As a long-time agile coach and trainer, I have had the privilege of teaching many types of agile courses, but more recently, I’ve been focusing on Scrum certification training for BigVisible. I teach certification classes available to the public, as well as private engagements with our customer organizations. Not too long ago, a request came in from a PMI Chapter, looking for a three-day class that teaches the fundamentals of Scrum to become a Certified ScrumMaster and prepares project leaders for the PMI-ACP exam.
Along with the usual challenges of a three-day class (longer days, more materials, additional preparation) another potential challenge began to reveal itself. This class was on the larger side (30 attendees) and made up of an audience of seasoned project management professionals well-versed in traditional/waterfall project management and not very familiar with agile methodologies. What I did know was that there was a thirst for more Scrum knowledge in general, not just preparing for the PMI-ACP exam. But that still didn’t calm my apprehension. Past experience had shown me that project managers tended to be a tough crowd. I mean, after all, these folks were seasoned PMs who have been doing their job for many years and doing it successfully. Now, they’re being asked to take a different approach and manage projects in a new manner.
One of the many things we do well at BigVisible as part of our class experience is not to sell people on agile, but to get participants to learn from one another, share their experiences and have valuable discussions with one another. We use hands-on exercises and interactive simulations throughout class to teach agile principles. This helps people feel more at ease with the concepts and feel confident in a safe environment that they can apply their knowledge and feel prepared to take on a Scrum project. That’s not to say they’ve becomes experts, but they’re more prepared with the tools and knowledge to take on projects in an agile fashion.
As our class kicked off and we moved through the exercises, there was an arsenal of questions, including “how does this work in the real world?” or “how is this different from what I’ve done the last 15 years?” Even with all the materials I had and the planned simulations, I still needed to make it real for them. I shared my past work experiences at previous organizations. I was able to articulate the benefits of agility, such as: reducing risk, quicker delivery of product, higher quality and more satisfied customers. Collectively, the group shared lots of their own stories, tapping into their own experiences of success and failures of past projects. The dialogue was rolling.
As this sharing continued over the three-day period, you could clearly see this group morph from being skeptics to advocates. They began to shift their thinking from “this will never work” to “how do we make this work in our own environments”. They were truly interested and engaged and the deep discussions continued. Then another wonderful thing happened. This group was so intent on learning, applying techniques to exercises and figuring out how to make agile work for their organizations – they really began to bond. It was such a strong bond for such a large group – but they became a community, a support system.
They wanted to have access to this support system and continue their discussions outside of the class. A good handful of people from the class approached me about creating an online community for them. I told them about our Training Alumni LinkedIn group – but they wanted one specifically for them. One of the participants created a LinkedIn group just for them and EVERYONE opted in to participate. Surprisingly, it’s been a long-lasting, active and collaborative community. They still share successes, praise each other when someone gets certified, share experiences, and initiate discussions.
As we wrapped up the class, what happened next will be something I’ll never forget. In addition to providing complimentary feedback about the course through our feedback forms, a several people individually took time to approach me. For each of them, this class became a game-changer for them; that it actually changed their lives.
Taken aback, I asked them what prompted their comments. As experienced PMs, they were starting to feel that their skills and approach were not as valid or valued as much anymore. To them, their new knowledge would open doors to new opportunities or new ways of succeeding in the current roles. The class put them in a mindset that felt like a new beginning for them, a breath of fresh air. The world was changing around them and they now felt like they could adapt and change with it.
What I thought was going to be a challenging three days turned into a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. This was a group that clearly got out of what they put into the experience.
For this group it was about the people, the dialogue and interactions. What’s been the agile game changer for you?