L&D Podcast Recap - Tracey Waters
Training & Learning

Is Agile L&D Right for You? A Discussion with Tracey Waters

Often, a technique, process, or technology will gain such widespread acceptance that it becomes a bit of a buzzword. As a result, we might mention it without really understanding what it means. 

In some ways, this trend may be happening with Agile. Originally conceived in the software development world, the Agile philosophy has gained traction across industries. The use of Agile as a buzzword within L&D is unfortunate, because Agile itself can be a powerful tool. When used properly, Agile methodologies can help L&D teams move at pace, achieve more, and get real results.

In this article, I’ll recap a discussion with Tracey Waters on an episode of the Learning and Development Podcast. Tracey is Director of People Experience at Sky, and a pioneer in the application of Agile within L&D. Having overseen Sky's transition from a traditional L&D operating model to a fully Agile one, she's uniquely qualified to discuss the merits of Agile philosophies.

Tracey and I discuss how Agile can positively disrupt the L&D world, highlight the reasons why it makes learning more valuable and memorable, and put forward some of the routines, exercises and tools to help you get started.

Why a disruptive approach to L&D can have unexpected benefits

In her 15 years of working as an L&D professional, Tracey exhausted all of the common L&D best practices and simply found that they weren't working anymore. At a time when budgets and resources were decreasing but the need to get fast results was increasing, she knew it was time for a change. "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity," she says.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

When she stumbled upon the Agile philosophy, it immediately clicked with her. Agile has its origins in software development, where the methodology is used to split tasks into sections and adapt as you move onto the next section. A philosophy built around incremental learning to improve team performance, Tracey reasoned, is the perfect fit for the L&D environment. 

When Tracey decided to implement Agile at Sky, she threw the old playbook out the window– including eliminating classroom training. Read on to find out her reasons for doing so.

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How can Agile channel this disruption in the right direction?

One of the biggest problems with traditional classroom environments, according to Tracey? The lack of customization. “You can give a group of people the same information in a sequence that has been predetermined, without actually understanding the needs of any person in that particular room,” she explains. “You then ask them to do role-plays and interactive exercises, and then the course ends.” 

That’s why Tracey got rid of classroom training completely, and now uses Agile methodologies to deliver digital training programs that are more inclusive, continuous, and workflow-centric. This new strategy allows her team to deliver training that is more focused on the learner’s point of need.

What does this look like in practice? Tracey uses management development training as an example. “Sky’s HR system uses triggers whenever someone becomes a new manager, or whenever an employee within their team resigns. As this is a point of need, the L&D team provides the manager with relevant content (support videos, workshops, and other resources) to support good hiring or leaving experiences.”

As Tracey says, “If you give a manager training on what to do when a member of their team leaves when they’re in the middle of hiring someone, the information is of no use or concern, and is, therefore, a complete waste of time for both the learner and the L&D team.” 

This highlights the importance of being able to pinpoint exactly when a learner needs training on a specific topic and how effective the Agile methodology is to deliver this.

4 reasons why Agile makes learning more memorable, valuable, and impactful 

The key to getting the most out of Agile is to focus on the benefits of your L&D training programs and how valuable they are to the individual at the point of need.

According to Tracey, the Agile methodology involves four main pillars that allow L&D leaders to provide a more memorable and valuable learning experience:

  1. User-centric – In the software world, Agile methodology is about focusing on the needs of the user. In the L&D world, it focuses purely on the needs of the learner. 
  2. Iteration-based – Many training programs are monolithic and one-size-fits-all, involving predetermined plans that are mapped out for the entire course. Agile makes it easier for L&D leaders to shake things up, take things in smaller chunks, and adapt the learning experience to changing learner needs.
  3. Data-driven – In Tracey’s experience, L&D has largely focused on making decisions based on opinions and best practices. Instead, Agile relies on actual in-the-moment data from each iteration, resulting in more informed decisions about what works best for each learner. 
  4. Collaboration – One of the big benefits of Agile is that it brings in a multi-disciplinary approach, where different teams work together on a common goal. In L&D, this means working with the business, end-users, HR, and whoever else is needed to achieve the desired outcome.

So, those are the benefits of Agile within L&D. But how can  L&D teams get started with implementing these new methodologies?

5 easy routines, exercises and tools to help you get started with Agile L&D

As Tracey explains, there are a specific set of routines, exercises and tools that can support the use of Agile methodologies.

She highlights the five most important components as:

  1. Meetings - Using Slack, Microsoft Teams, and similar platforms,  learners can rely on  face-to-face interaction when the instruction requires it. 
  2. Planning - Tools like Trello or Microsoft Planner make it easy to organize projects and sprints, track the workflow, and provide an extra avenue for the teams to communicate and work together. Tracey recommends completely replacing email, shared drives, and other older technology with more modern planning and meeting tools.
  3. Virtual whiteboards - Whiteboards allow your team to showcase what the work stack looks like. Visual management is really important as it allows anybody in the function or business to see what’s being worked on.
  4. Ceremonies - These daily, 15-minute stand-up meetings highlight the achievements of the previous day, point out what tasks were completed, list the task that are to be completed today, and note any obstacles. 
  5. Retrospectives - These are meetings that occur at the end of a project. The team highlights what worked well, what didn’t work as well, and what can be improved next time.

While these specific routines, exercises, and tools are vital components required to implement Agile, it’s also important to look at the bigger picture and determine why you want to adopt an Agile approach to L&D.

Is Agile right for you and your team? 

Before you make a decision about whether to adopt an Agile methodology within your L&D strategy, you need to evaluate why you are making a change. Is there a particular goal you’re chasing, or a specific problem you’re trying to solve? Once you’ve defined these drivers for change, you can look for opportunities to use the Agile L&D techniques described in this article.

Thanks again to Tracey Waters for sharing with us the key aspects of transitioning to Agile. For more information about this topic, read our article: The Pivot From 'Learning' to 'Performance': An Expert Interview With Guy Wallace 

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