Where to Begin in Agile: Learning Before Doing

Written by Rangle.io

Our recent whitepaper “Advanced Agile: Five Ways to Accelerate Delivery, Improve Flexibility, and Reduce Waste” summarizes five tactics Rangle recommends for any company considering implementing Agile practices.

This post explores something that we believe has to happen before that can even start: learning. We use that term rather than "training" because what matters isn't what's put in front of people, but what sticks.

The first line of learning is formal classroom instruction, particularly when onboarding new staff who may not yet be familiar with particular technologies or Agile development. The good news is that the techniques that make Agile so effective work equally well when applied to learning. For example, we manage the development of our lessons on Angular and React in exactly the same way that we manage any other agile project:

  • The source is kept in version control, so that instructors and learners can file issues and submit pull requests with improvements.

  • The training lead goes through the backlog of issues and PRs each week to create material for the next sprint.

  • The staff working on the materials have a daily standup to review progress, discuss blockers, and set targets for the next day's work.

  • A weekly retrospective gives everyone involved a chance to make improvements to the process, as do retrospectives after every delivery of training to customers.

The biggest difference between a consulting project and our internal work on training materials is team churn. For obvious reasons, we try to have our most experienced staff work on training materials, but they are also the ones most likely to be called in to help with client projects. They are able to contribute to training improvements for only a day or two at a time, which means that reducing ramp-up time has to be a primary concern.

We accomplish that by providing them with training on how to train, and in particular, on a repeatable process for developing high-quality training materials that combines ideas from standard pedagogical works such as Wiggins & McTighe and other open educational projects that take inspiration from open source software development.

Ensuring that everyone has the same mental model of what to do, in what order, and why ensures that they can make small contributions, review each other's work, and use the resulting material without spending as much time going through them as they will delivering them.

We also provide training and orientation in Agile development for new hires, but have found that on-the-job coaching works better (as is usually the case when the subject is a "how" rather than a "what"). While it's common for tech companies to rely on "training in place," it has to be done consciously and purposefully to be effective. Since 2016, we have offered training on how to be an effective instructor to all of our staff so that they can do this for both Ranglers and the client staff they work with.

This post is titled "Where to Begin," but it could equally well be titled "Where to Continue." Continuous improvement in discovery, development, and delivery is the core principle of Agile; treating learning in the same way is the core to making it succeed.

[Free Whitepaper] Advanced Agile: Five Ways to Accelerate Delivery, Improve Flexibility, and Reduce Waste.
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With contribution from Greg Wilson.