All-Around Agility

A combination of two or more distinct “agile” concepts could lay the groundwork for a highly successful training project.

It seems everyone in training is getting agile these days. I’ve found at least four distinct uses of the word, “agile”—each of which is useful to instructional designers and learning leaders (and some of which I’ll discuss during my Training 2014 session, “How to Get Started with Agile Project Management Methods for E-Leaming,” at 8:15 a.m. February 4). What’s interesting is that these agile concepts don’t compete with each other. A healthy dose of all four could make for a successful outcome. Here’s a guide to all the agile:

CONTENT AGILITY is the capability to deliver learning material in a variety of formats. Think of it as “write once, publish many,” with the same content and structure being delivered via multiple platforms. For each medium, you adjust the delivery to suit the situation and the learner’s need, while the content and overall structure remain consistent. When your content is agile, you:

  • Decouple content from delivery
  • Deliver the right content in the right medium in the right situation for the learners
  • Offer learners a variety of ways to accomplish the same goals

LEARNING AGILITY is Korn/Ferry’s term for the individual capability to handle novel problems and opportunities based on prior learning and experience. It’s a capability that increasingly is seen as essential for effective leadership as we continue to live in a world of accelerating change. Organizations can create opportunities, incentives, and environments to foster organizational learning agility, as well. People with a higher degree of learning agility:

  • Examine situations carefully and create new meaning
  • Handle the discomfort of change well
  • Deliver results in new situations based on their experience

AGILE INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN is a flexible design approach to five stages of a learning project: Align, Get Set, Iterate and Implement, Leverage, and Evaluate. AGILE is designed to support learning teams as they rapidly deploy both formal learning and related performance-support structures across Conrad Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Learning Need. AGILE instructional design focuses resources on the most critical needs first and releases targeted deliverables in small and rapid batches. When you apply AGILE instructional design methods, you:

  • Identify the most critical tasks and focus on them first
  • Release small batches of deliverables frequently
  • Provide support for the Moment of Apply—when the learner has to perform the task on the job 

AGILE PROJECT MANAGEMENT is a method for managing a creative or empirical process, one in which team members experiment and observe to improve the product as it is developed. The traditional ADDIE model (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) works well for defined processes where all inputs and outputs are known in advance, but not so well for these flexible ones.

Agile project management works well when the design and development involves creative and complex decisions, when the specifications may not be well defined, and when the extended project team (including subject matter experts, learners, and project sponsors) expects the underlying business need may change. To handle all this change, the Agile project management approach builds deliverables in small increments, releases usable products frequently, and utilizes those releases to gather feedback early and often. When your team uses Agile project management, it will:

  • Define scope with user stories
  • Produce frequent iterations to gather feedback early
  • Accept changes in requirements and scope even late in the project
  • Break requirements down into small workable tasks, each one estimated by the person who will do the work
  • Communicate frequently with the customer and the subject matter expert
  • Use visual project tracking techniques
  • Regularly debrief and apply what they’ve learned

Is all this agile talk a bit confusing? A little. Do you have to choose? No. That’s the good news. While each “agile” is distinct, they share some underlying values. A combination of two or more could lay the groundwork for a successful project.

Megan Torrance has more than 20 years of experience in the learning industry, covering instructional design, e-learning development, instructor-led training, technical writing , learning management system (LMS) deployment and administration , change management, and project management. She is the chief energy officer (CEO) of Torrance Learning, an e-learning design and development firm near Ann Arbor, MI.