Agile Training, Best Enjoyed Fresh

When I perform Agile Training I do it as a part of a larger Agile Coaching engagement with a customer. I do it as a directed intervention based on my ongoing diagnostic of how things are actually working at this point in time, with this client. I am a huge believer in just-in-time training or even, just-a-little-to-late training.

Training meeting in a ecodesign stainless steel company in Brazil.

I’m a huge believer in on-the-job training. Image by Alex Rio Brazil, reused under CC BY-SA 3.0.

When I say, just-a-little-too-late, I don’t mean late as in “oops, we forgot about training!” but as in you’ve had a chance to try working out for yourself what you are supposed to do and that I as a trainer has had a chance to observe you at work. That way, you’ll be more motivated for the training and I have been able to perform a diagnostic on your skills. You see, as your coach, I am convinced that you have numerous qualities that brought you to the position you are in and that only by recognizing your inherent and aquired abilities can I provide a training that is meaningful for you and your colleagues.

Agile Training in a Bottle

Ever since schooling became industralized during the 19th century we have seen learning and training largely as an activity where a trainer or teacher uses a bottled material, e.g. a book, and tries to transfer the contents of the book to the heads of the recipients. This modus is increasingly challenged by newer methods based on recognizing the individuality of students and their learning situations. Perhaps we still can’t afford to provide every learner with an individual coach but with computer support we are able to provide individually targeted training even on a larger scale.

Scrum Lego game, a form of Agile Training

Scrum Lego game, a form of Agile Training, by Gerry Kirk, on Flickr. Used under CC BY-NC 2.0

A lot of Agile Training is provided pre-bottled. Search online and you will find lots of packages like scrum practioner training, scrum master training and now even Lego for Scrum. The idea behind all these bottled Agile Trainings is that you will leave your ordinary work context for half a day, a day or at most two to three days. Then you will come back to your company as a high performing, perhaps even certifed scam practioner. Sorry, I meant Scrum practioner.

Transfer of Learning

So, what does industrialized schooling have to do with Agile Training? I’ll get back to that but first let me mention one important concept: transfer. Transfer is basically your ability to use your training in practice. There are many kinds of transfer: near, far, horizontal, vertical … For the purposes of this blog post we need to concern ourselves with two kinds of transfer only: negative and positive. Negative transfer is when training makes you less able to succeed in real life and positive transfer is when when training makes you more able to succeed in real life. So what is required for positive transfer to take place? Some of the top factors are:

  • Post-training interventions, i.e. you’re not just taking a training — you are taking a training as part of an ongoing intervention to improve your and your organizations performance.
  • Self-efficacy, i.e. your trust in your capacity to learn and apply your new knowledge successfully.
  • Organizational support, i.e. how much your organization supports you in your learning journey.

Agile Training, Best Enjoyed Fresh

So, back to the subject at hand. Will Agile Training served from a bottle have the desired organizational performance improvement effect? Not really, a bottled training is great for making people familiar with basic agile concepts but it will not lead to an agile transition in your organization. Training is just one part of the many things you need to do to become agile.

On the other hand, if you’re already agile and you are onboarding new people, training will accelerate them on their path to understanding how to be agile in your organization. A pre-bottled training will be perfect for that – unless of course you have already made some changes and adaptions to the agile methods used in your organization. You have, haven’t you? So why send your newbies to some expensive training to learn about another organizations agile methods?

Then, if pre-bottled agile basics training doesn’t really work neither in an agile transition, nor in a mature agile organization, what should you do? As I pointed out above, positive transfer of training is more likely to occur when training takes place as part of an ongoing educational journey for your whole organization as part of an agile transition and coaching engagement from an experienced (rather than certified) agile practioner.

What I Do

So finally, a brief glimpse at how I perform agile training in a typical assignment. First of all, I’d like to point out that there is a cycle of observation, deduction, planning and doing involved here. So I would first have decided that there was a need for a training on (for instance) agile estimation. Then the doing, performing the training, would be integrated into for instance the normal iteration planning. First, I would give a 20 min lecture on agile estimation. Then, the team(s) in question would perform their normal iteration planning, including estimation. While they work, I observe and take notes. After a short while, perhaps an hour, we take a time out and I share my observations with the team. They continue with the training and at the end, we have a moment of reflection where everyone talks about what they have learned and what they still need to learn.

That’s how you get your fresh squeezed Agile Training!


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About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...

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