Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How to Implement Agile on Your (Well, Any) Team

Agile development is a popular topic. So popular that even learning and development teams are talking about it. Robert Winter of CA Technologies raises this question in a preview to his Performance Improvement Conference talk in mid-April, “Is Agile Compatible with Human Performance Technology (HPT)?” And since I am an HPT’er at heart, I believe the answer is, “Yes.”

The article begs the question, “How can I implement agile development methodologies in my learning design team? This is not an easy question to answer since there are so many ways to implement agile. Scrum is one way. And when you start to learn about Scrum, you realize how applicable it is to developing learning content. I thought I would summarize the major events of Scrum, which are detailed in the Scrum Guide. Once you learn about scrum, you will go back to your team and say, “Hey, we gotta do this!"

Here are the five major events in Scrum.

The Sprint

A Sprint is a window of time (one-month, for example) during which a specified body of work is completed and, at the end of which, a feature, product, or some other “product increment” is created. In the world of learning design, a Sprint could produce and added module to an existing course or it could produce updates to an existing enterprise software training course when the software has had a major update. Once a Sprint is completed, a new Sprint begins and tackles new tasks. Sprints repeats until a product is completed or in perpetuity depending on the product.

Here is how it would work on your learning design team:

Spring Planning

All the work that needs to be done in a Sprint is listed during a Sprint Planning process. Let’s say you need to update a software training course because a new version of the software is being released. A Sprint Planning process would list everything that needs to be changed in the course. Then decisions will be made about what can get done during the Sprint time frame. This is the hard part because it is unlikely that everything can get done during the time frame you have. In other words, maybe you can replace all of the screen shots, re-write scripts, re-record the audio, but you are not sure if you can redesign the course template, like you have always wanted. During the Sprint Planning process you must make a decision to not update the template during this Sprint, but that you will do it during the next Sprint. The key is that everyone on the team is clear about what will get done during that Sprint and who will do it.

Daily Scrum

Once a Sprint begins, the team holds a daily, 15-minute meeting to discuss what will happen that day. This process keeps everyone aligned on the goals of the Sprint and keeps work moving along. The Daily Scrum is a chance to raise issues, remove blockers, and hold team members accountable. For example, during the Wednesday morning Daily Scrum, someone raises the issue that they cannot capture screen shots because the product team is still working on the reporting engine. This can impact your ability to capture the screen shots and get them into the course update during this Sprint because the product team will not finalize the screen layout until next week. This is when the team lead needs to figure out how to remove this blocker so the work can get done or make the hard choice to have updated screens during this Sprint. The point of the Daily Scrum is to raise these issues as they happen (each morning) so nothing takes the team by surprise at the last minute.

Sprint Review

A Sprint Review is a meeting that is held at the end of a Sprint to review what tasks were “Done” and “Not Done” during the Sprint. This meeting is a chance to review and demonstrate what was accomplished during the Sprint with key stakeholders. It is also a chance to discuss what was not accomplished and how and whether those tasks will be addressed in a future Sprint. Let’s continue the example of the screen shot problem that was raised in one of the Daily Scrums. It turns out, the team was unable to update the screen shots in the new reporting engine because the product team was unable to finalize the page design in time for your team to update the course. The Scrum team would discuss how and why this happened with the expressed purpose of getting the screen shots updated at the next possible time, which could be in the next Sprint or further in the future. This depends on how the product team is progressing on the new reporting engine. By taking the time to do a Sprint Review, the team can communicate to key stakeholders what got done, what did not get done, and why.

Sprint Retrospective

Whereas a Sprint Review is tactical, a Sprint Retrospective is more strategic and a chance for the team to “inspect itself” and make improvements for the future. Things that can be covered during the Retrospective are how the last Sprint went in terms of “people, relationships, process, and tools.” It is also a chance to discuss plans for making improvements in these areas. In the example of the reporting engine screen shots, a Retrospective may uncover that this issue should have been raised earlier. This way, the team leaders may have been able to talk to the product team sooner and get the design completed on time. Another possible outcome of the Retrospective could have been that the team discovers that they are much more dependent on the timeline of the product team than they thought, so when conducting future Sprint Planning sessions, they may want to invite a member of the product team to help guide the planning process. That could be a way to improve Sprint Planning and improve what can get completed during Sprints.

Is Scrum for You?

Pretty easy, right? As it states in the Scrum Guide, Scrum is easy to understand, but difficult to master. I recommend reading the Scrum Guide. It will change the way you think about how to get work done on your team. Even if you don’t adopt a full-blown Scrum process, you will find yourself adopting parts, like the Daily Scrum, Sprints, and Sprint Planning, for example.

This blog post originally appeared on the humancapitalist blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Two Books Aspiring Leaders Should Read This Summer

Summer is winding down, and so is the summer reading list. You have finished yours, right? We all have high hopes of reading booking during the summer only to discover that work did not slow down and the kids, who are not in school, need a bit more of our attention than we planned. Summer has no sole claim to the reading list.

Fall is a great time to read a book or two. The kids are back in school, the weather is cooling, and you are likely spending less time outside.

I would like to recommend two books that I found to be good reads, educational, and cover two critical skills that just about everyone could improve: technology and leadership. The first book is written for the non-techie who wants to learn what modern technology is capable of doing, especially software. And if software is eating the world everyone in business should understand what software can do. The second book is about leadership, and specifically how great leaders multiply genius. What a great way to look at leadership.

Here is a brief discussion of each book.

How to Speak Tech: the Non-Techie’s Guide to Technology Basics in Business

by Vinay Trivedi
Bill Cushard Blog How to Speak Tech Book

It is difficult to think about a role in business today in which you do not need to be tech savvy. This is certainly true for learning leaders who must implement learning management systems, eLearning, performance support, social learning, simulations, and mobile learning to name only a few learning technologies. If you are not tech savvy, I suggest you read How to Speak Tech: the Non-Techie’s Guide to Technology Basics in Business by Vinay Trivedi. Your goal in being tech savvy is not to be a software developer or networking engineer, but to know what web and cloud technologies can do so you can speak intelligently with technologists to get your learning technology projects completed. This book will get you there.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown
Bill Cushard Blog Multipliers Book

If I had to make a short list of leadership books that all managers should read, the list would include Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. If fact, in my previous learning direction role, this is exactly what I did. I pass out the book to ever single leader, then I brought the Wiseman Group in to speak to the entire leadership team of nearly 80 executives. By reading Multipliers, you will learn that great leaders get more out of people than bad leaders, and you will learn how they do it. Great leaders multiply genius. Don’t you want your leadership team to do that?

I know, everyone has a recommending reading list, and these are just two books that I find easy to read and educational. I think you will agree. If you are a manager and have a little discretionary budget at work, buy a copy of each of these books for your team. Your team will appreciate it.

If you have read these books, what did you think of them? What other books would you recommend for a fall reading list? Share your ideas in the comments below.

This blog originally appeared on the humancapitalist blog.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hey Twitter: Do it. Change the 140 Character Limit

I realize that the news about you considering changing the 140 limit on tweets is blowing up Twitter, because long time users are complaining the change will make Twitter worse. 

But I say go for it. 

I am one of those long time users. I love Twitter. I use it every day. I don’t want it to change.

But I say. Change it. 

Don't stop

Jettison yesterday in favor of today.

Listen, I hate change, just like everyone else. But whenever I get that feeling about not liking a change, I consciously think to myself, “C’mon, things change. I say go for it.”

So, I love change. 

Things change. That’s life. The “new” thing is almost always better than the “old” thing. Even though it doesn't seem like it at the time.

For example.

I would never replace my Salomon SX 91 Equips

Never.

Ever.

Best ski boots EVER!

When they stopped making them. I wanted to freak. If there was Twitter back then, I would have launched into a tweet storm of epic proportions. 

Photo credit: http://a16z.com/tag/tweetstorms/

Until.

Salomon came out with the XWave 10.0 (beautiful orange). This boot had the precision control of an overlap, racing-stiff shell that made me a (waaaay) better skier…especially when you wear it one size-and-a-half sizes smaller than your shoe size.
 
Ouch.

Alas.

They don’t make the XWave 10.0 anymore. Big surprise. But I’m not worried. My next boots will be better. And if not. The next ones will. 

I could cite many other examples. So could you.

I don't know if a 10,000 character limit is better or worse than 140. I don't really care. I have other shit to worry about.

(Author rhetorical question) What if, in 2006, you started with the 10,000 limit and considered changing it to 140? Think about that freak out).

Personally, I like 140, as arbitrary as it is. I like the constrain. I’m used to it. But that’s the problem. I’m used to it. 

I am sure I would have liked 512 or 1024 (see what I did just there?). I’m sure I will like 10,000. Eventually.

Twitter, if you ask me, I'd vote against the change to 10,000.

Do I get a vote? Put me on your board, and I’ll give you my opinion, as if you need more of those.

I am used to 140, and I don’t know if I will like the change. 

But I do know this.

I'll adapt. 

Some might not. I say screw 'em. Who needs them? What are they all gonna go? Switch to Google+?

So Twitter, if you are reading and you somehow need my opinion (Yeah, right!)... change it.

Or else...


“Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” - Will Rogers. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Learning is Hard No Matter How Hard You Try to Make it Easy

Let’s All Admit It: Learning is Just Plain Hard

As a learning professional, I am trained to believe that using proper instructional systems design processes and the appropriate mix of learning modalities, I can help make the learning process easier for my audience. And it’s not just me. Plenty of research has demonstrated that well-designed instruction improves learning outcomes.

As a learner, I know that learning is just plain hard. When I was in the finance business, I passed the Series 7, 63, 4, 24, and CFA Level 1 examinations. These are not easy exams, and I look back on the effort I spent learning the material and wonder how I did it.

It’s Not That Easy

So when I read Kate Ray’s piece on TechCrunch titled, Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You Learning to Code is Easy, I could immediately relate, even though I do not write code for a living.

Whereas learning to code is particularly difficult, I am not sure learning to be a registered options principle, a doctor, or even a decent manager, is any less difficult. After all, anything worth learning well is difficult.

My point is this: No matter how good the method, trainer, or content is, learning is a task that requires deliberate effort and can be extremely frustrating, no matter what you are learning.

Learning How to Learn

Learning professionals should perhaps focus not on making learning easier with proper pedagogy and ingenious instructional design, but help people understand that it will be hard, ensuring them that it is OK for it to be hard.

When I taught classes on the FINRA Series 7 exam, my students had to take between 10 and 20 practice exams of 125 questions each at a level of difficulty similar to the real exam. Before the first practice test, I had a serious conversation with my students, “You will do poorly on this practice exam. You will fail. You will feel like you don’t know anything. There will be moments in the exam when you will miss 15 questions in a row. You will want to give up. You will want to change careers. You will curse me for making you take this exam. I am preparing you now, so you can say to yourself, ‘Who cares? I am not supposed to know everything yet anyway.’ So relax. After we take this practice exam, we will review the ones we missed and learn from it.”

Most of my students scored in the 50-65% range on that first practice exam (passing score is 70%). Most appreciated being told is was ok to accept how difficult it would be. Over an 18 month period…consistently…78% of people who took my classes passed the real exam. At the time, the national average pass rate was about 65%.

Learning is just plain hard. Learning designers should stop trying to make learning easy, and start helping learners embrace the hard.

What is the hardest thing you ever had to learn? How frustrating was it? How did you get past the frustration?