Insufficient training is a leading cause of Agile failure

As a certified Agile trainer, I was particularly interested to note that insufficient training was reported as one of the highest reasons for the failure of an Agile project in the most recent State of Agile survey.

Some 30% of the respondents to the survey said that they blamed insufficient training for failed Agile projects; a humbling fact when you consider how simple this problem is to solve with a little investment.

Further scrutiny reveals that insufficient training can be broken down into one of three categories:

  • Nobody received training
  • Not everybody who needed training received it
  • Some received training, but the training wasn’t very good

Nobody receiving formal training is unfortunately all too common, especially within companies who may not have a dedicated training budget to utilise. It normally falls on whoever last picked up an Agile book to educate the rest of the team; often leading to disaster.

Insufficient training is amongst the leading causes of Agile failures

Insufficient training is amongst the leading causes of Agile failures

The wider team not being trained happens all the time. I’d wager that within the vast majority of Agile teams, only the Scrum Master has received any formal Agile training. Whilst the Scrum Master training course is fantastic, what about the rest of the team? Training courses such as the BCS Foundation Certificate in Agile do a much better job of educating everyone involved in the process instead of isolating specific roles.

Finding the right training supplier is often critical. My experience has showed that large training organisations who offer hundreds of different off the shelf courses can often provide much less in the way of value, than if you were to work with a company who specialise in just Agile training.

If you’re serious about an Agile transition within your team, ignoring formal training isn’t the right approach and will never lead to a successful Agile organisation. It’s important that everyone involved in your Agile efforts receives relevant training and it is wise to invest in training early. Not only will it give the team the knowledge of Agile techniques, but also an understanding of why it is the better approach.

You can download the State of Agile Survey here.
You can find out more about the BCS Foundation Certificate in Agile here.

Certified Agile training is vital, but certification alone won’t make you an expert

Certified training has become extremely popular within software development, as candidates are more willing than ever to learn and expand their knowledge. In addition, as technology evolves so quickly, training courses must adapt and evolve to accommodate these changes.

Some people feel that certified training is nothing more than a tick-box exercise and only has limited value. Whilst I don’t agree, I do feel that enrolling on a certified training course is not enough on its own if you’re serious about becoming a respected Agile practitioner.

I don’t want to devalue the importance of recognised and established certification programmes. Having a globally recognised certificate is important; it demonstrates not only your ability to learn, but your desire to educate yourself at the very highest standard.

The ideal scenario is to start with a brief Agile change plan, outlining what your roadmap is. Become certified with a suitable and relevant Agile training programme and then apply the knowledge you have learned from the classroom to some real case studies through workshops and activities.

Agile Coaching

Consistent Agile coaching is encouraged throughout

The important element is having a coaching layer running throughout your Agile journey. This adds much needed consistency, and having the experience of a seasoned Agile veteran to help guide your transition can become invaluable. Agile places value in people over process, after all.

You’ll likely have a slightly different change plan and roadmap, but if you take this proven approach as a guide, you’ll have a much better chance of making your Agile transition a successful one; not just for you, but for your team and your organisation.

Certified Agile training should be treated as your starting point – something to engage your brain with the fundamentals, before utilising workshops and the support of an Agile coach to apply your knowledge and add real value to real projects.

The bottom line is simple. Certified Agile training is an essential ingredient to your professional development and Agile journey. But as with any great dish, it’s only part of the recipe.

Context can make all the difference

During a recent Agile training session that I ran, I played one of my favourite exercises with the group – the celebrity cruise ship prioritisation game. For those unfamiliar with the game, the group are presented with a dozen different celebrities who are all on a sinking cruise ship. A single lifeboat can carry one celebrity to safety at a time, and so the group must prioritise these celebrities in some order to decide who gets saved.

The trick is to use a mixture of male, female, young, old, controversial and acclaimed celebrities so that there is no easy way to sort them, often leaving the group in heated debates about the importance of one person over the next. Without giving the group any sort of sorting value (for example, by age) the results can be very interesting and wildly different each time you play the game based on peoples opinions of the celebrities.

Which celebrity has more value?

Which celebrity has more value?

As I knew I was running the same training session in both Cardiff and London, I thought I’d add some regional influence into the mix in the shape of Welsh singing legend, Tom Jones and English football star, Wayne Rooney. I wondered if the two different groups would view them differently because of their national importance.

My pre-training predictions were that the group in Cardiff would put more value on Jones than Rooney. Sure enough, the Cardiff group held Jones in extremely high regard but didn’t really care for Rooney. Surprisingly, however, a week later (and when England had been eliminated from the World Cup), the London group treated Rooney with similar disregard, many commenting on his lacklustre performances in an England shirt.

Perhaps if the same exercise had been run whilst England were still involved in the World Cup and Rooney had scored a hattrick just the day before, the results would’ve been different?

What it did highlight was that context can have a greater influence on the daily decisions we make than we might originally think, especially when prioritising items. We already know that not all project based decisions can be based purely on fact and can often be subjective.

Add in the context bias and it should reinforce why regular backlog grooming is absolutely vital for a healthy Agile project. No matter how much you and your Product Owner think you know about the contents of your backlog, be very aware that what seemed like an absolute high priority last week could now be less important, given its context against the world around it.

It’s just another reason why a more Agile approach to software development should be favoured over waterfall methodologies. Context can change with the flip of a switch. The industry can shift almost instantly and we should be able to shift with it, rather than be locked into a development cycle based entirely off a rigid technical specification document. To use the Rooney example again, it would be a crying shame to continue development on “Wayne Rooney’s World Cup Soccer” iPhone app given his current perceived value amongst his fellow patriots. Using iterative development, we can just swap out the England star to someone who plays for Brazil in the next release.