Like many training managers, you have probably explored how to incorporate Agile project management into your learning and development (L&D) department. You’ve heard about the benefits of Agile project management: faster times to create services and products, more empathy with your customers, and better responsiveness to change. Your team members have been trained in Agile and have acquired an agile and lean mindset. After a few Agile projects, you and your customers have been happy with the results.

What makes Agile work? Is it the tools and techniques, like Kanban boards, burndown charts and daily standups? Is it the software that helps you plan and execute continuous delivery and test-driven development? All these things can help, but what makes Agile effective is the mindset.

The Agile Manifesto

The founding document of the agile movement is the “Agile Manifesto.” Drafted in 2000, the Agile Manifesto is a simple declaration of values:

    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
    • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
    • Responding to change over following a plan.

Twelve principles support the Agile Manifesto’s values. The two that are most relevant to training managers are:

    • “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable [training and development].”
    • “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”

As a training manager, I consistently ask my customers about their training needs and build courses to test and refine with them. My customers appreciate that I continually refine my classes and quickly adapt training to meet their immediate needs. For example, I quickly moved in-person coach training sessions online while retaining the learning objectives and developmental activities. Having an agile mindset gives me the ability to change rapidly and effectively.

The second principle, reflecting on becoming more effective, is vital to being an effective and efficient training organization. It is easy for a successful training organization to rest on its laurels and deliver the same courses and programs year after year. It’s what your customers want, and your classes are always full. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Remember the last time you were at Blockbuster? Has it been a while? Did you stop in at a Borders to buy a book on the way? It’s good to have successes. It’s even better to build on those successes and innovate faster than your competitors. If you don’t believe that you have competitors, ask your learners what online videos they have watched recently. Ask them about their favorite podcasts. How many of your learners have signed up for a free massive open online course (MOOC)?

Eight Principles to Manage Your Training Department

Disciplined Agile (DA) is a recent development in Agile project management. It is not just a robust tool kit of Agile project management methods; DA also comes with a mindset that should be immediately attractive to learning program managers. These eight principles that make up the DA mindset are great operating principles for learning and development teams:

    • Delight customers.
    • Be awesome.
    • Context counts.
    • Be pragmatic.
    • Choice is good.
    • Optimize flow.
    • Organize around products/services.
    • Enterprise awareness.

Training departments should always have an enterprise awareness and consider the context in which their products and services will be used. Being pragmatic while being awesome is an excellent way to delight your customers. Organize your department around your products and services, and provide tailored choices for your customers. Finally, use the latest Agile project management methods to optimize the flow of innovative training from your department.

The keys to Agile are a deep customer focus and empathy, which will enable you to build products and services that delight your customers while helping your team become better and more engaged.