What Makes Agile Training Effective?

Anthony Mersino
May 29, 2017

I recently had a participant tell me that my Agile and Scrum for Teams class was 1,000% better than he expected. Which I took as a great compliment, even though I noted the hyperbole.  When pressed to explain why, he said that his previous Agile training had been horrible.  Which got me wondering if I was that much better, or if the expectations were simply low.
 
Training should never be horrible, especially Agile Training which tends to be interactive and high energy.  Maybe I take it for granted that all trainers use various approaches that help keep the training interesting and engaging.  I don't sit through many boring classes because I have a pretty low tolerance for boredom.  If I sit in a training class that doesn't engage me, I lose interest and begin thinking other more interesting things.

 I thought it might be helpful to gather some feedback from you on what you find effective when it comes to training. I strive to provide excellence and so I take this pretty serious.  Below is a list of the things that I have tried over the years with my Agile Training courses.  Please let me know what other things you have found to be useful.
 
Good training includes some or all of the following elements:
1.  Engaging - In order for training to really stick, people need to engage with the material.  It could be an exercise that they do, or it could even be a discussion as a pair or a small group. 
2.  Interactive - Similar to the previous point, I believe in courses with heavy participation.  Students today don't want the "sage from the stage" to kill them with PowerPoints laden with wisdom.  They want someone who knows the material to curate it for them, and provide an opportunity for them to learn what they need to learn.  Memorizing the 12 Agile Principles may not be important to you right now, but working together with your fellow classmates may feel good to you.
3.  Real World Experience - Participants like to hear stories from others.  The theory is good, but they may need to hear what others have tried and whether it worked for them.  I usually share stories and I ask other participants to share their stories.  Stories of failure can be as helpful as stories of success so I try to encourage as much of either as possible.
4.  Fun - I try as much as possible to keep the environment fun.  I play lots of music (good music IMHO).  I create friendly competition between students or teams by playing Jeopardy or using Kahoots online.  I strive to give my participants an EXPERIENCE that they won't soon forget.  I believe that by making the training fun, they will associate positive emotions and the materials will "stick". 
5.  Just In Time - This one is not always possible.  The idea here is to deliver training on a Just-In-Time basis.  If people are not going to use the training in the near future, they will lose it quickly.  As an example, I teach a lot of teams how to use Agile in my 2-day "Agile and Scrum for Teams" class.  This training is designed to include the whole team - Dev Team members, the Scrum Master, and the Product Owner.  It helps when the team takes the training together and hears the same thing.  Where possible, we schedule this training to be immediately prior to the team's first sprint.  The learning tends to stick better.  Alternatively, I've delivered this training after the team has been using Agile and Scrum for a few weeks and they have questions about what they are supposed to be doing.
 
So there you have it, five key things that I think help to make Agile Training as effective as possible.  What other thoughts or ideas do you have?  What has proved helpful to you?

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.

Comments

Your comment about the Agile Principles made me laugh. Thank you. I highly encourage intact teams for my training, and SME's related to the project are welcome too. The way I approach the Agile Principles is to hand them out, introduce them VERY BRIEFLY, than I have the participants answer 3 questions in small groups: 1. Which ones do you think are already “The Wellmark way?” 2. Which ones come easy to you (this is already your mindset)? 2. Which ones will be challenging? (not your current mindset, and/or not currently, from where you sit, “The Wellmark Way”). Afterwards we debrief, and the conversation is always interesting and valuable. Since Agile projects are a small but growing part of the way we do projects at Wellmark, we always have quite a mix of people ranging from highly experienced to no experience at all with Agile. Helps both to understand where their agile experience is likely to feel easy, and where it will be challenging in the very real context of the company. Thanks for asking!

Anthony Mersino's picture
Hi Jo, thanks for your comments. It sounds like your approach to connect the Agile Principles to the company values is a great idea. (BTW I had an opportunity to work with an Agile team at Wellmark and it was a great experience for me).