And many of us spend most of them at work. We could learn in our spare time. But that is not an option for many of us. We have children, friends, hobbies, better things to do. And we must sleep - a lot - so we can be productive again tomorrow.
That means we must find ways to learn on the job. If you are lucky, your employer gives you all the time you need for learning. Realistically, there will be some limits.
And in many companies, there is almost no time and no budget for learning at all. By the way, let’s talk about good and bad employers in a later episode.
So, your company does not give you enough time and money to learn all the things you would like to learn. That means, your mission is from now on to
- Prioritize what you want to learn
- Find ways to learn things in short bursts
- Learn on the job, but in a way that does not take “working time” away from you
- Change the attitude and policy of your company towards learning.
I will talk more about things you can do to fulfill this mission in later episodes. Today, I want to start with something simple.
You will just do the learning during your lunch time. Once a week, together with your colleagues.
“Wait”, you say, “that means I will do the learning in my spare time! You said that was not an option!”
And you are right. You will be spending some of your own time, learning things that you need for your job. But you will do it at a time where you are at (or near) your company anyway. And you will also personally benefit from the things you learn here: You will become a better developer, and your job will become more satisfying for you.
Yes, I do believe that your employer should give you all the time and resources required to learn everything you need to do your job well. But when they don’t? What are your options?
If you are interested in this job and you want to do it well, start learning some of those things on your own. If not, you should seriously reconsider whether you are at the right place right now. But I will talk about that in a later video.
If you decide to start learning on your own time, your lunch break is a very good time for that. You usually cannot do much else anyway, you are at work. And your colleagues are already there, so you can learn from each other.
All you need to start a learning lunch is some people who are willing to join you and a place where you can do it. And your cafetaria or a restaurant is probably not the right place.
You need a room that is reasonably quiet and where you do not disturb anyone else. Everyone should be able to sit comfortably, at a table. But the room should also not be too big - If most of the seats are empty, it will not feel like you are having lunch together.
You need a big screen or projector for pesentation, and probably a good internet connection for the person who does the presentation. You also need a whiteboard or a flip chart for the discussion afterwards - even better if you have both. Also have differently colored sticky notes and painter’s tape if you can.
Everybody should bring note taking paper and a pen. But make sure that nobody except the presenter brings a computer. You want to facilitate a discussion, not an hour where everyone is surfing the internet on their own. So, phones should also stay mostly in the pockets of their owners.
And you need food. Either you order or buy food togehter, or everyone brings whatever they like.
I would not recommend cooking together, even if you have a suitable kitchen. While cooking together can be a great team-building experience and can be fun, it will just take too much time. You want to spend your lunch break mostly with learning and discussing.
One person prepares a topic. But do not spend too much time preparing. This does not have to be a sleek presentation.
Just state a problem, challenge or question, and solve it together. Like,
- I would like to explore whether trunk-based development or feature-branching is more suitable to our way of working.
- I want to practice outside-in TDD by writing a tic-tac-toe game.
- I want to show you a cool thing I’ve found yesterday and then explore how we could use it.
You could even just watch tutorial videos together (wink) and then discuss them.
You can use different techniques - techniques that are useful in other situations too and that I want to present in later videos - during the learning lunch, like:
- Mob Programming
- Prepare presentations
- Create a card game
- Write a story
- Power-point karaoke
- Chaos Cocktail-Party
- Learning Matrix
After the learning lunch, take some 5-10 minutes to prepare a conclusion. Write the topic on a flip chart page, and then write down what you did, a short summary of the discussions and, most importantly, what you have learned.
Add drawings, use differently colored markers, sticky notes, index cards - be creative. Make it beautiful.
Then, hang it on an office wall or in a team room, where everyone can see it. If there is already a flip-chart page from last week, take a picture of it and throw it away first.
After some time, when you have 8-12 pictures of learning results, show them to your manager. Explain to them what you have learned. Ask them to allow you to do a part of the learning lunch during working time. Ask them to pay for the food.
By this time, you will be able to show them the positive impact the learning lunch has on your team. So the manager has a good reason to accept your request.
(And if they do not accept: We will talk about good and bad employers in a later episode).
To recap; You should not use your precious free time to learn stuff you need on your job.
But if your employer does not give you enough time to learn and improve? What are your options? Use your free time, but a part of your free time that you cannot spend on hobbies / family / sleep anyway.
Like, your lunch break. Prepare a small - and I mean small - task for your team, and then discuss, program, research, write together. While having lunch.
And prepare a poster, like a single flip-chart page, with your results. Keep pictures of these posters to remember later how much you have already learned in those lunch sessions.
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