Corporate culture is one of those topics that gets written and talked about a good bit and with good reason. Implementing and maintaining an Agile culture and an Agile learning culture are both very challenging. Inside a learning culture employees have to be willing to keep up with what is new and how that newness impacts their performance and contribution to the bottom line. Similarly, companies need to make sure that they provide an atmosphere conducive to a faster pace of learning.
Listen to this Guardian Podcast about learning culture in Agile.
What is a learning culture?
A learning culture is one in which Agile team members strive to acquire new knowledge and skills relevant to a software development project. For instance, in a learning culture, team members don’t approach a software project as specialists with programming, testing or business analysis expertise. Instead, they come to the table with a mindset that’s conducive to problem solving.
Sometimes that means learning from others on the team. Members with strong programming skills can help their peers who come from a testing background write scripts for test automation. The idea, said Gregory, is not that testers acquire enough coding expertise to become full-fledged programmers — it’s that they gain a “technical awareness of programming.”
“You try out ideas for an iteration or two, and experiment with something else if they don’t work.”
A learning culture empowers team members to pursue areas of interest to them, and share that new knowledge with the team. One member might pursue facilitation skills training, seeking more efficient wants to elicit requirements from business stakeholders. Another might identify a new solution to automated regression testing. Team members should be empowered to try out a new tool or technique and share that information with the team.
Fail fast and move on
At the heart of a learning culture is the Agile retrospective, an exercise conducted at the end of every iteration. With a focus on continuous improvement, the team determines what worked and what didn’t, and figures out its next steps. To achieve success in the long run, the team must be willing to experiment with approaches that may ultimately fail. The goal is to fail fast enough that failure isn’t too costly. In other words, to figure out what works, sometimes you need firsthand experience of what doesn’t. “You try out ideas for an iteration or two, and experiment with something else if they don’t work,”
Furthermore to keep up with new technologies — and address longstanding development challenges — Agile practitioners must continually acquire new skills, test their assumptions and experiment with new ways of working. “If [one approach] doesn’t work, you try something different.” That is hard for organisations that don’t have a learning culture.