Over the past five years, interest in agile methodologies for training and development has increased exponentially. This increased interest is perhaps best evidenced by the share number of articles written on the topic. In 2012, when I oversaw my organization’s transformation from instructional systems design to agile design, we couldn’t find evidence of even a single training organization that was using the method. As a result, we spent countless hours working with a vendor to create an agile curriculum that was specific to learning organizations. Two years later, when I published my book on the subject (“Agile Methodology For Developing and Measuring Learning”), the conditions had not changed.

As of the writing of this article, however, a simple Google search on “agile for training and development” brings back over 117,000 results from sources that include Training Industry, Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, ATD, eLearning Industry and Learning Solutions Magazine. These discussions focus on the processes, tools and techniques required to implement agile methodologies in a learning environment. In most cases, they elaborate on specific methodologies, like Scrum or Kanban. Often, they do not address the component that is, perhaps, most important to the success of the adoption of any agile methodology: leadership.

The Transformation

Leading agile teams requires behaviors that differ from the practices associated with traditional leadership. Learning leaders making this transition are likely to find it necessary to exhibit new behaviors. These behaviors can be challenging, because the individuals who oversee the learning function  probably “grew up” in an environment where the only approach for developing learning solutions was ADDIE. As a result, the concept of agile development is likely to be foreign.

The good news is that agile learning leadership is more dependent on practicing agile values than it is on the application of any one leadership technique. As agile coach Sally Elatta of the Agile Transformation puts it, “It’s not about doing Agile, It’s about being Agile.”

The agile learning leader must transform from an individual who functions as the resident learning expert — responsible for assessing training needs, conducting training and evaluating training effectiveness — into a servant leader who embodies agile values and principles in their behavior and embeds them into the learning organizations.

The Agile Values

Agile development is a software development approach in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration among self-organizing, cross-functional teams and their stakeholders. Four values and 12 principles drive the agile decision-making process. They are memorialized in a document known as the “Agile Manifesto.” According to this manifesto, agile development 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.”

The manifesto elaborates, “While there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Agile learning leaders can replace the term “working software” with the phrase “learning solutions available to customers.” Their role is to demonstrate those values in every interaction and to put systems in place that reward their teams when they exhibit the agile values.

The Agile Principles

The 12 principles that govern agile development (again, according to the “Agile Manifesto”) are:

  1. Customer satisfaction through “early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
  2. “Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.”
  3. “Deliver working software frequently” (weeks rather than months).
  4. Close daily cooperation between businesspeople and developers.
  5. Projects built around motivated individuals and building trust with them.
  6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location).
  7. “Working software is the primary measure of progress.”
  8. Sustainable development helps the team keep a constant pace.
  9. “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design.”
  10. “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.”
  11. “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
  12. The team regularly “reflects on how to become more effective” and then adjusts accordingly.

As with the agile values, agile learning leaders can replace references to software with training or learning solutions. Their responsibility is to ensure that their personal behavior embodies these principles and that they embed them into the their organization.

What’s Next?

In my next post, I’ll share specific behaviors that learning leaders can exhibit every day that will show that they embody the agile values and principles.