How to FLEX your Agile teaching muscles!
Series: Part 1 of 2
AGILE ADOPTION CONTEXT
Mindset, backlogs, iterations, retrospectives…these are Agile buzz words you probably have already heard of in your work place or will probably be hearing of in the very near future.
Driven by many marketplace factors including the ongoing digital transformation (or digital disruption depending on your perspective), clients and end users are asking…or more accurately stated, demanding that businesses deliver innovative solutions with faster time-to-market, improved cost-effectiveness, better quality and adaptability.
According to the largest and longest-running Agile survey in the world known as the annual State of AgileTM (www.stateofagile.com), in the latest 13th edition (2019) survey report, almost three-quarters (74%) of survey respondents identified “accelerating software delivery” as the top reason for adopting Agile along with over half (51%) of the survey respondents citing to “increase productivity” as a driving reason.
The same latest annual State of AgileTM survey report indicated over two-thirds (69%) of survey respondents stated the “ability to manage changing priorities” as the top benefit for companies adopting to Agile.
These are the kind of results that any organization would undoubtedly desire to realize contributing to Agile becoming more and more accepted and adopted. Of course it isn’t always blue skies in Agile-land and it’s important to know that while there are many benefits to agility, there are also many challenges that come with adopting Agile that need to be proactively addressed to realize a successful transformation.
AGILE ADOPTION CHALLENGES
As shown in the illustration below, there are many common Agile adoption challenges that are consistently identified year after year by respondents to the annual State of AgileTM survey.
Challenges Experienced in Adopting Agile
As highlighted above, the latest 2019 report shows that more than half (52%) of survey respondents indicated that the “Organizational culture at odds with Agile values” is the top Agile adoption challenge.
The Agile adoption challenges above don’t live in a vacuum; they influence each other to varying degrees. A key challenge also highlighted above and cited by over one third (36%) of survey respondents as “Insufficient training and education” contributes to the manifestation or the increase of other challenges.
As an Agile coach who actively uses Agile training to help organizations and teams successfully adopt Agile, I have experienced many of the illustrated challenges above over the years in both industry settings and academic institutions, directly and indirectly impacting the quality, effectiveness, and overall retention of learnings from various types of Agile trainings.
In this Part 1 of a 2 part series, I will focus on four core challenges (tabulated below) that I have consistently experienced and addressed in Agile training; by acronym I collectively refer to them as FLEX challenges,
|FLEX challenges in Agile training|
|Feel for the class (learning styles and work culture)|
|Lack of participation or availability (engagement)|
|Eluding the Agile mindset (values/principles)|
|X-formation non-support for Agility (management)|
The next Part 2 of this series expands on the above with more proven techniques to address other common Agile training challenges that my PMC colleague, Bruno Bouchard, and I successfully presented this month at the Agile Alliance XP2019 conference, held for the 1st time outside of Europe in Montreal, Canada!
The following describes and shares practical examples and techniques successfully applied to address FLEX challenges that can hopefully help you improve and learn “How to FLEX your Agile teaching muscles!”
Feel for the class
Addressing the FLEX challenge, “Feel for the class“, is a key promoter of Agile adoption and training success.
An Agile trainer commonly teaches an Agile mindset (based on the Agile Manifesto values and principles) leading to the training of various Agile frameworks, practices, and techniques providing real-life examples demonstrating the application of this Agile mindset.
A “Feel for the class” refers to understanding the lens class members both view and interpret Agile learnings that enhances both the quality of the course delivery and the overall learning retention and application.
Two key elements enhancing an Agile trainer’s “feel” is factoring for various learning styles and work culture.
While there are many existing models that describe individual learning styles, a well-known one that I have consistently and successfully used is known as the VARK model (as illustrated below) with supporting bulleted items describing training techniques to be considered for each learning style type:
VARK – Learning Styles
So for example, if an Agile training was to try to teach the concept and use of backlogs, the Agile trainer may want to draw a backlog with prioritized items on a whiteboard for the visual learners in the class; start a discussion on the topic for the auditory (or aural) learners; have a supporting handout or course manual for the reading/writing learners; and prepare a practical hands-on exercise for the kinesthetic learners.
Along with the above learning styles, understanding the student’s work culture and how it aligns or rejects Agile values and principles will greatly help you deliver the Agile training. Using ice-breakers and role-plays to have students describe their work environments are great techniques to both enhance an Agile trainer’s “Feel for the class” but also for the class members to get a better feel for each other!
Lack of participation or availability
Addressing the FLEX challenge, “Lack of participation or availability“, is another key catalyst for successful Agile adoption and training.
An Agile mindset greatly promotes collaboration. Effective Agile trainers know the difference between class members simply attending a class (feels like a meeting) versus active contribution (feels like a workshop).
The root word of participation is “part”. Feeling like you are part of something; engaged and present. This challenge deals with the level of engagement and presence of individuals or teams receiving Agile training.
In the worst case scenario, if people don’t show up to the Agile training, that is a feedback in itself that they either don’t value this training or have other priorities. This challenge also addresses the quality of the engagement and presence. Have you ever delivered or received an Agile training that looks like the below?
Think of great courses you have attended in the past? What has made them great and exceed expectations? How can you avoid or mitigate the conditions that lead to the kind of training scenario illustrated above?
Considering using some the following proven techniques to address this FLEX challenge:
- Establish some basic rules of engagement that could include (but not limited to) punctual start/end times, use of technology, and expected levels of contribution;
- Identify at the start of training what is known as WIIFM (What’s-In-It-For-Me) capturing training expectations and linking the benefits of active participation to the individual WIIFM factors;
- Spice up your training; be inspiring; avoid “death-by-PowerPoint” remembering that course slides, manuals, and handouts are intended to be visual aids enhancing training delivery; not replacing it!
Eluding the Agile mindset
This is a common FLEX challenge often experienced by Agile trainers typically introducing Agile concepts in a new or non-Agile environment often influenced by the previously illustrated Agile adoption challenges such as “Organizational culture at odds with Agile values”, “General organization resistance to change” and “Pervasiveness of traditional (waterfall) development”.
Some common examples of “Eluding the Agile mindset” often shared in a classroom may include: changing scope or requirements perceived as negative, business and technical teams working in silos with limited one-way communication, overtime, complexity of solutions, and phase-gate “big bang” approaches.
To address this challenge, Agile trainers should try to best understand the work culture as covered previously in the “Feel for the class” challenge but should expect that in each class there will be a different appetite and distribution of people ready for the adoption or the eluding of the Agile mindset.
Inspired by the “Diffusion of Innovations” theory introducing concepts of Innovators and Early Adopters, Majority users, and Laggards in the introduction of a new product (as illustrated below), experience has taught me in a class there will always be a small but influential group (~15%) of participants that are eager to learn and adopt an Agile mindset, the majority (~70%) that is open to these new Agile concepts, and another small group (~15%) that lags, resists or is just skeptical of the use and benefits of an Agile mindset.
Diffusion of Innovations applied to Agile Training
(Note: Proportions of each group above may vary from class to class)
Through discussions of work environment and experiences, I use real-life scenarios to simulate various Agile mindset values and principles but first do so with the early adopters in the class and then slowly but surely onboard the members from the majority as they start to see and internalize the benefits of an Agile mindset.
It’s important that the laggards are not treated as second-class citizens in the classroom. Quite the opposite; I make them part of the solution (instead of treating them as part of the problem), asking them to continuously observe and identify situations that they can critique based on their perspectives. My objective that I clearly state from the start is that I hope to eventually make them “skeptical of their own skepticism”!
X-formation non-support for Agility
This is a classic challenge that impacts the delivery and expected outcome or application of an Agile training as well as the overall team morale and motivation.
Agile non-support as part of a transformation may result in Agile trainers hearing statements such as:
- “Sure…our management has paid for this Agile training but doesn’t really believe in it.”
- “We wish our steering committee members were in this training to better understand Agile.”
- “The organization expects delivery teams to transform but the executive teams to remain as is.”
- “Our sponsor insists on us going through this Agile transformation but still meet prior deadlines.”
As an Agile coach who has led many Agile transformations, I always feel and show deep empathy to individuals and teams I coach and train that share with me the above types of statements of non-support.
Some effective techniques to combat this challenge is to invite management, leaders, or executives either in a prior session prior to or at the start of the Agile training to reinforce the importance of the Agile training, link to corporate and/or transformation strategy, as well as their expectations from those taking the training and what they can expect from leadership to support them and the Agile transformation after the training.
I also commonly experience this challenge when delivering training as part of a previously failed Agile transformation that had focused exclusively on training covering Agile techniques and practices with little to no training and coaching on establishing a culture based on the Agile mindset and servant leadership. As illustrated below, to promote both successful Agile adoption and training, focus first on training and supportive coaching on “BEING AGILE” and once internalized, training focus can turn to “DOING AGILE”.
By: Michael Delis B.Eng. PMP, PMI-ACP, SPC4, ACC, CDAP, CLP, CSP, CSM, PRINCE2
Michael is Executive Vice-President and Director of Training and Methodologies for PMC – Project Management Centre. As coach, trainer and consultant, he welcomes your feedback to the above as well as any other Agile training techniques and challenges you may have experienced that are not covered above and will tell you more on this topic in Part 2 of this series next month.