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This chapter is from the book

Learning Oriented

In the years since the Agile Manifesto was written we’ve discovered that the most effective organizations are the ones that promote a learning environment for their staff. There are three key aspects that a learning environment must address. The first aspect is domain learning—how are you exploring and identifying what your stakeholders need, and perhaps more importantly how are you helping the team to do so? The second aspect is process learning, which focuses on learning to improve your process at the individual, team, and enterprise levels. The third aspect is technical learning, which focuses on understanding how to effectively work with the tools and technologies being used to craft the solution for your stakeholders.

The DAD process framework suggests several strategies to support domain learning, including initial requirements envisioning, incremental delivery of a potentially consumable solution, and active stakeholder participation through the lifecycle. To support process-focused learning DAD promotes the adoption of retrospectives where the team explicitly identifies potential process improvements, a common agile strategy, as well as continued tracking of those improvements. Within the IBM software group, a business unit with more than 35,000 development professionals responsible for delivering products, we’ve found that agile teams that held retrospectives improved their productivity more than teams that didn’t, and teams that tracked their implementation of the identified improvement strategies were even more successful. Technical learning often comes naturally to IT professionals, many of whom are often eager to work with and explore new tools, techniques, and technologies. This can be a double-edged sword—although they’re learning new technical concepts they may not invest sufficient time to master a strategy before moving on to the next one or they may abandon a perfectly fine technology simply because they want to do something new.

There are many general strategies to improve your learning capability. Improved collaboration between people correspondingly increases the opportunities for people to learn from one another. Luckily high collaboration is a hallmark of agility. Investing in training, coaching, and mentoring are obvious learning strategies as well. What may not be so obvious is the move away from promoting specialization among your staff and instead fostering a move toward people with more robust skills, something called being a generalizing specialist (discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4). Progressive organizations aggressively promote learning opportunities for their people outside their specific areas of specialty as well as opportunities to actually apply these new skills.

If you’re experienced with, or at least have read about, agile software development, the previous strategies should sound familiar. Where the DAD process framework takes learning further is through enterprise awareness. Core agile methods such as Scrum and XP are typically project focused, whereas DAD explicitly strives to both leverage and enhance the organizational ecosystem in which a team operates. So DAD teams should both leverage existing lessons learned from other agile teams and also take the time to share their own experiences. The implication is that your IT department needs to invest in a technology for socializing the learning experience across teams. In 2005 IBM Software Group implemented internal discussion forums, wikis, and a center of competency (some organizations call them centers of excellence) to support their agile learning efforts. A few years later they adopted a Web 2.0 strategy based on IBM Connections to support enterprise learning. When the people and teams within an organization choose a learning-oriented approach, providing them with the right tools and support can increase their success.

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