Reflect on the teachers and trainers you’ve had in the past. Which ones had the most impact on where you are today? For me, they are the ones who taught me principles to live by that went beyond the academic content. The facts, definitions and formulas may have escaped my memory over time, but the life lessons are still with me today. The broad principles connected classroom content with real world applications that made it easier to internalize and retain information, but it’s the principles that had the staying power. They provided a lifelong framework for how to learn.
As an Agile Coach today, I am primarily concerned with teams’ transformation to becoming more Agile. It’s not about knowing the details of one flavor of Agile against another. The goal is for teams to adopt a new mindset and master Agile principles that become second nature and are applied automatically, without coaching, to new opportunities and challenges as they emerge. We call that our Train to Sustain approach where teams gain a mindset and framework for continuing their Agile transformation and grow in their knowledge and mastery of Agile principles through regular exercise and application in their day-to-day work.
Train to Sustain can be illustrated using the Japanese martial art concept of Shu Ha Ri, three Kanji, or characters, in Japanese writing that describe the stages of learning on a path to mastery. Adapted to an Agile context the three Kanji are described as follows:
- Shu: the student learns the technical foundations of Agility as taught by the master without worrying about underlying theory or alternative methods.
- Ha: the student gains in their knowledge through repetitive practice and application of Shu. Through application and repetition, the student starts to understand the principles and theory underlying Agile and starts to branch out and consider alternative methods that might fit specific contexts.
- Ri: the student becomes the Agile master and learns through practice to create innovative approaches and adapt learned and alternative Agile practices to their unique circumstances.
What’s the best environment for your teams to learn Agile principles? It’s where they can work collaboratively and practice Agile principles using real world applications. Among the Agile principles is the effectiveness of self-organized, autonomous teams. Agile is not something one does or learns best individually at an abstract level. It’s best learned with teammates in a real-world, hands-on environment. As with the principles to live by I learned from my teachers long ago, learning Agile in this way results in mastery of sustainable principles that teams can draw on to approach future challenges, recognize opportunities and turn unforeseen change into value.
At xScion, we build our Agile practice around a Train to Sustain model where teams learn by doing in a hands-on work environment. We work side-by-side with teams so they can put their foundational knowledge of Agile (Shu) into practice (Ha) and learn directly how Agile principles apply to the work they are doing. Learning Agile in their normal work environment effectively increases what I call speed-to-practice-to-value, meaning students can apply new knowledge and realize value from it more quickly than if they learned in a classroom or workshop environment. They also gain mastery (Ri) more quickly. To ensure their mastery sustains, we build semi-annual checkups with teams as part of our formal engagements. We want to make certain the knowledge has not only been transferred but mastered so the Agile mindset continues to add value fulfilling the promise of Train to Sustain.