Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Scrum it: Improve Your Team’s Performance with Agile Sprint Planning

It seems like everyone is talking about agile methods, which makes it easy to find tons of articles and more than a few books on how learning professionals can and should use agile methodologies to improve the productivity and the quality of their work. In fact, a Google search of Agile Learning Design produces four million results.

The trouble I find is that most of these articles are long on abstract ideas and short on concrete methods for getting work done. In a previous post, I describe one very specific agile methodology called Scrum. In the post I focus on a foundational element of Scrum, which is the Sprint. A sprint is nothing more than a window of time during which a specific body of work is completed.

Speaking from experience, learning and development teams can have long term projects that show no visible progress. Since it can easily take many weeks or even months build training courses with no visible progress, stakeholders are left to wonder what the L&D department is doing all day long. Using Scrum and breaking up your projects into short sprints, you can increase accountability and visible progress towards a project goals.

In this post, I would like to focus on how to plan a sprint, so you can increase visible progress to your stakeholders and hold your team accountable to progress.

Planning is the Exact Opposite of a Waste of Time…Even in a Fast Moving Environment

There is a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower I have always liked, In preparation for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. I like this quote because to makes clear a paradox that we should be OK with. On the one hand, planning is vital to success. Planning enables us to get organized, prepares us for the future, and even helps us visualize how we will perform. On the other hand, once the project begins, things can change and the actual plan can (and should) be thrown out the window because it no longer applies.

This paradox makes us uncomfortable, but in fact, we should embrace it. The fact that we go through a planning process, increases the chances we will succeed, even if the resulting plan gets changed.

This is why sprint planning in Scrum is so important. So now that we understand why, let’s talk about how to plan a sprint.

Sprint Planning

Here is the scenario. Your team has been asked to deliver a new leadership development program in the next six months. Instead of planning all of the work over the six months (or just diving right in with no planning at all), you would break up the work into six, monthly sprints each with a unique set of tasks that need to be completed.

Let’s start with the first sprint. You gather your team, tell them you need to deliver a new leadership development program in six months. But instead of planning the entire project at once, you set a one month deadline to completed a specific number of tasks on your way to the ultimate goal of delivering a leadership development program. This is sprint number one.

With your team, you make a list of everything you think you can achieve in that one month and get everyone to agree on that list. For example, the list could include:
  • Evaluate existing content that could be re-used and decide whether to reuse it.
  • Determine the need. Interview 12 senior managers and 4 key executives. Compile notes and summarize the need.
  • Evaluate vendor solutions.
  • Complete a build/buy analysis, and make a build/buy decision.
There it is. You make a list like this, and then argue over what you can and cannot realistically finish during the sprint. The critical part of this process is making a realistic list of tasks that is doable, that everyone on the team agrees to, and that are valuable enough to meet your business need.

If you get caught up in the terminology of agile methodologies with words like scrum and sprint planning, agile can sound abstract and complicated, but it is actually quite the opposite. It is a simple process designed to bring clarity and value to work and brings people together to collaborate on defining, planning, and executing the work. This increases the chances that the work gets done on time and at a quality level people expect.

Your Challenge

I challenge you to adopt sprints and sprint planning into your work of managing human capital, talent management, and learning and development teams. You will gain in two ways. First, you will increase collaboration and team work. Second, you will increase accountability on your team. Third, you will know, with heightened clarity, what work is getting done and when it is getting done, so you can easily and visibly report progress and results to your stakeholders.

If you use any agile process like this on your team, I would love to here about it. Share your process in the comments below.

This blog originally appeared on the humancapitalist blog

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