How are your scrums and sprints coming? Are you current on Kanban? Do you understand the differences between TDD, DDD and FDD? If I appear to be speaking a foreign language, then the hottest thing in agile software — and now learning content — hasn’t hit your radar yet.
The questions for learning professionals are: Are we prepared for it — if we understand the profound effect it’s going to have on our offerings — and how do we interact with the organizations we support?
Although agile development grew out of failed deployments on the software side — which we’ll outline in a bit — the similarities on the organizational development side are fairly staggering. Organizations attempt to be more agile, many struggling to make these adjustments because of legacy systems, processes and behaviors. But agile software development is emerging as the discipline that may finally bring about this long-overdue tipping point.
First, some history that may sound familiar. Agile development grew from fallacies software project managers observed from failed software projects:
The belief that all requirements can be known right now for a system to be developed over months or years.
The belief that employees can write down requirements in a way that software developers can understand.
The belief that employees have the best idea about how to meet their business needs.
The belief that reactive information technology could address changing needs at the speed of business.
Are you noticing any similarities between these fallacies and some of the challenges your learning organization is facing in trying to keep up with today’s work landscape? We have been hearing the same concerns from learning professionals for several years. The fact that agile software development is tackling these today when introducing new vital systems into the enterprises will force us to make some adjustments in our approaches and offerings.
Moving to agile development forces a set of trade-offs or preferences:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Responding to change over following a plan.
When laying these trade-offs over traditional learning approaches, some inconsistencies and growing pains will emerge. We as a learning industry will need to re-evaluate our tried-and-true approaches when creating our learning solutions to keep up.
To make agile learning development work, first and foremost we have to be willing to let go of approaches such as the ADDIE model, or at least be prepared to modify them to fit an agile delivery cycle. We also need to understand that all skills are not critical. Many skills don’t need to be taught and maintained with the rigor found with older methodologies.
An emerging practice called critical skills analysis is helping us modify content prioritization and design. This approach helps us work toward much tighter review and develop cycles based on the importance and content criticality. The analysis is based on user stories and not so much on what a subject matter expert thinks everyone needs to know. This makes it easier to develop a more iterative and incremental development cycle. As opposed to lengthy milestones and staged deliverables, our outputs become more fluent and flexible based on the results and timelines created in the agile process.
Maintenance and feedback also change in that they come from learners at their moment of application rather than through the traditional task/needs analysis we have historically used on the front end. And finally, smaller bites are better. Training only starts the process, while disciplines such as performance support act as the new enabler.
Agile development will force us to create new end goals. As a colleague of mine recently stated, “The new end is sustained capability in a volatile environment of change.” How prepared is your current learning strategy and approach to aggressively deal with that statement? Keep an eye on agile development; it will force our hands in ways we have not seen in years.