Agile working methods and principles are based on the idea of continuous learning
When we think of agile learning, we look at the iterative approach. An approximate goal, an envisioned solution, is gradually approached. We develop/ implement a first component. Then we evaluate: Are we getting closer to the solution? Is the product/ the step perhaps already sufficient? We might prototype, we demonstrate the preliminary result. What is the feedback – is there a need to adapt or can we learn something for the development of the next increment? We plan from there.
The most universal approach in agile methodology that aims at learning is the retrospective. While the above-mentioned points emphasize that learning in agile methodology is mainly about adapting (to evolving or changing conditions), the retrospective takes it to the meta-level. Here, it is not about adapting a delivery, it is about evaluating and adapting our work approach, methods, the way we interact, the way we behave. What went well, what not, what are causes of success and failure, and what can we do better next time?
Agile learning beyond agile methodology – three prerequisites
The agile methodology and its tools offer helpful tools. But let’s take a step back from methods and tools. What do I need as a team, as an individual, as a company, to be able to improve and develop myself and excel my learning? The TEC model of agile corporate culture (Puckett, 2020) outlines the three prerequisites:
- Knowledge, recognition, comprehension (through Transparency)
- Experimenting, developing, gaining experience (through Empowerment)
- Exchange, advice, reflection (through Collaboration)
Knowledge, recognition, comprehension (through transparency)
In order to achieve a learning goal, it is first necessary to have clarity about what knowledge one needs to acquire and what information one needs to have in order to build and exercise the new expertise. This is not only about technical knowledge that can be acquired through training, attending conferences or specialist journals, for instance.
It’s also about knowing the relevant sources – people, market or technical development, data sources – that help you keep up to date and gain new insights, e.g. identify trends. And finally, feedback, feedback, feedback. How well do I perform the new role/function? How good are my ideas or developments in the field? And how effective am I in achieving the new goals? Feedback is provided by other people who are directly or indirectly affected by my actions or work results, but also by data (sales figures, quality indicators, maintenance requests, customer reactions, …). This feedback must be continuous so that we are able to see directly what effect an action or modification we are making has.
Only with transparency can we understand the interrelationships, draw conclusions and develop expertise.
Experimenting, developing, gaining experience (through empowerment)
We must be empowered to act on our insights, guesses and ideas, to try things out, experiment, and then modify and advance our working methods. Therefore, it has to be allowed to set your own priorities, adjust goals, make your own decisions. We need room for maneuver to explore, to take risks, to make mistakes, and to fail. Only with empowerment can learning from experience happen – the most important way of learning.
Exchange, advice, reflection (through collaboration)
You broaden your own horizon by looking at things from different perspectives. One expands one’s own level of knowledge and ability to judge in an expert area by considering many different opinions. We take our learning from experience to the next level by exchanging experiences with others. This way we can evaluate your own experiences more objectively and gain additional experiences indirectly. And, of course, you also learn knowledge and expertise from others by seeking advice.
Last but not least, a meta-level of reflection can only be achieved with a holistic view that includes others. Through our biological make up we are wired to learn from others.
What is to be done?
Create/ arrange for (equal) access to knowledge and sources for information and data.
Give/ arrange the freedom to try things out, and room for manoeuvre to make experiences.
Encourage/ seek collaboration – plan and organise learning from and with each other.
Sources: Puckett, S. (2020). THE AGILE CULTURE CODE – A guide to organizational agility. BusinessVillage.
Dr. Stefanie Puckett is a psychologist who is working as a director at metaBeratung. She has lived and worked globally for several consulting firms, in management and global roles for a Fortune 500 company and ran her own business. Agile transformation is her topic as a consultant, executive coach and author.
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.