Mission Critical Software & Systems

According to TechBeacon, agile software development is the new norm. Motivated by improved collaboration, increased quality, quicker speed to market and reduced development costs, two-thirds of the companies researched have moved to agile.*

Despite so many companies using agile methodologies for software development projects, most learning and performance improvement teams are still using traditional instructional design methodologies—methodologies not unlike the waterfall model that their IT peers have long abandoned.

In a previous post ADDIE vs. AGILE ISD: It’s Not a Question of Which, but When, One is Better we highlighted differences between AGILE Instructional Systems Design (ISD) and other training development models such as traditional and adapted ADDIE. We also established that AGILE ISD is a flexible and iterative methodology that is perfectly suited for agile software development training projects.

The Five Phases of AGILE ISD

In this post, we explore AGILE ISD more deeply and highlight a few best practices that can help you implement and benefit from this methodology. First, let’s review the five phases of AGILE ISD:

  • Align: Establish a cross-functional team from business, technology, and learning to set expectations. By involving stakeholders early in the project, they develop a sense of ownership that is crucial in such a highly collaborative project.
  • Game Plan: With the team and expectations established, attention now turns to planning and determining the desired performance. The team identifies and organizes the high-level system tasks, and then prioritizes them based on criticality of failure. The resulting Critical Skills Rubric (CSR) is used to create an initial Learning and Performance Blueprint and is also revisited throughout the life cycle of the software to identify tasks that require formal training versus tasks that can be addressed through performance support.
  • Implement: The team develops the learning and performance assets per the Blueprint. Formal instruction is developed only for critical tasks per the CSR. Performance support resources or short-form content solutions are created for non-critical tasks. These can be in the form of job aides, on-the-job training exercises, mentoring activities or communities of practice. With each software update, performance assets are added and revised per the CSR. This approach ensures design decisions are always tied directly to performance outcomes.
  • Leverage: In this step the team scans their environment (including technology, people and research) to deliver effective, ongoing performance support. The team leverages their industry expertise and user feedback to constantly optimize the training for learning outcomes.
  • Evaluate: The types of evaluation can be abundant and varied. In this final step, the team revisits all aspects of the performance solution objectively to determine if the business, technology and learning objectives were achieved and to identify ways for ongoing improvement.

Getting the Most from the AGILE ISD Methodology

Many companies, even those that are using agile software development, are not aware that there is an alternative training model to ADDIE. Even if they do, they often don’t know how to proceed. Below are some best practices that can help you implement and benefit from the AGILE ISD methodology.

  • Leadership driven: Successful AGILE ISD implementation requires strong, cross-functional leadership supporting the initiative. Leadership is responsible for painting a clear vision; pulling together the representatives from business, technology, and training; and holding them accountable through key reviews and project milestones.
  • Strong facilitation: Cross-functional teams greatly improve the finished product by cultivating new ideas, anticipating potential issues, responding quickly to changes, improving communications, and more. The project lead must have an orientation to change, be empathetic and possess strong facilitation skills to bring out the best in team members that represent various parts of the organization. They encourage participation, resolve conflicts and ensure different perspectives are thoughtfully considered from stakeholders.
  • Manage resources wisely: Everyone is busy. A sure-fire way to lose momentum is to require everyone attend every meeting. Instead, use breakout sessions during the task analysis and prioritization. Focus experts on their area of expertise. This will help to keep everyone engaged and spread the workload evenly across team members.
  • Create an environment of communication: Large-scale software projects are incredibly complex and always evolving. Maintain consistent, ongoing communication in a format that ensures all groups stay current on software revisions and new releases. Collaboration tools, such as Yammer, Jive or Jam can be useful. Many organizations use SharePoint. Make sure the team leverages the CSR to prioritize and plan updates to training and support tools.

AGILE ISD is an ideal training methodology for large applications using the agile software development process. Unlike traditional methodologies that are linear and rigid, AGILE ISD is flexible, iterative and responsive. It is an effective and practical way to design and develop learning and performance support for agile software development projects.

The key is the Critical Skills Rubric. The CSR prioritizes tasks that require formal training and ensures design decisions are tied to performance. In addition, strong leadership fosters communication across business, technology and training departments, so training can better support software releases and organizations get the most from their investment in IT projects.

*Published in TechBeacon, May 25, 2015

Learn more about AGILE ISD