Modern Agile Practices

Training for the Team

Just before the holiday season, we engaged Maurice Lefebvre and Olivier Fortier from Moabi to come down from their Montreal headquarters and work with our Product and Engineering teams for two full days of training. The theme for the training was Modern Agile Practices, but this was really an umbrella term for a variety of useful approaches, processes, practices, and techniques that product and engineering teams—actually, many other types of team too—can use to think about, to organize, to engage, and to execute their most valuable work. As Maurice puts it: “Our goal with the training is to improve the agency of the teams.”

Our teams already follow good processes, but there are always areas where we can improve. It is useful to dedicate some time to thinking about how we do our work—not just what we work on. And it is particularly useful to have experts onsite who can challenge the team with new concepts, answer questions, discuss pros and cons, and walk everyone through concrete examples.

I’ve used Maurice’s training services with some of my teams in the past. I have always found that he has a good way of communicating ideas and concepts that might be new to us. He combines them with engaging activities in ways that help us to see how we might apply them in our day-to-day efforts. One advantage of Maurice’s team is that they have prepared topics, but you can work with them to tune these to your group’s needs.

Modern Agile Practices

I have included (with permission) a link to the training deck. Topics covered include: Agency, Lean Approaches, Modern Agile, Risk, Communication, Canvases, Kanban Boards, Story Mapping, Metrics, Fragility, and more. Included in the slides are both abstract topics and specific techniques.

The material is fairly dense when you sequentially read through the slides. In practice, the trainers walk your team through the material, at a pace that works for you, providing additional material and discussion as they proceed.

I may attempt to address some of these topics in separate posts, over time. This would certainly ensure that I really have learned the subjects! For now, I will refer you to the document (above), the reference links inside it, and the folks at Moabi who wrote this deck.

Utility?

If you thumb through the slide deck, I’m sure you will agree that the material has value.

Yet, when I talk to folks about the practicality of this sort of training, they often have reservations. I have heard that it takes too much time for the training itself, or for the training to take effect. That it is too expensive. That teams are unlikely to change their ingrained habits. Or that training is theoretical and doesn’t work in the real world.

Whether or not these concerns have merit depends upon each team’s motivation to adopt the key items they identify in the training material. What is valuable for one group of people may be irrelevant for another, so each team needs to assess their needs honestly. But each team must have some desire and ability to push themselves forward towards improvement, otherwise the training is just wasted words.

As the instigator of this particular training, I have reason to believe it will be valuable, and an incentive to see that we do adopt useful practices, processes, and techniques inspired from these sessions!

Making it Work

Teamwork is critical for achieving success with new ideas. It is quite difficult for one person to change processes successfully without substantial assistance and buy-in. They may need assistance in figuring out how to implement the changes and a buy-in from the team at large, who must possess a real willingness to try to make the changes work. When trying out new ideas and processes, it is particularly useful if you can co-opt help from folks who already have experience with them!

To begin, each team must target their efforts. The techniques and processes presented in the training that can address the most pressing needs, or add the most value, should be considered first. The needs must be balanced against the difficulty of enacting the changes. Pick something too difficult and the team may fail straight out of the gate. But pick an easy change that does not add much value, and you will not build any confidence in the process.

It may be useful to get additional help with your change efforts. Schedule follow-up sessions with your trainers (as we will with Maurice and his team), or look to other sources to ensure that you have a sufficient understanding of any techniques you will attempt. Particularly with ideas with which your team has little experience, it is good to dig into the implementation a bit, then step back when you encounter real questions and get some more advice.

As always, any real change will require persistence and follow-up. Rome was not built in a day (wow, I actually had a chance to use that in context!). You will need to talk about what you want to do, how you will do it, and when. Multiple people will likely need to be actively involved in driving it forward. Like so many things in life, you need to make an early investment in the change to collect the dividends over the long term.

Win Some, Lose Some

There is a quote attributed to Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Not everything you attempt will work. Like all changes (and in classic agile fashion), you need to experiment with new techniques, evaluate your results, tweak the process, and iterate. If a process does not add value after several honestly attempted iterations, then you can toss it and start on the next most promising idea!

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