How to Develop Your Agile Training Plan

Anthony Mersino
August 28, 2017
If you are planning an agile pilot or even a full blown agile transformation, a critical consideration is Agile Training. After all, people need to understand Agile and Scrum in order to do their job effectively.  This post will help you to understand the key considerations for planning, what types of training are appropriate for various audiences, how much agile training will costs, and the timing of training.

Key Planning Considerations:

Most people start with the question of what is this all going to cost.  In order to develop an effective agile training plan, and an accurate cost estimate, I recommend that you think through the details and come up with a comprehensive training plan.  An outline that I have found helpful is below - each of these is explained in the sections that follow.
  1. Determine Training Goals
  2. Identify Training Audience
  3. Develop Training Timeline
  4. Select a Training Provider
  5. Determine Overall Scope
  6. Develop Your Training Budget

1. Determine Your Training Goals

The starting point for any planning effort is the needs and goals of the Agile training.  Some organization do a formal needs assessment, but it is more common that people find everyone is starting with only a little knowledge and experience with Agile.  Training everyone is a good way to level set and bring everyone to a more common understanding. 

2. Identify Training Audience

Even if you are planning a wholesale Agile Transformation for the organization, it is unlikely that training everyone in the organization upfront would be a worthwhile investment. By thinking about training by roles, you can make sure that everyone gets training that they need.
 
Given that most people will forget their training if they don't put it to use soon after the course, I recommend that you train on a just in time basis. Start with those people who are going to need to lead the Agile initiative.  Then train those who are going to be first to use it.  
 

Agile Champions

There is frequently a small group of leaders responsible for implementing the Agile initiative - a common name for this group is the Agile Champions team. It is important that this team has a deep understanding of Agile and Scrum so I recommend that they take more training than everyone else.  The training for Scrum Master certification provides a great overview of Scrum theory and empirical process control and the nuts and bolts of how Scrum works.  I would also recommend a more strategic training course, targeted to leaders, that helps explain the agile benefits, agile success and failure patterns, and how to successfully lead an Agile Transformation. Training for Champions could include a Scrum Master Foundations training course, a Scrum Master Certification Course, or my recommendation, an Agile course tailored to specifically address the needs of Leaders.

The Agile/Scrum Team

The first to use Agile and Scrum will be the cross-functional agile teams that are going to develop the solution.  In an IT context, this would include designers, front and backend developers, business analysts, testers, and others.  This team needs to understand the Agile Values and Principles and the Scrum Framework.  The best training courses are hands on and highly interactive so that the participants are prepared to begin using Scrum immediately.  This is typically a "Real World Agile" type training course of 2 or 3 days.

An additional (and optional) training for team members is the Scrum Developer certification training offered by both the Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org.  The focus of this training is hands on software development using the Scrum framework.  Developers learn modern engineering practices and how to best leverage the framework to address change.

The Business

Business participants may be part of an Agile or Scrum Team, though more frequently they are a stakeholder and have infrequent interactions with the team.  In most organizations, the role of the business stakeholder is not dramatically different whether using Agile or other development approaches.  The key to training for business stakeholders is to help them understand the iterative and incremental approach to building solutions with Agile, and the just in time nature of requirements gathering, rather than the big bang long development cycles that may have been used historically.  They also benefit by learning the terminology.  Typically a 2-hour overview course is sufficient for this group.

The Product Owner

In Scrum, there is one key business stakeholder per team designated as the Product Owner.  The Product Owner is responsible for product vision, prioritizing the backlog, and working closely with the team to develop the solution. The Product Owner is a very important role and those who play the Product Owner role should receive customized training.  Product Owner training focuses on how to maximize the value of software products and systems. Product Owners will learn to use metrics and make data driven decisions about their products through instruction and the hands on exercises.  I recommend either the Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) course from the Scrum Alliance, or the Professional Scrum Product Owner (PSPO) course from Scrum.org.

The Scrum Master

One of the most important roles in the Scrum framework is that of the Scrum Master.  IT can also be the most confusing, based on the number of questions I get about 'What does a Scrum Master do?'  In short, the Scrum Master helps the Agile teams adopt Scrum and perform at their highest level.  They also serve as an Agile coach and internal champion of Agile and Scrum in the organization. Getting the right person in the role and developing their skillsets is important if you want your Agile initiative to succeed.  Where possible, identify or hire people who already have training and experience as a Scrum Master.  This may not always be possible and you may have to grow your own by developing Scrum Masters from your existing employees.  Rather than simply assigning project managers to this role (different skills), look for individuals who have leadership and interpersonal skills, who are learners, and who have good relationships.  The Scrum Master is not a working member of the team so usually it doesn't make sense to take architects or others who are needed to do the value work of the team.

The most common training for the Scrum Master is a 2-day hands on training course that leads to certification.  The two most popular Scrum Master training courses are the Certified Scrum Master (CSM) training from the Scrum Alliance, and the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification from the Scrum.org. (BTW if you are wondering what is the best Scrum Master certification, please see my related post, Quick Guide to Agile Certifications.) In each of these courses, participants learn Agile and Scrum principles and empirical process theory.  They also learn the role of the Scrum Master and how to support teams to deliver solutions. This course is heavy on hands on exercises. 

3. Develop Your Training Timeline

Developing a timeline for training can often be a challenge.  What is the sense of urgency to move to Agile?  Even in an organization that wants to move quickly, it is often difficult to do so.  While a simple Agile Pilot can be launched in 30 days, an Agile Transformation will be years.
 
The more people you have involved, the longer it will take. Some of the important points to be considered:
  1. How big is the group that needs training (see above)?  The larger the group, the more difficult it will be to clear calendars and to book training facilities.
  2. If there is a specific project or initiative you want to use with Agile, the start of that initiative may drive your timeline.
  3. What other important initiatives are underway that will distract from this?
  4. Are there holidays or vacation schedules that we need to work around?
  5. Are there seasonal considerations or business cycles that need to be factored in?  For example, an online retailer may need to have all hands on deck between Black Friday and Christmas.  In your organization, end of year may be the best time, or the worst time to train people. 
  6. Do we need to hire employees or contractors to participate in this agile initiative?
  7. Do you have the budget for training, or do you need to seek approval for it?  This can often drive the timeline.
  8. Do we have a training provider in mind, or do we need to solicit proposals from trainers?  
  9. Do I need to schedule an external trainer, or will we send people to public classes?
This last point is an important one. Training for a team or group, such as the Agile Champions team, is generally most cost effective if an external trainer brings that onsite.  On the other hand, there may be fewer members who need Scrum Master Training, Scrum Developer Training, or the certified Scrum Product Owner Training. My recommendation is that if you have less than 5, then you send these to a public offering of the course. Both Scrum.org and the Scrum Alliance hold public Scrum certification courses on a regular basis, so they can usually be accomplished fairly simply.  (Tip: The trainers for these organizations can vary in both their styles and the quality of their training.  Ask around to get recommendations from others about trainers that they found effective.)
 
Sequencing of the Training
 
When do you schedule Agile training?  Here are some successful patterns I've used over the years Scheduling the training
  • Agile training for Managers and Leaders should come before the Agile and Scrum training for teams. 
  • Training for teams should be aligned as closely as possible to the start of their first sprint.
  • I've also seen it work the other way around. That is, start the team Scrumming with a good agile coach or Scrum Master, then train them after they have completed 3-4 sprints.  
  • Another successful agile team training approach I have used is to train the team just in time. We started the team in their first sprint with just enough training to begin their first 2-week sprint. We continued train each day, using 1 or 2-hour scrum training workshops.  
  • Another approach that I've seen work for agile training is train the Scrum team and get them up and running in sprints. We did this quietly, in agile stealth mode, until the team had begun delivering valuable software on a predictable basis. Then we showcased the success of the teams in a townhall, and in presentations to the executive leadership. The positive energy from the success of the pilot team was contagious and we had a lot of interest in who would be next to get Agile and Scrum training and start using Scrum.

4. Select A Training Provider

Google searches for agile trainers will provide an overwhelming number of returns, and qualifying them may take some time.  Here are some things to consider when screening and qualifying trainers.
  • Referrals - I would start with asking around to see what has worked for others.  
  • References - Once you've identified training providers, request and check up on the references they provide from other clients.  This easy step can provide some good insights into the provider and the level of satisfaction of their previous customers.
  • Breadth of Offering - Can one company provide the breadth of training you need to satisfy all your training needs?
  • Quality of Course Materials including Exercises - Where possible, get samples of the materials that the trainer will be using.  Are they high quality materials that are well laid out and easy on the eyes?  Also, is this a lecture-only style course with little or no interaction from the participants?  If so, that will probably be ineffective and a waste of your training dollars.  Look for a mix of lecture with hands-on exercises and videos.
  • Classroom vs. Online - Many providers offer both traditional classroom style training and online training.  There are significant advantages to online training including cost savings and convenience for participants.  The downside is the lack of meaningful exercises, and interactions with other participants.
  • Trainer Experience - Does your trainer have the real world experience to provide you the insights you need to adopt Agile and Scrum?  Otherwise, you may as well read a book.  A good trainer brings examples of how things have worked (or failed to work) in other organizations and can answer tough questions from participants.
  • Location - It is important to know where the trainer or trainers are located.  If there are travel expenses, will these need to be factored into the training budget?  Out of town trainers may be less flexible when it comes to scheduling. 
  • Course Size - Does the trainer limit the number of attendees?  If so, that will impact the overall budget.
  • Total Cost - I list this item last, not because it is unimportant, but because it can often be the most difficult to determine.  The total cost includes not only the cost of the provider, but also the cost of having people in class for two days.  If they don't learn or are turned off by the trainer, then the cost to your agile initiative is extremely high. Include everything in your total cost to be sure you are getting the best value.
It may also be important to consider whether the firm doing the training will be able to provide coaching after the training.  Though not required, it will be more effective if the agile trainers and the agile coaches are on the same page.  

5. Determine Overall Training Scope

Training often follows patterns based on the direction the organization is taking.  While all the audiences you identified in section 2 above are important, training for everyone may be tailored based on the organization.  
 
Training for an Agile Pilot
If you are planning an Agile pilot, you will generally need to train a lot fewer people.  An Agile pilot is a common first step for an organization new to Agile.  It is often viewed as an experiment to learn what works and what doesn't work.  Often the end of the pilot is a go or no-go decision on whether to continue with Agile development approaches.
  
Given that there is not certainty around proceeding, the training for an Agile Pilot may be limited.  Rather than train everyone, training may be limited to the Agile Champions and the Pilot Team or Teams.  Training for specialized roles may be deferred until after the pilot is completed and a decision is made to move forward.
 
You may even want to limit the exposure to Agile from the rest of the organization.  In fact, some people purposefully follow a "stealth Agile" approach where they quietly train the teams, run an experiment and gain some success before revealing it to the broader organization.  Stealth Agile may be appropriate where there are strong organizational forces that could derail your efforts. Instead of broadcasting intent, those following a stealth Agile approach will limit training to just those who are immediately involved in the work.  
 
Once a stealth agile team makes a successful release, typically in 4-6 months, they might reveal their work and showcase the success of the Agile effort. Nothing succeeds like success so this type of approach is often good for getting skeptics on board after you've already demonstrated that Agile and Scrum work in your organization.  
 
Agile Transformation
In an Agile Transformation, the decision to proceed is already made.  Woohoo!  While keeping in mind the transitory nature of any learning, you would be more likely to schedule onsite training for large groups of people.  Big classes allow for economy of scale to include interested people beyond just the immediate team.  And it provides opportunities for people to attend multiple training. I had an agile champion at an organization that took the Certified Scrum Master Training every time it was offered in his organization and he found he learned new things every time!
 
For an Agile Transformation, I recommend running multiple offerings of the same course to accommodate vacations and work schedules.  Publish a schedule ahead of time and track who will be attending.  The downside of this approach is that participants sometimes cancel at the last minute, thinking that they can always catch the next training.
 
Another consideration for Agile Transformation training is how to address new joiners and ongoing training needs.  Training, especially for Agile, should not be considered a once and done affair.  Most organizations build their own internal training capabilities.  
 
An approach that I have seen helpful is if the Scrum Masters in the organizations own the internal training.  They are closest to the teams and can use their experience and the training they have received to build both training for new joiners as well as training on advanced topics.  I've worked closely with Scrum Masters at several organizations to develop a minimum set of training for new teams.  They also frequently need some communications materials on the benefits of Agile and Scrum and how they are effectively used in organizations.

6. Develop Your Training Budget

Once you figured out the other elements, then you can start answering the question - How much is all of this going to cost? That is an important question that you are going to get, and obviously need to be able to answer.  It depends on all the factors discussed above.  
 
Onsite Training Courses
Onsite Training courses are going to get you the biggest bang for your buck.  Onsite training courses range from $4,000 to $6,000 per training day, for up to 30 students.  Some training providers will be a little less and some a little more.  Most trainers are negotiable.
 
Online Training Courses
There is a wide variance in costs (and quality) for video based, online training.  Some providers will give access to all training modules for a fixed fee per participant, or a fixed fee for the client.
 
Public Training Courses
In some cases, it makes sense to send your people to public course offerings.  I recommend it when you have a small number of Scrum Product Owners or Scrum Masters to be trained.  Public training courses can range from $1,000 to $1,600 per person, and most will lead to certification for Scrum Masters and Product Owners.  (See my quick guide to Agile Certification here.)

Bonus:  Sample Training Plans

Here are some successful patterns I've seen clients use over the last few years when either piloting agile or as part of an Agile Transformation.

#1 - Agile Pilot Client

I recently had a client that wanted to pilot Agile with 2 separate teams working in different areas of the business.  They had an Agile Champions team lead by the IT PMO, that they wanted to bring up to speed on Agile before training the team.  They scheduled two training courses, aligned to when the Agile Pilot Teams needed to start.  The Agile for Leaders training was delivered 2 weeks prior to the Agile and Scrum for Teams training.  Some of the leaders attended both trainings.
  • Agile for Leaders (2 days), 12 participants, $10,000
  • Agile and Scrum for Teams, 21 participants, $10,000
  • Agile Overview for Stakeholders, 28 participants, $0 Cost
  • Total Training Cost = $20,000
This organization had one certified Scrum Master and a second Scrum Master who was not certified.  They did not invest in training for the Scrum Masters.  They also did not invest in training for the Product Owners.
 
#2 - Big Bang Agile Transformation 

This client was on the path for an Agile Transformation for 11 teams across three locations.  Training started with Certified Scrum Master Training which the Agile Champions team attended, a long with a few other interested team members.  The client then encouraged experimentation and held numerous town hall discussions to share learnings from the agile experiements.  After about 4 months, they provided additional training for all team members and hired a Certified Scrum Coach to conduct a 2-week mini sprint for several teams.  Costs below are all estimated costs.

  • Certified Scrum Master Training (2 days), offered 3 times to about 100 participants, $45,000
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner Training (2 days), 25 participants, $15,000
  • Scrum Training/Coaching for a 10 day Mini-sprint for 45 participants, $30,000
  • Total Training Cost = $90,000
#3 - Gradual Agile Transformation 
 
Another client took a more gradual approach to their Agile Transformation following a team by team transition.  Each quarter, 3-4 teams were trained and coached to use Scrum effectively.  This transformation included 21 teams with an average of 7 team members each, 8 Product Owners, and 8 Scrum Masters.
 
Each quarter, the teams that were transitioning to Scrum would receive 2 days of Agile and Scrum Training for Teams.  The Scrum Masters attended the training with the teams and in some cases, the Product Owners did as well.  Scrum Masters were also encouraged to take Scrum Master Certification Training from the Scrum Alliance.  Stakeholders were also provided a 2 hour overview of Agile Terms and the Scrum Framework.
  • Agile and Scrum for Teams (2 days) - conducted 5 times over 16 months - $50,000
  • Certified Scrum Master Training (2 days), taken by 5 Scrum Masters from a public course, $6,000
  • Product Owner Training Workshop (2 hours), 10 participants, $1,750
  • Agile for Leaders Training Workshop (2 hours), 10 participants, $1,750
  • Total Training Cost = $59,500
One of the reasons that the client was able to minimize training cost was that they had onsite coaching for all the new teams, new Scrum Masters and Product Owners.
 
I hope this planning template was helpful to you.  Do you have an experience to share with training for Agile?  I'd love to hear from you - please leave your comments below.

 

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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