Agile ELearning Development: Secrets of Agile meetings success
Meetings are an integral part of any corporate process, including developing eLearning content and courses. BUT…there’s a catch to meetings: They can be taxing on participants (mentally, physically and emotionally), and can be a drain on valuable resources. But there’s good news too: As an eLearning development professional, you can make meetings productive and yet not spend as much time as you currently do.
Read on to learn how!
The facts about meetings
According to research cited by the Harvard Business Review, over the past 5-decades, the number of hours a week spent in meetings has increased by over 130%. Despite technological innovations that cut-down travel, improve communication and enhance collaboration, corporate America spends nearly 23-hours a week in meetings versus less than 10-hours back in the 1960s.
In an eLearning development project context, you analyze requirements in meetings, firm up designs, develop learning content and interfaces, and implement courses to evaluate results. Teams of people involved in every aspect of an eLearning development initiative meet constantly to make the project a reality.
That’s a fact of life! But, by embracing an Agile framework for eLearning projects, instructional designers can inject extreme efficiencies into meetings.
Agile development team meetings 101
Way back in the late 1990s, the Los Angeles Times very appropriately headlined a story that graphically outlined what happens in meetings: Keeping Minutes While You Waste Hours! But the Agile approach to developing eLearning courses changes all that.
Agile eLearning development centers around the Scrum team. As a “team”, members can’t avoid meetings – that’s where they do a lot of the eLearning development work! However, the Scrum framework provides for a structure where they use each meeting to move project milestones just a bit further than they were at the end of the last meeting (called Scrum sessions).
So, how does the Agile eLearning development approach work better, than say Waterfall or other methodologies, even though they all prominently feature meetings?
- Regulatory framework: Scrum teams are self-regulated, which means the team (and not a department or committee or a council of executives) sets the agendas and priorities for each Scrum session. The less red tape, the more effective the sessions!
- Manageable team size: Unlike traditional meetings, where a meeting can have upwards of 30 plus invitees, Scrum teams are typically close-knit groups. Smaller groups are more amenable to embracing efficiency, productivity and good time management
- Broad representation: Scrum session represents everyone that has a stake in the project. So, if the team has a question about specific learning content, or if there is concern about the types of quizzes or assignments proposed, the SMEs to address those points will be at the Scrum table.
On a Scrum team, you’ll find programmers, IT specialists, instructional design professionals, graphics designers, animators, content writers, user interface designers…and other specialists. Decision-making is quick and efficient!
- Well-defined timelines: Scrums lay down realistic timeframes for each activity of every session. Scrum planning sessions span hours, not days and weeks. There are daily touch-points (called Daily Scrums) as opposed to more infrequent (weekly or monthly) sessions. Each touch-point ends with specific, actionable and measurable action items, with individual team members responsible for delivery. Accountability begets success!
Establishing eLearning development teams with the above characteristics will ensure that meetings (Scrum sessions) become far more productive and efficient to run.
Making Agile meetings work
The secret to efficiently developed Agile eLearning solutions lies in how the Scrum sessions (as opposed to traditional meetings) deliver usable project milestones. As part of the Scrum planning session, members of the team negotiate very specific deliverables and then plan them for development over an agreed-upon timeframe.
Agile eLearning courses are then developed as incremental deliverables. During team meetings, everyone must come to the session with proposals to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as part of each cycle called an “iteration”. And “work packages” must be configured so they can be completed in short bursts called “sprints”.
Some best practices to make Agile meetings work include:
- Choose team leadership carefully. Scrum leaders must be consensus builders and not taskmasters!
- Holding stand-up-only meetings, where no one is allowed to get too comfortable for too long
- Restrict session agendas to three focus areas: Accomplishments since the last session; Milestones until the next session; Obstacles or roadblocks preventing progress
- Display progress visibly for everyone to see. Use a whiteboard, sticky notes, Kanban boards or whatever else that makes everyone see what’s happening and what’s being planned
- Make sure everyone participates. Agile meetings only work if there’s a genuine collaborative effort
- Try to be consistent about Scrum meetings. Pick a day and time that works for everyone, and then stick with it because that’s what works for everyone
- Respect the schedule. Start on time and end on time.
- Make sure no single person “hogs” the allocated time. Formulate and strictly enforce a “No ramblings” policy
This 8-point Scrum meeting guideline should get you started on holding effective team meetings. However, Scrum sessions should not be construed as substitutes for regular communication between and amongst the team. In fact, it is often the case that Scrum meetings could determine the need for additional consultations and meetings.
When that happens, instead of bringing the entire Scrum team into the discussions, take those deliberations off-line. If needed, formulate a break-out session with only those members that are directly impacted by the discussion topics. There’s no use forcing a meeting with individuals who may not contribute to the topic at hand.
And that brings us to the perfect segue about how Agile teams should be constituted.
The secret to holding successful Agile meetings lies also in how you compose your eLearning development teams. Agility during Scrum sessions can only come from team empowerment. If a team member can’t contribute to the team – he/she shouldn’t be on the team. If they can’t speak for or decisively represent their functional area (for instance the Development team that will execute the design or the HR department for whom the course is being developed), then they don’t deserve a place at the scrum table!
Want to know more about writing effective user stories and the Agile process in general? Get my Agile ELearning Development book and start developing your courses the Agile way!