I recently gave a talk about Agile for Training and Development at a local ASTD chapter meeting where several attendees asked me about what tools they should use for agile.

I politely deferred the questions throughout the conversation until I finally said, “Look guys, if you want a tool to solve all of your training problems, then agile’s not for you.”

Full disclosure: my team uses Version One to manage our agile projects — great product and a great company. Agile, however, is not about a tool.

It’s about a philosophy of getting things done. Truth be told, it would be better for you to create a great agile culture and manage you projects with a piece of paper and a pencil, than it would be to use the most highly sophisticated agile project management tool that’s ever been built in a culture that has not embraced the agile philosophy.

To create such a culture, there are three components that must be put in place and maintained — empowered teams, encouraging early failures, and praise and encouragement.

Empowered Teams

Empowerment is a term used a lot but not practiced nearly as often. In agile, the team has final say on how to go about the work, and about who does what tasks. The team is not accountable to a manager or boss, but rather to each other. This aspect of agile can be difficult for leaders, who are used to directing the work of their team and assigning tasks to their employees. But, in order for agile to be successful, leaders must resist this urge and trust their teams to make good decisions.

Encouraging Early Failures

In agile, failure is often a good thing. In fact, a phrase that’s frequently used among practitioners is “fail early.” Making mistakes early in the process gives the team more time to correct the mistake, and ultimately meet the client’s expectations.

Consider this scenario: You have three weeks to develop a product simulation for a customer.  On day two you deliver a prototype, and the client hates it. Since the mistake was made early in the process, there’s a lot of time left to “course correct” and improve on the deliverable. If the prototype had been delivered only a day or two before the deadline, the failure would be much more challenging to recover from. Bottom line; you’re going to fail, so let’s fail early.

Praise and Encouragement

Agile introduces a different work paradigm to those who are new to it. It’s likely that this approach will feel uncomfortable. Agile “newbies” will inherently look to leadership for the answers. That’s why, praise and encouragement must be ever present, and leadership must search for the smallest improvements or successes, and take that opportunity to lavish praise on those who have achieved them. Leaders must also resist the urge to criticize or condemn mistakes. They should choose instead to encourage the employee by letting them know that they have faith in them and that they are sure that the employee will do better next time.

A Final Thought

There are no shortages of tools that can assist in making an agile implementation (into a training organization) more seamless. Tools can be very helpful. They must not however be the focal point of implementing or practicing agile. The return on investment will be much higher if time is spent creating a great culture as opposed to selecting tools.

If you’re interested in learning more about Agile for training organizations feel free to check out my book, “Agile Methodology For Developing and Measuring Learning,” or my course “Developing and Measuring Learning The Agile Way”.