When considering ICAgile’s goal of “changing the way people do agile by helping them become agile,” becoming an ICAgile Partner was an obvious choice for us! (Did you know we are an ICAgile Partner?!?!)
Throughout the process of becoming a partner, we formed a friendship with Shane Hastie, ICAgile’s Director of Agile Learning Programs. His passion for not just ICAgile but also for the agile methodology in general is clear! So instead of simply providing you with information that’s already out there, we decided to get it from a more personal source: directly from Shane himself!
Kaley: Thank you for joining me Shane, this Kaley with Netmind – we are new ICAgile partner and I wanted to find out some insider information on ICAgile. I’ll start with some questions on ICAgile in general, how you got involved, and then go into the future of ICAgile. My first question:
Why was ICAgile formed?
Shane: Thank you for inviting me along for this. At the time when ICAgile was formed, other certification organizations were focusing specifically on 1 or 2 of the frameworks or brands. Our mission, and it is something that we all genuinely believe in, is to advance the state of agile learning. That is – Agile as an umbrella, not any one brand or method.
As a member organization, you can teach people the Scrum framework, you can teach them Extreme Programing, you can do any of the Crystal models, any Kanban, Lean, or any of those but our focus is the agile mindset as a core. Our founders started from the point of view of – what was missing in agile learning at that stage (around 2010) was that there was framework training, but there was nothing beyond that. There was also very little that spoke to the core of agility, which is that mindset of collaboration, of rapid feedback, and of things based on the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.
They also looked at, “What is the work that people need to do?” Something we are known for and it is even part of our logo is the fan, our roadmap. That roadmap was part of the vision from the very, very beginning. If an organization is going to become agile in their ways of working, then… what are the competencies that they will need to have?
At the base of roadmap is the foundation (the fundamentals) that is very heavily focused on the mindset. The tracks that came out of that were never intended to be jobs or roles – they are competencies that organizations must have in place in order to effectively be agile.
And you have added to this since you first started?
Shane: Yes, when it first started there was the Product Ownership track, Coaching, Programming and Testing and then, fairly rapidly, the Delivery Management track came in and, subsequently, the Enterprise Coaching track. Now, DevOps is in there and the latest one, which has broken our graphic image, is the Business Agility track. It breaks our graphic because inside it, we actually have 5 certifications not 1 or 2. (We are exploring how we should represent this for the world at large and our audience.)
The other thing that we think is special and believe is an important contribution is actually figuring out what it means to be competent in these disciplines. We publish learning outcomes. I’ll pick Agile Coach as an example to show you. Each of these certifications has a set of learning outcomes with it, and to develop these learning comes, we worked with industry experts (for the Agile Coaching track, we worked with Marsha Acker, Lyssa Adkins, Ahmed Sidky and Michael Spayd in 2011 and in the recent update in 2018: Marsha, Lyssa, Luke Lackrone and Timothy Meyers). These are all respected, practicing experts, coaches in the space. They worked with us to define the competencies needed to answer, “What is a good agile coach?” Part of the reason these experts work with us is that we make this information freely available – you can download this set of learning outcomes and use for it anything. It is a complete open creative common license. Our thinking behind this is that in order to advance the state of agile learning – if there is a defined set of what people need to know and someone comes along and takes this to build a class… that class is going to be better than if they had made it up on their own. Because this content is drawn from the knowledge of those experts and took a lot of time. The amount of effort that the volunteers put into building this stuff is really great.
If an organization wants to go to the next step (like Netmind has) and say that not only was a class built against these learning outcomes but that the content actually meets them – this is where ICAgile comes in. To become a member organization, we have an extra level of information that goes on top of this. That is, how we assess this class – what is the acceptance criteria and what will the participants be able to do if they have learned a piece of the roadmap.
Some of your trainers have been through the process of building the course and having the course assessed. We look at every one of these learning outcomes and determine how it is met through the course design and content. We then go a step further and assess the instructor – does this person have the right background and knowledge to teach this subject, do they know the subject, and can they teach? During that assessment session, they actually have the trainers do a live training demonstration. So, we are standing behind our members and saying that if you are teaching an accredited class with an authorized instructor then the course itself is good because we have assessed the content, the design, AND that the instructor knows their stuff. So, that is the why of ICAgile.
Kaley: This leads into another question:
How do people get the certifications?
Kaley: I know that there aren’t exams so can you talk a little about this rationale and why you decided to move forward in that direction?
Shane: So, certification is evidence of knowledge acquisition and we do have two levels of certification and the first level of certification that is granted in the classroom is just that – evidence of knowledge acquisition. To be clear – that is knowledge, not competency. We don’t want an exam because we find that generally in exam environments, instructors end up teaching the exam, and that’s not what we want.
For an ICAgile course, the assessment process is actually continuous – the instructor is required to have a set of criteria by which they are assessing if people are showing evidence of the knowledge acquisition. Typically, this is through engagement, case studies, and collaborative activities in the classroom. It is not that they are sitting in their seats reading the book; it is that are they participating in the conversations and working together in the collaborative activities (of course, because it is an agile-focused class, we expect there to be a lot of collaborative activities).
The mindset of agile and agility is about collaborative, cross-functional teams. So, when we look at the class design component, we’re looking at how the instructor will know that a student has acquired this knowledge. The instructor is expected to be assessing that. It is not an exam but a continuous assessment throughout the class.
And, there should never be a surprise to the participant to be told at the end of class that they failed. We expect the instructor to be engaging with people on a continuous basis. If they see someone who is quiet and not engaged, it is on the instructor to have a conversation about what is happening – are you involved? Do you have any questions? Are you feeling unsafe? And if so, let’s create that safe environment. Maybe for some people, it is that they are just quiet, but they are learning and can evidence that knowledge in a conversation. On the other hand, the person who is in class because their boss told them to and they want the free lunch. That person needs to have a number of conversations over the few days to let them know he/she is not on track to pass so when they get to the end – it isn’t a shock.
What about the second level of certification?
Shane: If I go back to the roadmap, the silver flags are the internally assessed ICP (ICAgile Certified Professional) in the disciplines. The gold flags indicate the ICAgile Certified Expert and that is a different beast. A Certified Expert is something that is competency-based and is hard to achieve. It doesn’t just happen because you attended a class. In fact, there is no class for the expert certification. What a person needs to do to be invited for this certification is, first, they have to acquire all of the certifications in the track.
Using the Coaching track as an example, you get the Team Facilitation and Agile Coaching certifications – the knowledge-based certifications – and then you have to build deliberate practice. We recommend that you have at least 2 years of solid, varied experience (not 2 years of doing the same thing). You have to look at what you have to do to build deliberate practice. And you have to wait at least 6 months after you take the second course. It is possible that someone has been an agile coach for a few years, they have that solid foundation, and now they are formalizing their knowledge by taking the class. However, we would still not allow that person to come to the gate until it is 6 months after the class.
After that, once they feel they are ready, there is an application process where you have to submit a CV and references. From there, will talk to the references to really understand if you have the depth of knowledge and experience and also if you exhibit the competency. Then, we pair you up with a mentor whose role is to mentor you through the process (not mentor you to become an expert). They are guiding you go along the pathway. From there, you have to provide evidence of the competency.
For example, the discipline of Agile Coaching has four broad competencies. There is:
For Teaching and Facilitation, you have to provide video evidence. For Facilitation, facilitating an agile practice with a team – we prefer not the retrospective because it is very well structured already. We are looking to see the design of the session. For Teaching, teaching a group of people one or more of the agile practices. Once you submit this, we access the videos and confirm that it looks like the person does exhibit the skills. There is a rubric that looks at each one of those competencies that is part of the process – we give you the rubric and tell you that this is what we are looking for – this is what good looks like. If the video looks good and your mentor feels that you are ready after doing a number of rounds of coaching and mentoring, you then go to a panel assessment.
The panel is made up of three existing experts who have been trained as assessors, along with a facilitator from ICAgile. The candidate is required to do live coaching and live mentoring (for the Coaching track). There will be someone on the panel who will have a genuine issue that they want coaching help with and another person on the panel with a genuine issue that they want mentoring help with. (For the mentoring, it will be something that the candidate is familiar with – part of getting to know them in advance is to understand the areas that this person could mentor someone in, because you can’t mentor someone without real competency in a space – whereas, as a coach, you should be able to coach.)
You then do this live in front of the panel. I can tell you from experience that it is uncomfortable. They make it as safe as possible and it is a wonderful learning environment, but yeah, you are showing you stuff to a group of your peers. And, a lot of people fail their first time – I was right in the middle of the bell curve and actually fell short of the bar.
Kaley: Did you do this before you started working there?
Shane: Yes, at that point I had joined ICAgile.
Can you talk a little bit about why you joined ICAgile, what you did before, and a little about your role there?
Shane: Prior to ICAgile, I was working with SoftEd. I was the Chief Knowledge Engineer. I was the head of their training group. The facilitator for their trainer team. I was with them for 15 years and built, what I still believe, was the first agile training course available in the southern hemisphere. We wrote that in 2002-2003 after I had spent time with Alistair Cockburn, Jim Highsmith and various others so it was right at the beginning of the agile movement. I was inspired by it, because prior to joining SoftEd, I’d been a development manager for a company, and we implement Extreme Programming in 2000. We brought in the XP practices shortly after Kent Beck wrote the White Book – the original book on Extreme Programming. I read it and thought – this makes so much sense! And it worked.
So when I joined SoftEd as a trainer, we brought out people like Alistair and Jim Highsmith and Steve Miller and various other founders of the agile movement, because at that stage we ran conferences as well, and at the time it was just software development, but this was the new thing at that stage. At SoftEd, we got involved with teaching agile classes long before the brands were actually out there, in this part of the world. (I live and work in New Zealand.)
Then in 2011, I started to get involved with the Agile Alliance and ICAgile cropped up and said they were looking for someone to contribute to what is now the Product Ownership track – which at that stage, we were deliberately calling it the Business Value track. (Because that is what it was and is about – about the business value of stuff. We’ve moved to Product Ownership because that is the brand that is more recognized, but the underlying intent is the focus on business value… so all that really changed was the label.)
Anyway, I had been one of the contributors to the Agile Extension to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge and was involved with the analysis community as well as the agile community and wanted to bridge some of those gaps. ICAgile was looking for someone to contribute to the learning outcomes, so I was one of the volunteers – so I know well what is involved in writing those learning outcomes. Then in 2017, I joined ICAgile as the Director of Agile Learning Programs. My role has recently shifted because we brought on Christina Hartikainen and she is taking on that focus and I am moving more into the community as Director for Community Development.
What do you think is the future for ICAgile – where do you see it going, and as part of that, what are your growth numbers?
Shane: Growth is big – we are over the 110,000 – 120,000 certificate holders, 150 member organizations and over 500 individual instructors. And we are seeing, not quite exponential growth but significant growth, and we are focusing on making sure that growth is sustainable. One of the reasons for bringing Christina on is that she comes with a really solid background in learning. I was initially trying to do the learning and the community, but we realized that we need more capacity if we are going to provide our members with the type of service that we want them to have.
It is really great, actually – within the organization, we are really practicing what we preach. We use iterative development, we use persona structures, all that sort of stuff. The three of us represent different personas – I represent the instructor because that is really my background, Christina represents the individual learner, and Susanna represents the member organization. When we look at any piece of work, we’ll have a 3 Amigos session, and the three of us will bring those different perspectives and say, “How does this thing that we are looking to do impact those personas?” We also all make the time to spend the time with our personas.
What do you see at the future for ICAgile?
Shane: We are expanding more into the business agility space and are definitely seeing growth there. There are additional things happening over the next few months, so watch to see. Beyond business agility, the other thing that we a really see making a strong move in the industry and we want to be sure that as it happens, it is done well – is the growth of remote learning. Remote is definitely a trend today and we’re working with people like Judy Reese to make sure that we define what good remote learning looks like. Shannon Ewan and I built and are expanding on a workshop that that we ran at Agile2019 – it is applying Training from the Back of the Room to remote learning.
Kaley: Our instructor, Miquel, actually went to your session and said it was awesome! He is a certified Training from the Back of the Room instructor. We use the concepts in a lot of our training development work – it is good stuff!
Shane: I actually just got back from Thailand where I taught two Training from the Back of the Room classes to our member organizations. We offer that as a service for our members – that we teach their instructors how to use it and are looking at the add-on of Training from the Back of the Room for remote as well.
Kaley: Yes, remote learning is definitely a challenge.
Shane: You cannot take an in-person class and just deliver it over a video conference for 8 hours.
Kaley: No, you can’t… well, you can, but no one is going to learn very much.
Shane: You really have to carefully look at the instructional design of a remote learning class, which is why we won’t dual-accredit a class. If a member organization has an in-person class and you want to deliver it remote, you have to bring the materials to us and show us. We will look at what you have done to make it a good remote class, because what makes a good in-person experience doesn’t work as a good remote class.
Kaley: I agree. We have different exercises for our remote classes than for our in-person classes that are more conducive to the virtual environment.
One more question from our instructor, Ali – What do you think ICAgile is helping organizations do better?
Shane: We truly believe in advancing the state of agile learning. We think we are helping organizations – in thinking of the roadmap, those are the competencies that organizations need to have. If our member organizations are training people in those competencies, they come out and have the skills that can help their organization be better. So, helping organizations get better is what we are about!
Kaley: Thank you for your time. This will be extremely valuable to share – we are excited to be a part of ICAgile!!
Shane: Thank you! We are glad to have you as well!