Pull-Push Agile Training

The first time I worked with Agile I was a new programmer at a mobile analytics startup that was using “Scrum”. Every couple of weeks I would be pulled into a meeting for sprint planning in which I was told to build APIs for our analytics product. After a few weeks we would meet up again and share progress and I get tasked to build a few more APIs.

For sure, we weren’t following Scrum by the book, but I didn’t know any better, having never read the Scrum Guide, much less having done any training. What I did know is that my APIs never actually got used, so I didn’t add much value to the company while I was there.

Later, when I joined a larger enterprise project that wanted to implement Scrum, I was the only person on the project with any prior experience and I was treated as the expert. I remembered how we did “Scrum” at the startup and that it didn’t create much value, so I took it upon myself to get a certification. I certainly didn’t want to embarrass myself giving presentations about something I knew nothing about!

So I went with scrum.org and got the three base certifications PSM I, PSPO I and PSD I. I then gave trainings to each new scrum team, explaining the process and how they should think about their roles.

However, this training didn’t seem to sink in, probably because it was one-off and fairly dense. So I paired up with someone in senior management to start a Scrum certification program, which was entirely voluntary, but in which the company would pay your test dues, assuming you had studied well enough to ace a practice test.

The go-getters in the project immediately jumped on the opportunity and we had between twenty and thirty people certified after about three months. But on a project with about 150 team members, this wasn’t nearly enough.

So I regularly reported the certification numbers to management, and after a while they saw this as an improvement opportunity and made the certifications mandatory. Suddenly my online Zoom training were filled with 50+ participants, and the recordings I uploaded got hundreds of views.

We ended up certifying about 120 people by the end of the year, and it dramatically changed the interactions between team members for the better.

There were three key benefits that were realized as a result of all the certifications:

  1. We had a common vocabulary
  2. We had a sense of pride in following the rules
  3. There was a desire to learn more

Although I really like the approach of the scrum.org certifications (they are extremely particular about words such as “must” or “should”), I think that the benefits would come from just about any certification that we gave our team. If you look at the benefits above, none of them are particularly unique to scrum.org or Scrum or even Agile.

But I think that switching to Agile inevitably means changing mindsets and adopting new vocabulary. And so if I joined a similar project at some point in the future I would adopt a similar model:

  1. Identify an “expert” who is well-suited to run a training program
  2. Create a free certification program initially, to build up some momentum and peer pressure
  3. Eventually make the program mandatory for the entire team

The risk of not doing this is having a large team that never seem to understand what anyone else is saying and who all seem to be pulling in different directions. And a model of training that is top-down from the start probably isn’t going to gain organic momentum, but rather breed resentment among the team. It’s much more effective to “pull” before “pushing” in change management.

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