Whether you’re new to agile or you have experience as a member of an agile team, but want to master the foundations of a specific agile framework, attending a training and certification course is one of the best ways you can achieve your goal.
Most agile training courses require a significant investment of time and money. Which leaves many professionals like you asking…
Is agile training even worth it?
In general, any agile training delivered by an experienced and certified trainer is worth your time and money. Most agile training courses are usually related to a specific agile framework—and delivered in small groups over the course of 1-2 days, in-person or online.
The best agile trainings are delivered in-person or in small online groups by a trainer, certified by one or multiple of the leading agile organizations in the world. These organizations include, but are not limited to, Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Scrum Inc., Scaled Agile, and Disciplined Agile Consortium (DAC).
Most of these trainings will result in a certificate or allow you to take an exam which, as long as you get a passing score, results in a certificate. Having an agile credential like Certified Agile Leader (CAL), Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), or Scaled Agile Architect (SAFe ARCH) will set your résumé apart when applying for agile roles, as well as demonstrate your working knowledge of agile and individual agile frameworks.
Some agile courses on sites like Coursera, edX, and Udemy can introduce you to the foundations of agile. Pick them well; not all of these online courses are created or taught by trainers who have the approach, credentials, and experience to teach you well. Some may be outdated or teach you agility wrong. Before you invest in an online course on agile, research the trainer on the web and look for objective reviews by other people who’ve had the course.
Always remember that agile is a mindset. And, whichever training and certification course you choose, the best way to master agile theory is through practice.
The agile mindset powers the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.
The mindset, values, and practices then give birth to an unlimited number of agile practices (check out my top list of 50+ agile practices).
Agile frameworks are sets of roles, events, and artifacts that help individuals and teams practice agile in a repeatable and reproducible way. Agile frameworks are generally easy to understand, but hard to master.
It’s Mostly About the Trainer
Perhaps ⅔ of the value of an agile training comes from your trainer.
One of the best agile training courses that I’ve attended was a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) certification, where the trainer assumed the role of Scrum Master, used the wall as a Scrum Board, and helped us break down the Table of Contents of the training into user stories on the wall.
We time-boxed the two days we had for the training into sprints, then assumed the roles of Product Owners as we took user stories from “To Do,” prioritized them into “In Progress,” and moved them into “Done” as we talked through the Scrum Guide in short cycles and digested it in small chunks.
Thanks to this approach, everyone in the group understood the importance of a Definition of Ready, Definition of Done, and good ol’ ordering and prioritization. Every now and then, we had to inspect and adapt our plans—and correct our course as we referred to our estimates and used our Burndown Chart as guidance.
Sometimes, we shipped early. Othertimes, we fell behind. The important thing was that we learned Scrum by using Scrum as Product Owners of our own training. By the end of the course, everyone knew what Scrum was, how it actually worked, and what to watch out for. That’s how important it is to pick a good trainer.
I can share just as vivid examples about trainings I’ve been to, where everyone in the group was put to sleep and ended up learning zero about the theory and practice behind agile and the framework at hand.
But It’s Also About the People in the Group
Here’s something few trainers and training providers will tell you: the people in the group make up a good ⅓ of the value of your agile training.
If you’re someone who’s experienced with agile and you go to a course expecting to take something specific away, you’re going to end up disappointed if you join a group that consists mostly of people who are new to or skeptical about agile.
Similarly, if you’re inexperienced with agile and you join a group whose members are significantly more senior than you, you’re probably going to have a hard time making the most of your training as the questions toward the trainer will be more advanced than you can follow.
While it’s impossible to select your group if you’re attending a public training course, you have that luxury if your employer has purchased one or multiple training courses for you and your colleagues (I’ll explain the difference between public and private training courses below).
Public or Private Training Course?
In general, there are two types of agile training courses: public courses and private courses. Before you or your HR department purchase seats for an agile training course, consider whether the course should be private or public.
Public courses are delivered in public groups that any organization, team, or individual can join until all available seats are sold. Private courses are delivered in private groups of various sizes and only to the organization or team that purchased them.
If you want to meet agilists from other companies or sectors and are curious about the challenges that they have with agile, it’s best to attend a public training course. Doing so will allow you to meet other agile practitioners and network with them during the Q&A sessions and breaks.
If your organization and team need agile training to address a problem that’s confidential or specific to their needs, it’s best to purchase a private training course. That way, the instructor can tailor his/her delivery to your needs, will have the time to answer all your questions, and all information exchanged during the Q&A will remain fully confidential.
How to Make the Most of Your Agile Training
So you signed up for an agile training. Congratulations! Here’s how to make the most of your experience.
Pay attention. You’re probably at an off-site training center or in a conference room in your own office. Or you could be attending a remote training online. Whatever the format and location, block your calendar, put your phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode, and pay attention.
Keep an open mind. One of the worst things that people do when attending agile training is to go in and go through the training with a closed mind. Even if you’re a die-hard fan of waterfall project management, there are still bits and pieces of agility that can potentially help you.
Ask questions. You have an experienced and certified trainer at hand. Use their time well. Ask questions and participate proactively in open discussions. Share some of your challenges and problems—and see how an experienced agilist thinks about them differently.
Network with others. Don’t be the odd one out of the group. Use the lunch and coffee breaks to talk to your colleagues or peers from other companies or industries. Understanding how other people approach similar challenges and problems as yours can often be eye-opening.
Make notes. I am a rigorous note taker at training courses. I take my notes in Evernote during the course, edit and format them a little after, then use them as references whenever I feel like sanity-checking what I’ve learned vs. what I’m thinking or doing. Try it out; it does wonders.
Join the community. One of the perks of most agile trainings, especially those provided by big training organizations like Scrum Alliance, is that you get access to member-only learning resources and an insider community of fellow practitioners. Join it and learn with it.
The Bottom Line
Yes, agile training is worth it. But mostly when delivered by a trainer, certified by one of the top agile certification organizations out there.
There is the occasional exception—and some online courses on Coursera, edX, or Udemy could be very useful to agile beginners looking to learn the foundations on their own.
However, nothing can replicate the experience of a qualified and experienced trainer who can help you to learn agile (or one of the most commonly-used agile frameworks in the world) in a couple of days.
Once you have the theory straight, don’t forget that the best (and only) way to learn agile theory is through practice. You can go to all the courses in the world, read the best books on agile, and consult with some of the best agile practitioners out there…
Still, nothing beats good ol’ experience practicing the agile mindset to build products, manage programs or projects, and solve problems in an iterative and incremental way.