Building An Internal Agile Capability and Knowledge

One of the key risks of failure with agile transformations is lack of experienced support and cultural at odds with agile mindset. When we start helping organisations move to more agile ways of working, we tend to do an initial agile overview training session covering the basics of the  frameworks, roles and responsibilities, events, terminology and artefacts. This is usually enough to get agile teams up and running within a few days and sprinting.

Training is just the start of the journey

Whilst this training is a great overview and starting point, for those agile team members who are performing Scrum Master (SM) or Product Owner (PO) roles, just knowing Agile, or Scrum, or how to set up a Kanban board is not enough to get you through the complexities involved in successfully performing the role. They need support and guidance from experienced practitioners and on the job coaching and mentoring to help them develop capability in these new roles.

For many new POs and SMs they have been identified from within the organisation and this is their first agile experience and they haven’t done any formal  certification training before moving into the role.

Developing an enduring internal agile capability

Therefore, as program agile  coaches we start to focus on developing and building agile capability and maturity and transferring knowledge to develop people in these key agile roles to build an enduring internal agile capability after our engagement as external consultants has been completed. 

Our approach is to run a series of knowledge sessions  (brown bags)  to supplement t build upon the initial training and over time transfer these sessions to an agile community of practice (CoP) run by internal staffs. Furthermore, combined with mentoring and one-one-on-one coaching, these sessions help upskill  capability on more advanced practices and patterns as the team and program’s agility matures.

The knowledge sessions are a deep dive  into topics where the Pos and SMs had identified they were struggling or wanted to understand in more details.

Each knowledge session was 1 hour and included a Q&A component for the attendees to ask questions applicable to their context and to share their learning across programs and teams.

The knowledge sessions included a range of topics such as:

  • Estimations
  • Splitting user stories
  • How to write user stories
  • Role of the product owner
  • Role of the Scrum master
  • Capacity Planning
  • How to run Scrum events
  • Retrospective patterns
  • Agile mindset and principles
  • Capturing metrics
  • Scaled agile
  • Kanban and Lean concepts

Infographics such as topic one-pager summaries, checklists and slide handouts are provided after the session as a reference guide with suggested books and blogs for further learning.  

Topics were suggested by the internal SMs and POs as well as program and delivery leads but were also selected by the ZXM coaches based on expert coaching assessment of agility using our coaching tool Agile IQ as well as what was observed as gaps Program increment (PI) planning and Sprint execution.

Developing agile champions

Our mentoring of people in key agile roles also helps to identify and develop agile champions. For agile champions, our aim is to instill a thirst for ongoing learning to continue to develop in the role and ultimately build a self sustaining enduring internal enterprise capability . In fact at one organisation where we have been coaching a number of major programs across the organisation, about 30% of the agile champions we have mentored, have gone on to promotions and higher duties as a result of their demonstrated development of agility skills.  

These knowledge sessions were extended to the leadership to support product management development and delivery. These sessions tended to be executive overviews of topics such as:

  • How to prioritise a backlog using WSJF
  • How Product Management and pipeline process works
  • PI Planning simulation to prepare for their first PI planning event
  • Agile overview for business stakeholders and executives

Formalising these sessions has ensured a continued focus on knowledge sharing between external agile coaches to build internal staff capability as well as to help support new key staff in agile roles and developing agile champions.  This has also helped promote consistency and standardisation of implementing agile frameworks and ways of working across the organisation thus building an enterprise-wide capability.

Combined with coaching and mentoring, this support to build knowledge and skills has allowed programs to achieve a baseline level of maturing for working in agile ways with 6-12 months.

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