Agile education needs to get agile

Looking at the sheer quantity of books, conferences, training courses, consultancies and coaches around Agile, it begs the question: why is all this necessary for something that is based on very simple principles? Part of the answer is that...

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Looking at the sheer quantity of books, conferences, training courses, consultancies and coaches around Agile, it begs the question: why is all this necessary for something that is based on very simple principles?

Part of the answer is that Agile is simple to explain but hard to do. Also, the huge volume of educational support for Agile out there does not work very well. As a company that sells Agile training, I'm arguably biased, but this is a view backed by the Agile Alliance itself, which has publicly stated that what is needed are skills-based qualifications that are difficult to achieve.

Participants need to be put into a situation where they are applying what they are learning on a daily basis, and ultimately, are required to prove how well this has worked in order to receive a qualification.

And therein lies much of the problem. The standard Agile training is a short course that inevitably focuses on a few basic principles backed up by plenty of process and 'how to' ideas. This is somewhat ironic since Agile prides itself on 'Individuals and interactions over processes and tools; and working software over comprehensive documentation' should end up producing the kind of training it does.

The material content of many courses can be very good but are often assessed by multiple-choice exams. While some IT professionals may delve into weeks of self-study, more buy the short study guides in order to pass the test, which somewhat negates the requirement for the skills-based, 'on the job' and hard-to-achieve Agile education that the Agile Alliance cites.

Traditional Agile training seems to favour testing over learning, process over creative understanding, artificial training room over working environment, and standardization over the individual: none of which chimes with the Agile Manifesto's statement of 'uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.'

So, what needs to change?

Well, first, we clearly need Agile education that puts participants into a situation where they are applying what they are learning on a daily basis, and ultimately, are required to prove how well this has worked in order to receive a qualification. I like to call this 'learning by doing'.

We need to move away from 'easy' courseware, but more than that, we need to appreciate that Agile education is not just about Scrum. To deliver real benefits Agile has to be promoted and understood across the business, demonstrating how IT can add value and even lead business transformation.

And finally, training needs to be more flexible: some people find it hard to find the time to attend multiple course sessions, plus no two individuals are alike: some can learn in isolation, others will need support from trainers.

Far better to have courses that can mould around the individual's working day and delivered in a format that works for them, be that printed material, online, remote support, and of course, with support from trainers or attending face-to-face sessions when appropriate.

"Agile's adoption is becoming more widespread, but if it is to deliver on its promise - especially to the wider IT community - then the industry requires a more comprehensive curriculum that supports the widest and most varied contexts of the enterprise, with a quality that supports the learning needs of the many. In other word, what we need is Agile training that is really agile."

Posted by Paul Dolman-Darrall, Executive VP Emergn Ltd

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