How to Inspire Continuous Learning at Your Company with Little Free Library
Drive through a nearby neighborhood and you might spot on someone’s front lawn or at a street corner a wooden box full of books on a post.
More than 50,000 of these libraries exist globally thanks to a nonprofit organization called Little Free Library. The organization says each library serves as a free “take a book, return a book” exchange hub providing “24/7 access to books (and encouraging a love of reading!) in areas where books are scarce.”
Given the usual placement of these libraries, you wouldn’t expect to find one inside the headquarters of a globally recognized mainframe software company. But when the idea came to Compuware product manager Jim Liebert, it was quickly seen by others as a way employees could exchange educational resources with each other to improve technical and leadership skills, share ideas and further develop Compuware’s culture of continuous learning.
“I’d guess 99.9 percent of all Little Free Libraries are in front of houses, so this was a quirky, innovative implementation,” Liebert said.
Across the company, people can now donate and borrow books to build knowledge that will help them increase their personal and professional knowledge. Margret Aldrich from Little Free Library was pleased to hear the news.
“We’re thrilled to know that you’ve added a Little Free Library to your Detroit office,” she said. “Detroit has done a phenomenal job of using Little Free Libraries to build community and share the joy of reading. A group called Detroit Little Libraries is working to place a Little Free Library at each of the city’s public schools.”
As a company that prides itself on supporting a culture of continuous learning across all strata of the organization, it’s exciting to see Little Free Library have an impact on our own culture and the city we inhabit.
Top Five Organizational Improvement Books in Compuware’s Little Free Library
When speaking at industry events, Compuware Vice President of Product Management Sam Knutson makes it a point to discuss several books included in “the recipe that has helped Compuware transform ourselves from drowsy Waterfall, shipping software every 12 to 18 months, to an engaged company using the same techniques as small startups to move fast at enterprise scale delivering innovation every quarter.”
Here are top five organizational improvement books you can expect to see in Compuware’s Little Free Library at some point, and what Knutson had to say about each book’s impact on Compuware’s transformation:
- Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim
Early on we encourage people in the company to read Blue Ocean Strategy, which was especially valuable for the Product Managers. We needed to get out of the mode of just incrementally improving what we had always done to seek out and understand customer’s problems that others were not addressing. When you think about moving from a project orientated state to a product oriented state this kind of thinking is critical.
- Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim
- INSPIRED by Marty Cagan
INSPIRED is, I think, the seminal work on product management. There are a great many references to Agile techniques and adopting Agile, but INSPIRED is the book I reread when I want to get centered again on building great products. There aren’t a lot of great books on product management, and product thinking is crucial.
- The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper
Empathy for what users endure from engineering is served in ample portions in Alan Cooper’s classic The Inmates are running the Asylum. Many programmers and people in IT have forgotten that the purpose of what we do is to help people do their jobs, not to meet standards or close tasks in a project management tool. This was one of the first books that really got me excited about creating great products.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
User experience (UX) is something we have all come to value as consumers. You think about a great user experience and many of us express this as “like Apple” or “Apple Simple.” Delivering a really great user experience is hard. Compuware is dedicated to delivering products that embody elegant simplicity. Doing that in a lightweight way without a massive budget and doing it quickly are things that you can take away from Lean UX.Eric Reis’s classic The Lean Startup is a great book and some of our product managers have been to David Blande’s Lean Startup workshop and found it very useful. Users expect IT products to deliver a great UX and if you want to create productive, happy users, whether they are inside or customers outside, you need to look at UX as a critical part of design and development.
- The Phoenix Project by Kevin Behr,George Spafford and Gene Kim
Agile goes with DevOps like peanut butter goes with jelly. The Phoenix Project is a fictional story that is used to introduce people to DevOps in a way that is easy to consume. This is a great book! We had the entire company read The Phoenix Project, and, in fact, someone from our finance team led a book club on it.
As humans, we are wired to like good stories. There is a reason that parables were used as teaching tools. The book tells the story of an IT organization and a company in crisis that is struggling with day-to-day support and has a massive project that must be delivered to secure the future of the firm. The protagonist, Bill, has just been handed a big new job and must resolve a mess of operational problems and the development for the future. Concepts like the “Three Ways” are introduced by example and the book is an easy read.
The Phoenix Project is a great tool to get the basic concepts of DevOps and get inspired to start. (If you don’t have time to read The Phoenix Project, watch Gene Kim on YouTube. He does a great talk that is less than an hour explains many of the points made.)
Another great read, The DevOps Handbook, brings together a wealth of material that gets down into the how to deal with various aspects of a successful DevOps transformation It does not read as lightly as The Phoenix Project but it is a fantastic reference.
Today, companies must nimbly adapt to market shifts to stay on top, and a large part of that ability comes from how often a company’s people are learning new things. Compuware’s Little Free Library helps ensure its people have opportunities to learn continuously and share
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