The impact of our three-day "Agile Learning Experience"

Stanley Wylenzek
Few people would be particularly pleased if their organization introduced a new way of working. There is a high, natural resistance to change, especially if you don't know what the advantage of the new way of working might be.
Added value of 'Agile'

Away from the daily grind, out of the office,  music as you arrive and name badges  with a comical logo, participants briefly enter another world. This is the start of a 'happening', three days for participants to experience what it’s like to work according to ‘Agile principles’. 

A playful introduction to ‘Agile’s’ applications and functions

The three-day 'learning experience' we developed and executed for the employees of a financial organization proves that it’s possible for employees to experience the added value of 'Agile' in just a few days. The program helps reduce resistance to the upcoming change and creates a good basis for implementing the new way of working.

On day 1, we focused mainly on mindset and behavior and much less on terminology and theory. We only introduced these on day 2, when they are literally and figuratively founded on knowledge and experience. On day 3, collaboration between all the teams was crucial for delivering a shared result.

Five questions we need to keep asking ourselves in order to improve both ourselves and our team.

- Participant Agile Learning Experience
Agile values

Four Agile values were vital to the implementation of the whole program. 

  • How does your contribution and the contribution of your team fit into the larger whole (individuals & interactions)? 
  • How do you make sure you understand customer demand (customer collaboration)? 
  • How do you respond to changes?
  • How do you deliver a "working" product rapidly? 

At the start of the program, many participants felt very uncomfortable about a fifth item we built into the program, "How do I feel?" However, we noticed a positive change already from day one.

Mindset and behavior

Our initial focus on the mindset and behavior needed to make Agile come to life was received with great enthusiasm. Participants experienced how to work in a self-governing team and get to know what is needed to create a ‘high performing team’. 

Based on their experience during the day, they discussed the role you can take on in a team in order to improve team performance. 

A lot of attention was paid to customer contact (customer feedback) and understanding customer demand to clarify the 'what'. 

The team itself determines the 'how' and the 'who’, creating a realistic experience of self-determination and autonomy. In addition, ‘continuous improvement’ was introduced a number of times during the day, so that the power of retrospection and the letting go of planning and detailed design showed results.

Within one day we went from a table full of strangers to a team capable of co-operation and of assigning tasks to get rapid solutions.

Trust & speak up

Our focus on team work for a successful implementation of the new working method surprised the experienced Agile participants.
After only one initial team activity, the importance of trust (vulnerability based trust) was explained and applied via the theory of creating a High Performing Team *.
The importance of a feedback culture (speak up) was also greatly appreciated.

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* Lencioni: 'The Five Dysfunctions' of a team'

It was surprising how fast our ‘squad’ worked as a team as if we had never done anything else. That gives hope for the future.

Common sense

Employees who had already worked Agile decided after day one that they would re-introduce the retrospective into their own teams.
Commitments often mentioned on day 2 were to pay more attention to the importance of mutual trust within the team and the power of the role you can fulfil in the team in order to get an improved result. 

For those new to Agile working, the realization that it's actually "common sense" and not complicated but challenging and offers opportunities for self- development was a very valuable experience.
They looked forward to the next part of the program and reported that they were already applying some of their learnings in their current practice.

Learnings

Most participants found this (compulsory) learning experience enriching, regardless of their position in the organization, work or Agile experience. This applied from C-Level to operational employee and from Business to IT, even for DevOps experts who have been working with Agile for one or more years. 

In a short space of time, teams (squads) created a safe environment where knowledge and experience was shared and colleagues could encourage each other as they stepped out of their comfort zone. The message given at the start of the program: "It's up to you how much you get from this experience," was grasped with both hands by most participants as an opportunity for self-development.

For both the participants and the company, this learning experience was more than just a hype: it's a new way of working, where autonomy, listening to the customer, working in short-cycle teams and sharing knowledge and continuous improvement is just 'common sense'.

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Contact: Stanley Wylenzek
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