Training Agile at Scale

Few organizations have transformed from traditional software development methods to Agile on the holistic scale undertaken by PayPal. Training played a key role in accelerating transformation success.

PayPal took on a Transformation initiative to simplify its product development process, make it easier for employees to get work done, and focus on customers’ needs. One of the primary methods of reaching those goals was determined to be the full-scale adoption of Agile product development methods, so people could build products incrementally in an iterative manner with speed, predictability, and transparency.

Organizing and delivering via Agile is a popular choice among software-based product companies, but few organizations have transformed from traditional software development methods to Agile on the holistic scale undertaken by PayPal.

As the transformation planning began, it was known that some people in the transformation target population already had been operating in a version of “Agile Scrum.” However, the vast majority of individuals possessed little to no understanding of the Agile principles and practices or were using a watered-down version of Agile that was counterproductive to reaching PayPal’s goals for undertaking the transformation in the first place.

Adopting Agile at scale was ultimately a change management challenge, and a training program was needed to kick-start the three aspects of change:

  • Provide a powerful reason why
  • Develop a common language and skill
  • Contribute to a strong support structure

To enable more than 3,000 employees with the skills and capabilities required to successfully adopt the new practices, the Training and Coaching team used a three-tiered approach:

  1. Agile training for all in the transformation population
  2. Transformation champions providing point expertise to teams
  3. Professional Agile coaches supporting specific Product organizations as teams adopted new practices and skills

In addition to Agile training for all, customized training was provided to leaders and people managers.

The Training and Coaching team was led by internal training experts and included domain representatives from across the company. The team elected to use Agile practices to design and develop the training curriculum. Minimal Viable Product (MVP) was a strategy used to enable the team to quickly focus its work, get feedback from customers, iterate on the product, and continue to deliver value to customers.

The MVP included:

  • 95 percent of Transformation Champions trained within one month.
  • 80 percent of the targeted scrum teams trained within five months.
  • 90 percent of Product Owners and Scrum Masters trained within seven months.
  • Online assessment quiz provided to allow people experienced with Agile to progress to Advanced Agile classes.

A direct result of this clear focus was the launch of three major courses in weeks (instead of months). Each class was customized to our business and condensed from the industry average of two days for one class to one day. After initial pilots of the three classes, improvements were incorporated and all three classes were launched to all offices around the globe.

In addition to live classes, online support resources in the form of concise custom videos were developed and hosted in our internal Website. The videos focused on “what do I need to know to do my job?” As the Transformation initiative identified focus areas, the team developed two- to five-minute videos to explain concepts and key practices. In the first few months, the videos logged thousands of views.

To scale training, PayPal evaluated specialized Agile consulting firms and selected a single vendor. This vendor’s clear strength was the ability to provide Agile coaches with proven success leading Agile teams who are also great trainers. While the training rollout was at its peak from a delivery perspective, most of the Agile coaches were busy running the training sessions. Once training targets were achieved, coaches transitioned into their coaching roles for the Transformation initiative.

The Training team was empowered to self-organize, make decisions, and deliver training that works. The team used Agile planning ceremonies, including stand-up meetings, sprints, and release planning. As this was a large and complex program, changes to content and delivery schedules were required throughout the rollout. Using the Agile practices enabled the team to quickly adopt changes from Transformation initiative through iterative improvement. Demonstrations at Transformation initiative bi-weekly meetings provided a great way to stay in sync with the rest of the program team and to get feedback from cross-functional representatives.

To help PayPal leaders understand their organization’s rate of training participation and completion, custom reports were provided on a weekly basis. PayPal leaders showed high levels of support for the training program. Their communications to their organizations drove strong training participation levels in all locations. In addition, the team established a regular meeting cadence to meet with Product and Technology leadership to review progress and remove obstacles.

To monitor quality, one method used during the global training rollout was frequent reviews of class survey feedback. The survey completion rate was 90 percent for each class. By reviewing participant feedback reports, the team was able to quickly identify issues and respond. At the Transformation initiative level, a dashboard of essential business performance indicators was designed, launched, and reviewed with Product and Technology leaders every month. Providing this level of visibility into progress (or lack of it, in some instances) was essential for course corrections and building momentum.

The team successfully achieved the goal of training more than 3,000 employees (in 12 cities and eight countries) in a period of three months. There were three different courses and approximately 200 classes.

The feedback from participants was positive. Some 84 percent of participants said they would recommend the classroom training they attended to a colleague. Feedback from participants included:

  • “The best way to get a clear overview of how PayPal views and implements the Agile process throughout the organization.”
  • “I am completely inspired to be a great team member after going through the training.”
  • “The presenter did an excellent job of presenting the materials and relating them to PayPal. This class was very valuable and allowed me to ‘speak the language’ of the other teams that have fully embraced the Agile methodology.”

Agile now is utilized consistently across the entire product development organization with teams sharing a common language and set of practices. The Transformation initiative goal of streamlining the way people work is underway with positive results: Over a one-year period post-launch, there has been a steady and significant increase in PayPal product development velocity. Employee engagement also has increased over this same time period. Survey feedback indicates that people appreciate the large-scale changes taking place at PayPal.

This is the largest company-wide transformation ever accomplished at PayPal. Training at scale was a key to accelerating transformation success.

Aimie Aronica is senior director, Technology Engagement, and general manager, Austin eBay Inc. Site at PayPal – an eBay company. She was named a Top 5 Emerging Training Leader by Training magazine in 2014.