Any Agile transition is going to involve some level of Agile education. If you disagree, well we’re going to get to that later, but let’s say you’ll want to reconsider. But going from the idea of Agile education to its practice involves navigating a long list of potential pitfalls.
For managers, getting Agile education right means it can supercharge your transformation, helping you get the most out of Agile. Get it wrong and your transformation can grind to a halt, breeding frustration and the dreaded “fake Agile.”
Fortunately, we’ve led more than our fair share of Agile transitions, so we’ve witnessed most of the mistakes you might make firsthand. Below, we’ve taken that experience and broken it down into 6 mistakes Agile team managers will want to avoid when implementing Agile education for their teams.
1. Assuming that Training Alone Is Enough
For all its benefits, Agile isn’t always simple or easy to execute for the first time. In any Agile transformation, whether for a single team or an entire organization, there will inevitably be unique challenges to work through. That’s why it’s so important to not just provide Agile training to your team and assume they can operate in an Agile environment.
To understand just what going beyond Agile training looks like in practice, let’s refer to the 70-20-10 model for new learning development. The idea behind this model is to ensure that new learning is actually developed into knowledge and practice. It shouldn’t be read as prescriptive, but rather as guidelines designed to remind you to balance the way team members learn and develop their Agile skills.
It breaks down work and performance learning into three groups, specifying that those acquiring new skills are best positioned for success if they get a recipe of:
- 70% of their knowledge from on-the-ground job-related experiences
- 20% from working with others, like coworkers and managers
- 10% from actual formal learning events
In other words, people learn mostly from actual experiences. Classroom training should be designed to supplement those experiences, rather than becoming the main focus of education. If you think back to your high school years, chances are you can remember something like how to perform a physical task you learned in a job better than something abstract you only studied in a classroom.
That means, for all its importance (and it is very important), Agile training should make up just 10% of the time devoted to learning Agile ways of doing things. So ensure your team members have plenty of time dedicated to experiences and collaboration to supplement formal learning.
2. Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Everyone learns differently and, depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from four to 8+ different learning styles. But the main four most relevant for Agile education are:
- Visual; In this style, tools like charts can help to show the organizational structure and how Agile processes work.
- Auditory; Instead of only reading about Agile principles, some learners may prefer to discuss and hear about them instead.
- Kinesthetic; This refers to learning by actually doing. This style comes into play when actually implementing and honing Agile practices.
- Reading/writing; Some learners may do better when given time to read and reflect on Agile.
Choosing the right learning style that your teams respond to has an enormous impact on the quality of learning overall as well as retention. So it’s no surprise that taking a one-size-fits-all approach to Agile education substantially decreases its impact. But in most cases, it’s enough to simply ensure the Agile education your team members are getting uses all four of these styles.
3. Skipping Formal Agile Education Altogether
Perhaps you’ve heard that applying Agile in real-world circumstances always requires adaptation. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean you should skip formal Agile education in favor of more on-the-job learning. The reality is that both are required for success.
Formal Agile education is what gives your individual team members and the team as a whole a shared foundation in the core principles and practices they’ll need. The kind of ongoing learning and adaptation of Agile that’s so important for success is far easier and more effective if it's built on this kind of foundation.
Otherwise, transformations risk stalling, as people get frustrated that they’re not getting the Agile benefits they were promised as they struggle to learn and adapt in real time. Agile transformations that take too long can lead to a long list of other problems like key talent quitting, teams getting demotivated, and feelings of isolation as Agile progresses at different speeds through different functions.
4. Thinking a Certification Is Always Required
Don’t get us wrong, Agile certifications can be tremendously helpful. Agile Project Management certifications, for example, can improve career prospects and help practitioners be more effective. The problem comes in assuming that managing an Agile team or participating in one always requires certification.
The fact is, many certifications are unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming. Considering the resources involved in making an Agile transformation, you can’t afford to waste them on something that’s not going to make a difference in the grand scheme of your team’s success. So you need to be deliberate about whether certification is actually going to help you be a better Agile leader and whether your team members need it to leverage Agile ways of working fully.
All that said, if you or one of your team members do want to get an Agile certification, be sure to choose one designed for someone with your background and experience. Otherwise, you risk wasting time and money on something that’s not going to substantially help you.
5. Discounting Virtual Education and Training
In-person Agile training is great, we’ve done it for years and seen the impact it can have. However, if that option isn’t practical because you have a distributed team then the answer is definitely not to skip Agile education or training altogether. Fortunately for teams based far from potential Agile educators, virtual education has come a long way and can equal the effectiveness of virtual training.
However, even if in-person training is an option, a combination of virtual learning for formal training and in-person workshops to practice those learnings can actually be a winning strategy. It’s essentially another way to implement the 70 20 10 system mentioned above, combining limited in-person training with virtual follow-ups to help learners further hone their skills and apply their learnings.
6. Deciding Agile Is for Teams, Not Their Managers
Unfortunately, providing Agile education for teams and not their managers is a recipe for creating a strong disconnect between the two. Managers and team members need to work together to find the best ways to apply Agile principles to their challenges. When only one or the other has a foundation in those principles, this kind of collaboration becomes extremely difficult.
This is also important because Agile organizations thrive when they are less hierarchical, as this enables greater flexibility, accountability, and empowers people to take initiative and ownership of their work. Training managers and team members alike help reinforce this flatter structure, reinforcing the idea that everyone is going through this Agile transformation together.
Ready to Begin Your Agile Education?
Now that you have an understanding of what Agile education should look like (and what to avoid), you’re ready to move ahead. A great place to start is with an introduction to business agility.
This will give you the broader context to understand how Agile can work across functions like HR, Finance, and more, enabling you to be a more effective manager in a broader Agile business environment.