"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Friday, 7 June 2013

Applying Agility to training and education

You know: I strongly believe that Agile values and principles apply and work very well whenever you have a complex problem to solve, something that you have never done before.

So, if you have a vision of what to reach, but do not know where exactly you’re going and your domain is not deterministic, there’s no chance you can define your path upfront: the most sensible approach you can try is to do one step at a time and strive for fast feedback to verify your assumptions and adjust consequently.

Therefore an Agile approach suit very well many different fields, even outside IT, given that people involved in solving the problem have the right domain knowledge. 
For instance, as a trainer, I use an Agile approach for designing and delivering my Agile and Lean courses to Product Owners, Scrum Masters, Teams and managers.
Last week I got interviewed by 4 students from a Human Resources Master (a psychologist, a sociologist and two economists) about my thoughts and experience on applying agility to training and education, which is actually a complex domain. The interviewers resulted to be very passionate about the subject and it was really an interesting 3 hours long discussion about many aspects.
I will try to summarize the outcomes here by using the same pattern we followed during the session: going through the values in the Agile Manifesto and try to understand how they can be concretely implemented in the domain of training development and delivery.

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
We normally use a collaborative team approach (2-4 people) when designing a new course. We try to understand the learning needs of the client and ideate possible solutions that are pulled from the backlog and implemented incrementally by leveraging on pair working as much as possible. We use a task board to visualize the work and understand the progress.
We apply pair training for delivery and try to foster a collaborative approach in the class, where the trainers are mainly facilitators of people learning using different teaching techniques.
We use tools like working agreements to set a stage of ground rules for the class. Understanding is prioritized over delivery of a pre-determined content and physical tools and face-to-face conversation are preferred over other ways like web-based training.

  1. Working software over comprehensive documentation
We try to get feedback as fast as possible as we proceed with the training design, by showing concrete examples of what we have in mind (slides, activities, other material) in order to validate our assumption and verify whether they match clients’ learning needs. That’s in contrast with detailing the training contents up front in a document and hoping to get feedback on that, where clients do not have necessarily the domain competence to understand and to map it with their needs.
We also think that learning is achieved by means of a complex recipe, where magic happens during live training delivery due to a combination of good material, inspiring activities, group collaboration and teachers’ skills. That’s why we do not aim at producing documentary or even self-explanatory material, which often gets the result of having neither good training material nor good documentation. Training should inspire, provide a vocabulary, create curiosity and new questions, which can best be satisfied on the web or by reading books.

  1. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
As I said, fast feedback is crucial. For that reason you need to get your client involved in designing the training with you. That’s why we engage an early collaboration which happens face-to-face when possible or remotely (via mail, chat or phone/video calls).
When our contact person is not the primary customer of the training, we try to get in touch as soon as possible with a number of training participants (when they are available) to interview and get a better understanding of their learning needs or even help to get themselves understand their needs.

  1. Responding to change over following a plan
We try to keep our options open until the last responsible moment, both during course design and delivery.
We’re open to late requirement changes as much as possible, stated that they fit the allocated timing for the training and propose other items to down prioritize if we think it adds too much to allocate in the given time frame.
We divide the course in modules and monitor the progress of the delivery by means of tools like task board or burn-down chart, so that we’re ready to adapt. We follow a time-first planning approach: we always finish on time and if the timing doesn’t go as planned, we decide which modules to cut together with the class.

Looking forward to your comments, if you’re interested or have experiences in the field of agility applied to training.

P.S. Thanks Valentina, Lydia, Patrizia and Francesco for the awesome chat and all the best for your work.


  1. Quando progetto una giornata di "training" applico di solito cinque principi:
    1. progetto il prima, il durante ed il dopo: in modo da garantire uno sviluppo successivo (il dopo), ed una collaborazione di co-design(il prima)
    2. progetto il feedback finale con un modulo formale fondato sulla customer experience
    3. cerco, ma non ci riesco sempre, un feedback dai partecipanti nel "durante" per chiarire e adattare
    4. il format è sempre molto interattivo (conoscenza tra i partecipanti, flip chart per ideare/valutare, ecc. ) e fondato su "casi", anche dei partecipanti
    5. cerco di liberare le emozioni nel gruppo
    Il tuo approccio "agile" mi piace perché introduce maggiore consapevolezza ed uso del feedback continuo e per una impostazione generale molto attenta a cogliere le esigenze dei partecipanti.
    Grazie per le idee e per la chiarezza descrittiva.

  2. Grazie per il feedback e per aver condiviso il tuo approccio.
    E' estremamente "rewarding" per me, sapere di aver scritto qualcosa che possa essere di valore per altri professionisti.