Maximize the Impact of Agile Training with the 70-20-10 Principle

Our understanding of professional learning and development has evolved dramatically in the past 5 years. As we learn more about how adults learn, the 70:20:10 principle is proving to be one of the Holy Grails of effective education in the workplace.

Unlike traditional models, the 70:20:10 approach focuses less on the hours spent in training and more on what happens after training ends.

According to a survey of UK learning trends in 2015, 44% of organizations are already applying this learning structure to ensure that new takeaways from professional education initiatives circulate effectively, gather momentum among teams, and integrate across the organization sustainably.

Based on the results from the same survey, 30% of organizations that haven't implemented the model, plan to introduce it in the near future.

It's safe to say that in 2021 most organizations looking to get more bang for their learning and development buck are looking to this model for guidance.

The 70:20:10 model contends that formal training represents a mere 10% of learning in the workplace.

While training is easy to schedule and check off your to-do list, we should think of it as a springboard, not the summit. Without the support mechanisms in place to maintain post-training learning, we often see excitement from training, Agile or otherwise, die down after sessions end.

The 70:20:10 principle visualized in the form of a diagram.

As you can see above, a full 90% of learning occurs through hands-on experience after training has wrapped up. In other words, organizations that want a long-term impact from organized training must invest more time, effort, and resources in the informal learning process that happens after training ends.

While the 70:20:10 model applies to all types of organizations and areas of learning, it's a perfect guiding principle for bringing Agile ways of working into any organization or department.

The 70:20:10 principle visualized as a person sitting on a desk, a person reading a book and a group of people in front of a whiteboard.

Approaching Agile learning in this way ensures that teams start their journey off on the right foot, gain momentum through hands-on coaching, and then integrate Agile practices in a way that stands the test of time. 

10%: Starting with Structured Learning

The 70:20:10 principle doesn’t do away with structured learning entirely. On the contrary, it highlights the need for formal training at the beginning of any learning path.

A man with a gray jacket teaching a group of young professionals.

Learning events at this stage of the model can be delivered as in-person workshops or online webinars. No matter the mode of delivery, training together with your team members is a great way to:
  • Create shared understanding about the fundamentals by going through the same materials related to a new topic
  • Share accountability for the new takeaways because you're all experiencing them together during the learning event
  • Avoid any knowledge gaps among team members that have occasion to work together
  • Get buy-in from training attendees by making sure they're exposed to the same learning objectives and their connection to business priorities

Of course, there are  many reasons to invest in Agile training beyond a strong first step on your learning journey. But regardless of the core purpose, it's particularly important when training around Agile ways of working that teams and leaders learn together.

That way, representatives from all levels of the organizational hierarchy can learn to walk together before they try to run towards full-blown business agility.

The alternative might have you running off in different directions and scrambling to get in sync.

Once everyone has trained on the same core content we can pause for a round of high fives. But, the journey doesn’t end here. In fact, we’re just 10% of the way to our desired outcome: an engaged, effective team that can leverage their new learning to achieve even greater outcomes. 

20%: Learning from Others to Build Momentum

Once your teams have gone through Agile training, keeping the momentum going can be a challenge. This is where even organizations with huge training budgets can sometimes stumble.

To support “near-the-job” learning, the second stage of the 70:20:10 model, novices need the proper support to keep the momentum they developed during their training. At this stage, support for learners can manifest in different forms, such as:

  • Setting up a community of practice where practitioners of the new concepts can get together and knowledge-share amongst each other on a regular basis
  • Bringing in subject matter experts to reinforce existing knowledge and introduce new supplementary concepts to the group
  • Establishing communication channels through which new and mature practitioners can raise queries, post comments, and collaborate around the application of their new takeaways
  • Access to hands-on coaching to guide teams through the implementation of new concepts and tailoring them to their specific contexts

In the Agile context, the role of the Agile coach is crucial to team success in the post- training stage. Even if the coach is not fully dedicated to one team, support from an Agile expert who can help the team turn theory into practice is instrumental to team success with Agile ways of working.

A couple of female marketers having a discussion.

The disconnect between theoretical concepts and how to make them work in real life is the culprit of so many failed Agile transformations. Don’t let your teams fall into this trap!

With the right coaching and guidance, teams that have gone through Agile training can truly apply their new learnings and use them to generate learning momentum to lock in the next 20% of the 70:20:10 model.

70%: Integrating Practices in the Workplace Through Experience

With training and coaching under our belt, we might feel like we’ve gotten to the end of our learning path. However, we’re still only 30% of the way to truly integrating new practices into our processes in the workplace. 

Now that we’ve participated in structured learning to set a strong foundation based on shared understanding AND we’ve learned from others through coaching and setting up communities of practices, we’re ready for the final step of our learning path.

In traditional learning environments, the final step of the 70:20:10 model is often overlooked. But this puts all our other efforts at risk since this is where 70% of learning actually takes place.

A woman in front of a whiteboard presenting to her colleagues.

Without the ongoing ability to learn from experience, learners don't have opportunities to try out new things and receive feedback to help them improve. As a consequence, learning development can stagnate and lose the momentum it accrued in previous stages of the model.

Emphasizing the learning development stage during which we learn from experience “on-the-job” allows learners to:

  • Develop complementary skills that help them make the most of learnings acquired during the structured training and learning from others phases of the process
  • Achieve mastery in the new learning as they build more and more connections between the theory they've encountered and their daily work lives
  • Experiment with new concepts by applying them in new and creative ways 
  • Make the learning their own and extend it to future projects and their own career trajectories

The best part of this stage of learning is that it’s continuous. (Of course, that can also make it the hardest to commit to). 

This ongoing process is one of the key reasons that this stage of the 70:20:10 approach to learning is vital for Agile learning. New agilists need to learn and develop through experience to actually achieve the sought-after benefits of agility, like greater speed, quality, and productivity at work.

Speaking to high-performing Agile teams, you’ll find that they often attribute their successes to the 70% of the learning development model described here. They may call it retrospectives, kaizen, or continuous improvement, but it's all part of this final part of the learning journey. 

On the Right Learning Path Yet?

The highest performing Agile teams we’ve met are those that go through the 70:20:10 model for development from start to finish.

A man in a jacket walking on a road.

Starting with structured training, these groups have set a strong base of shared understanding to use as the launch point for their journeys towards business agility.

Then, through coaching, mentorship, and communities of practice, novices gain momentum through exposure to subject matter expertise that links directly to their realities at work.

Finally, through hands-on experimentation and the application of feedback, these teams not only internalize Agile principles, but also integrate Agile practices into their processes at work.

Whether you’re learning about Agile or discovering horseback riding, the 70:20:10 principle is the right guide to help you structure your learning process and develop your skill set in any area from novice to master and beyond. 

Before you move on, why don't you take a second to get our guide on choosing an Agile trailhead?


Register for the Product Managers vs Product Owners LinkedIn Live Event