What would you say if I told you that you could reduce speed of training development by up to 50%, increase associate engagement, enhance collaboration and communication, increase responsiveness from subject matter experts, and improve your ability to keep up with the changing needs of the business and learners? You’d probably say it sounds too good to be true, right? Well, The Home Depot learning team was able to accomplish all of this and more by changing from ADDIE to Agile learning development. Business changes fast, and this is a way to not only keep up with it but also stay ahead of it.

Overview of Agile transformation

In July of 2020, we set out with the goal of testing and learning with Agile to determine if we should implement it in our learning department. We started with one team (out of seven) in our design and development group. The team consisted of one manager of learning design (me) and five instructional designers (IDs). We also included several partners internal to the learning department that supported strategy, execution, delivery, and technology for learning solutions.

I was completely new to Agile at the time, so I started with research. Here’s an overview of what I did in the research phase:

  • Obtained Scrum Master and Agile Leadership Essentials + Teams certifications through Scrum Alliance
  • Read several books, including Agile for Instructional Designers by Megan Torrance and Leaving ADDIE for SAM by Michael W. Allen
  • Spoke with industry professionals who were Agile experts, both internal to The Home Depot and external to the company
  • Completed a prototyping workshop with Allen Interactions to explore ways to be more iterative and nimble with our design
  • Considered how user experience and design thinking fit into the process

After doing thorough research, we decided that Scrum was the best framework to start with for our department because it provided the right balance between structure and flexibility. Once that decision was made, we started testing and learning with my team of IDs. I started by training the IDs and then training our learning partners and business partners. Then we “flipped the switch” to become an Agile team in September of 2020.

We tested and learned for several months while tracking our progress. We measured speed of development (velocity), ability to meet learner needs, SME responsiveness, ID engagement, collaboration with our partners, and more. We made improvements along the way and saw dramatic success in every category we were measuring after only a few months.

Due to the success with the initial team, we decided to implement Agile with another team in February of 2021. We took the same approach of training everyone who would be impacted by the transition and then testing and learning. We saw similar success with this second team, so we transitioned the remaining teams over the next few months. We’re continuing to monitor success, make improvements, and customize the process for each team as appropriate.

Overview of structure

In The Scrum Guide, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber define Scrum as “a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.” Given that Scrum was originally developed to use in an IT setting, we had to make modifications for it to work properly in a learning environment. We established responsibilities for the main Scrum roles: Scrum master, product owner, and development team. We also determined the most efficient way to incorporate all the Scrum ceremonies into our process.

Here’s two graphics that demonstrate how we decided to structure our routine. (See Figures 1 and 2.) We work in two-week Sprints.

Figure 1

Figure 1.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Graphics by Karah Piepkorn

Here’s a more detailed description of what we do for the ceremonies within each two-week Sprint:

  • Sprint planning: The development team, Scrum master, and product owner(s) attend Sprint planning, where we decide what tasks to take on for the next Sprint and how to complete them. We have our product backlog, Sprint backlog, and a breakdown of the development team’s work located on a Trello board. We use Trello to help facilitate these meetings.
  • Daily standup: Each development team and their Scrum master meet for 15 minutes every day where we discuss the tasks each ID is working on, as well as any roadblocks.
  • Sprint review: During the Sprint review, the development team members share their work with stakeholders to gather feedback and determine if any changes need to be made. The team shares the work they complete every two weeks instead of waiting to have an alpha version completed for review. This allows the team to be iterative and avoid going too far down the wrong path.
  • Sprint retrospective: The development team and Scrum master have a Sprint retrospective every two weeks to discuss what went well and what they want to improve regarding the last Sprint. We use a variety of tools, templates, and facilitation approaches to keep these meetings productive and interesting.

Two portions of a project lifecycle that aren’t directly covered in the Scrum ceremonies are kickoff meetings and prototyping. The project team has a kickoff meeting at the beginning of each project to meet the SMEs and discuss the project. Shortly after the kickoff meeting, the IDs create a prototype of the course instead of traditional design documents or storyboards. This allows us to get feedback quickly and move into development. The rest of the time during the Sprints is spent meeting with SMEs and doing analysis, design, and development in an iterative manner.

Benefits of Agile learning development

The benefits of implementing Agile in a learning department are game changing. Figure 3 is an overview of the benefits we experienced, as well as some quotes from instructional designers.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Graphic by Karah Piepkorn

Best practices for implementing Agile

If you decide that Agile is right for your learning team, you may be wondering about best practices for how to implement Agile. My biggest advice is to focus on the people over the process. In Agile for Instructional Designers, Megan Torrance said, “The language around Agile makes it obvious that it requires the people in the organization to create a culture that supports these processes.” It’s important to get the right process in place, but even more important to have people on board and motivated to make the implementation successful. In order to focus on the people, the leaders of the implementation should prioritize change management early and often.

Here are a few other tips for a successful implementation:

  • Ensure that everyone across teams is aligned on goals, priorities, structure, and support systems
  • Have a sponsor that is actively engaged and supportive
  • Work collaboratively with others by involving them in the decision-making process and connecting them directly to the impact
  • Motivate teams to successfully transition by involving leaders at multiple levels, sharing benefits, proactively answering questions, sharing successes and learning opportunities openly, and demonstrating any increases in productivity
  • Conduct thorough training with all involved parties and have a plan for how they can easily access resources as they need them
  • Ensure consistency, maintain buy-in, measure results, and make changes along the way
  • And of course, test and learn!

Whether you have a small company or you're part of a large organization, Agile could be right for you. The best part is, you can be iterative with implementing Agile and modify it to work for your situation.

I’ll end with a quote that I incorporate into all of the Agile training I facilitate:

“To be a renegade means to be all about positive disruption, not destruction. It means constantly getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and trying new things—experimenting. When you experiment, you can't fail."

—Amy Jo Martin