You learn to play an instrument by practicing.

You learn to play an instrument by practicing.

Experiential learning, often though of as learning by doing, can play an important role in any transformation program. In this strategy learners gather knowledge from the combination of doing something, reflecting on what was done and finally generalizing learnings into broader knowledge. The theory holds that knowledge is internalized through concrete engagement more effective and quickly rather through rote learning techniques. The basic steps of experiential learning are:

Experience – The learner is directly involved in experiences that are tied to a real world scenario. The teacher facilitates the experience. Writing your first computer program in a computer lab is an example of a concrete learning experience.

Reflection – The learner reflects on what happened and what they learned during the experience. Reflection typically includes determining what was important about the experience for future experiences. When used in a classroom, the reflection step generally includes sharing reflections and observations with the classmates (a form of a feedback loop). Demonstrating the program you wrote, reviewing the code snippets and sharing lessons learned with the class would be an example of this step.

Generalization – The learner incorporates the experience and what was learned into their broader view of how their job should be performed. The lessons learned from writing the program adds to the base of coding and problem-solving knowledge for the learner.

The flow of work through a team using Scrum can be mapped to experiential learning model. Small slices are of work are accepted into a sprint, the team solves the business problem, reflects on what was learned and then uses what was learned to determine what work will be done next. The process follows the experience, reflection, generalization flow.

There are several versions of the three stage experiential learning model. Conceptually they are all similar, the differences tend to be how the stages are broken down. For example, Northern Illinois University breaks the reflection step into reflection and “what’s important” steps.

There are several pluses and minuses I have observed in applying experiential learning in transformation programs.


  1. Builds on and connects theory to the real world – Theory is often a dirty word in organizations. Experiential learning allows learners to experience a concept that can then be tied back to higher-level concepts such as theory.
  2. Experiences can be manufactured – Meaningful real-life examples can be designed to generate or focus on a specific concepts. When I learned to code first assembler computer program in the LSU computer lab, I was assigned a specific project by my TA.  This was an example of experiential learning.
  3. Can be coupled with other learning techniques – Experiential learning techniques can be combined with other learning strategies to meet logistical and cultural needs. For example classic lecture methods can be combined with experiential learning. My assembler class at LSU included lecture (theory) and lab (experiential) features.
  4. Individuals can apply experiential learning outside of the classroom – Motivated learners often apply the concept of experiential learning to add skills in a non-classroom environment when the skill may not generally applicable to the team or organization. For example, I had an employee learn to write SQL when I got frustrated waiting for the support team to write queries for him.  I learned by writing simple queries and debugging the results (he also used the internet for reference).


  1. Not perfectly scalable – Experiential learning in the classroom or organization tends to require facilitation. Facilitation of large groups either requires multiple facilitators for breaking the group up into smaller groups and extending the time it takes to deliver the training. Without good facilitation experiential learning is less effective (just ask my wife about my skills facilitating her experience learning to drive a stick shift).
  2. Requires careful design – Experience, if not designed or facilitated well, can lead to learning the wrong lesson or to failures that impact the learner’s motivation.
  3. Reflection and generalization steps are often overlooked – The steps after experience are occasionally not given the focus needed to draw out concepts that were learned and then allow them to be incorporated the broader process of how work is performed.

Can anyone learn to ride a bicycle from a book or from a lecture? But you can learn to ride a bicycle using experiential learning (the reality is that it might be the only way). Experiential learning lets the learner try to ride the bike, fall and skin their knees, reflect on the how to improve and then try again.

Group discussion is an active learning technique.

Group discussion is an active learning technique.

Change is often premised on people learning new methods, frameworks or techniques.  For any change to be implemented effectively, change agents need to understand the most effective way of helping learners learn.  Active learning is a theory of teaching based on the belief that learners should take responsibility for their own learning.  Techniques that support this type of teaching exist on a continuum that begins with merely fostering active listening, to interactive lectures and finally to using investigative inquiry techniques. Learning using games is a form of active learning (see for examples of Agile games).  Using active learning requires understanding the four basic elements of active learning, participants’ responsibilities and keys to success.

There are four basic elements of active learning that need to be worked into content delivery.

  1. Talking and listening – The act of talking about a topic helps learners organize, synthesize and reinforce what they have learned.
  2. Writing – Writing provides a mechanism for students to process information (similar to talking and listening). Writing is can used in when groups are too large for group or team level interaction or are geographically distributed.
  3. Reading – Reading provides the entry point for new ideas and concepts. Coupling reading with other techniques such as writing (e.g. generating notes and summaries) improves learner’s ability to synthesize and incorporate new concepts.
  4. Reflecting – Reflection provides learners with time to synthesize what they have learned. For example providing learners with time to reflect on how they would teach or answer questions on the knowledge gained in a game or exercise helps increase retention.

Both learners and teachers have responsibilities when using active learning methods. Learners have the responsibility to:

  1. Be motivated – The learner needs to have a goal for learning and be will to expend the effort to reach that goal [HUH?]
  2. Participate in the community – The learner needs to other learners in games, exercises and discussions. [HUH?]
  3. Be able to accept, shape and manage change – Learning is change; the learner must be able to incorporate what they have learned into how they work.

While by definition, active learning shifts the responsibility for learning to learner not all of the responsibility rests on the learner. Teachers/Organization have the responsibility to:

  1. Set goals – The teacher or organization needs to define or identify the desired result of the training.
  2. Design curriculum – The trainer (or curriculum designer) needs to ensure they have designed the courseware needed to guide the learner’s transformations.
  3. Provide facilitation – The trainer needs to provide encouragement and help make the learning process easier.

As a trainer in an organization pursuing a transformation, there are several keys to successfully using active learning.

  1. Use creative events (games or other exercised) that generate engagement.
  2. Incorporate active learning in a planned manner.
  3. Make sure the class understands the process being used and how it will benefit them.
  4. In longer classes, vary pair, team or group membership to help expose learners to as diverse a set of points-of-view as possible.
  5. All exercises should conclude with a readout/presentation of results to the class.  Varying the approach (have different people present, ask different questions) taken during the readout help focus learner attention.
  6. Negotiate a signal for students to stop talking. (Best method: The hand raise, where when the teacher raises his or her hand everyone else raises their hand and stops talking.)

While randomly adding a discussion exercise at the end of a lecture module uses an active learning technique, it not a reflection of an effective approach to active learning.  When building a class or curriculum that intends to use active learning, the game and exercises that are selected need to be carefully chosen  to illicit the desired learning impact.

Presentations are just one learning strategy.

Presentations are just one learning strategy.

How many times have you sat in a room, crowded around tables, perhaps taking notes on your laptop or maybe doing email while someone drones away about the newest process change? All significant organizational transformations require the learning and adoption of new techniques, concepts and methods. Agile transformations are no different. For example, a transformation from waterfall to Scrum will require developing an understanding of Agile concepts and Scrum techniques. Four types of high-level training strategies are often used to support process improvement, such as Agile transformations. They are:

  1. Classic Lecture /Presentation – A presenter stands in front of the class and presents information to the learners. In most organizations the classic classroom format is used in conjunction with a PowerPoint deck, which provides counterpoint and support for the presenter. The learner’s role is to take notes from the lecture, interactions between the class and presenter and the presentation material and then to synthesize what they have heard. Nearly everyone in an IT department is familiar with type of training from attending college or university. An example in my past was Psychology 101 at the University of Iowa with 500+ of my closest friends. I remember the class because it was at 8 AM and because of the people sleeping in the back row. While I do not remember anything about the material many years later, this technique is often very useful in broadly introducing concepts. This method is often hybridized with other strategies to more deeply implement techniques and methods.
  2. Active Learning – Is strategy that is based on the belief that learners should take responsibility for their own learning. Learners are provided with a set of activities that keep them busy doing what is to be learned while analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating. Learners must do more than just listen and take notes. The teacher acts as a facilitator to help ensure the learning activities include techniques such as Agile games, working in pairs/groups, role-playing with discussion of the material and other co-operative learning techniques. Active learning and lecture techniques are often combined.
  3. Experiential Learning – Experiential learning is learning from experience. The learner will perform tasks, reflect on performance and possibly suffer the positive or negative consequences of making mistakes or being successful. The theory behind experiential learning is that for learning to be internalized the experience needs to be concretely and actively engaged rather than in a more theoretical or purely in a reflective manner. Process improvement based on real time experimentation in the Toyota Production system is a type of experiential learning.
  4. Mentoring – Mentoring is a process that uses one-on-one coaching and leadership to help a learner do concrete tasks with some form of support. Mentoring is a form of experience based learning, most attributable to the experiential learning camp. Because mentoring is generally a one-on-one technique it is generally not scalable to for large-scale change programs.

The majority of change agents have not been educated in adult learning techniques and leverage classic presentation/lecture techniques spiced with exercises. However, each of these high-level strategies have value and can be leveraged to help build the capacity and capabilities for change.

Step 3 is to take smaller bites!

Step 3 is to take smaller bites!

Changing how any organization works is not easy.  Many different moving parts have to come together for a change to take root and build up enough inertia to pass the tipping point. Unfortunately because of misalignment, misunderstanding or poor execution, change programs don’t always win the day.  This is not new news to most of us in the business.  What should happen after a process improvement program fails?  What happens when the wrong kind of inertia wins?

Step One:  All failures must be understood.

First, perform a critical review of the failed program that focuses on why and how it failed.  The word critical is important.  Nothing should be sugar coated or “spun” to protect people’s feelings.  A critical review must also have a good dose of independence from those directly involved in the implementation.  Independence is required so that the biases and decisions that led to the original program can be scrutinized.  The goal is not to pillory those involved, but rather to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated.  These reviews are known by many names: postmortems, retrospectives or troubled project reviews, to name a few.

Step two:  Determine which way the organization is moving.

Inertia describes why an object in motion tends to stay in motion or those at rest tend to stay at rest.  Energy is required to change the state of any object or organization; understanding the direction of the organization is critical to planning any change. In process improvement programs we call the application of energy change management.  A change management program might include awareness building, training, mentoring or a myriad of other events all designed to inject energy into the system. The goal of that energy is either to amplify or change the performance of some group within an organization.  When not enough or too much energy is applied, the process change will fail.

Just because a change has failed does not mean all is lost.  There are two possible outcomes to a failure. The first is that the original position is reinforced, making change even more difficult.  The second is that the target group has been pushed into moving, maybe not all the way to where they should be or even in the right direction, but the original inertia has been broken.

Frankly, both outcomes happen.  If the failure is such that no good comes of it, then your organization will be mired in the muck of living off past performance.  This is similar to what happens when a car gets stuck in snow or sand and digs itself in.  The second scenario is more positive, and while the goal was not attained, the organization has begun to move, making further change easier.  I return to the car stuck in the snow example.  A technique that is taught to many of us that live in snowy climates is “rocking.” Rocking is used to get a car stuck in snow moving back and forth.  Movement increases the odds that you will be able to break free and get going in the right direction.

Step Three:  Take smaller bites!

The lean startup movement provides a number of useful concepts that can be used when changing any organization.  In Software Process and Measurement Cast 196, Jeff Anderson talked in detail about leveraging the concepts of lean start-ups within change programs (Link to SPaMCAST 196).  A lean start up will deliver a minimum amount of functionality needed to generate feedback and to further populate a backlog of manageable changes. The backlog should be groomed and prioritized by a product owner (or owners) from the area being impacted by the change.  This will increase ownership and involvement and generate buy-in.  Once you have a prioritized backlog, make the changes in a short time-boxed manner while involving those being impacted in measuring the value delivered.  Stop doing things if they are not delivering value and go to the next change.

Being a change agent is not easy, and no one succeeds all the time unless they are not taking any risks.  Learn from your mistakes and successes.  Understand the direction the organization is moving and use that movement as an asset to magnify the energy you apply. Involve those you are asking to change to building a backlog of prioritized minimum viable changes (mix the concept of a backlog with concepts from the lean start up movement).  Make changes based on how those who are impacted prioritize the backlog then stand back to observe and measure.  Finally, pivot if necessary.  Always remember that the goal is not really the change itself, but rather demonstrable business value. Keep pushing until the organization is going in the right direction.  What do you do when inertia wins?  My mother would have said just get back up, dust your self off and get back in the game.


Listen to the Software Process and Measurement Cast 320

SPaMCAST 320 features our interview with Alfonso Bucero. We discussed his book, Today Is A Good Day. Attitude is an important tool for a project manager, team member or executive.  In his book Alfonso provides a plan for honing your attitude.

Alfonso Bucero, MSc, PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI Fellow, is the founder and Managing Partner of BUCERO PM Consulting.  He managed IIL Spain for almost two years, and he was a Senior Project Manager at Hewlett-Packard Spain (Madrid Office) for thirteen years.

Since 1994, he has been a frequent speaker at International Project Management (PM) Congresses and Symposiums. Alfonso has delivered PM training and consulting services in Spain, Mexico, UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Denmark, Costa Rica, Brazil, USA, and Singapore. As believer in Project Management, he teaches that Passion, Persistence and Patience as keys for project success.

Alfonso co-authored the book Project Sponsorship with Randall L. Englund published by Josse-Bass in 2006. He has authored the book Today is a Good Day – Attitudes for achieving project success, published by Multimedia Publishing in Canada in 2010. He has also contributed to professional magazines in Russia (SOVNET), India (ICFAI), Argentina and Spain. Alfonso co-authored The Complete Project Manager and The Complete Project Manager Toolkit published with Randall L. Englund published by Management Concepts in March 2012. Alfonso published The Influential Project Manager in 2014 with CRC Press in the US.

Alfonso has also published several articles in national and international Project Management magazines. He is a Contributing editor of PM Network (Crossing Borders), published by the “Project Management Institute”.

Contact Alfonso:

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We are in the middle of a re-read of John Kotter’s classic Leading Change on the Software Process and Measurement Blog.  Are you participating in the re-read? Please feel free to jump in and add your thoughts and comments!

After we finish the current re-read will need to decide which book will be next.  We are building a list of the books that have had the most influence on readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast.  Can you answer the question?

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First, we will compile a list and publish it on the blog.  Second, we will use the list to drive future  “Re-read” Saturdays. Re-read Saturday is an exciting new feature that began on the Software Process and Measurement blog on November 8th.  Feel free to choose you platform; send an email, leave a message on the blog, Facebook or just tweet the list (use hashtag #SPaMCAST)!


In the next Software Process and Measurement Cast we will feature our essay on the requirements for success with Agile.  Senior management, engagement, culture and coaches are components but not the whole story

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As many you know I do at least one webinar for the IT Metrics and Productivity Institute (ITMPI) every year. The ITMPI provides a great service to the IT profession. ITMPI’s mission is to pull together the expertise and educational efforts of the world’s leading IT thought leaders and to create a single online destination where IT practitioners and executives can meet all of their educational and professional development needs. The ITMPI offers a premium membership that gives members unlimited free access to 400 PDU accredited webinar recordings, and waives the PDU processing fees on all live and recorded webinars. The Software Process and Measurement Cast some support if you sign up here. All the revenue our sponsorship generates goes for bandwidth, hosting and new cool equipment to create more and better content for you. Support the SPaMCAST and learn from the ITMPI.

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A vision provides a goal and direction to travel.

A vision provides a goal and direction to travel.

John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, established why change in organizations can fail and the forces that shape the changes when they are successful. The two sets of opposing forces he identifies in the first two chapters are used to define and illuminate his famous eight-stage model for change. The first stage of the model is establishing a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency provides the energy and rational for any large, long-term change program. Once a sense of urgency has been established, the second stage in the eight-stage model for change is the establishment of a guiding coalition. If a sense of urgency provides energy to drive change, a guiding coalition provides the power for making change happen. Once we identify or establish a sense of urgency and the power to make change happen we then have to wrestle establishing a vision and strategy. A vision represents a picture of a state of being at some point in the future. A vision acts as an anchor that establishes the goal of the transformation. A strategy defines the high level path to that future.

Kotter begins the first chapter by reviewing changes driven by different leadership styles that include authoritarian, micromanagement and visionary. Change driven by authoritarian decree (do it because I said so) and micromanagement (I will tell you step-by-step how to get from point A to point B and validate compliance to my instructions) often fail to break through the status quo. In fact, demanding change tends to generate resistance and passive aggressive behavior due to the lack of buy-in from those involved in the change. Couple the lack of buy-in with the incredible level of effort needed to force people to change and then to monitor that change, and scalability problems will surface. Neither authoritarian- nor micromanagement-driven techniques are efficient for responding to dynamic, large scale changes. Change driven by vision overcomes these issues by providing the direction and the rational for why the organization should strive together toward the future defined by the vision.

Effective visions are not easy to craft. Visions are important for three reasons. An effective vision will provide clarity of direction. A clear direction provides everyone making or guiding the change with a clearer set of parameters to make decisions. When lean and Agile teams crisply define the goals of a sprint or Agile release train (SAFe), they are using the same technique to break through the clutter and focus the decision making process on achieving the their goal. Secondly, visions are important because they provide hope by describing a feasible outcome. A vision of what is perceived as a feasible outcome provides a belief that the pain of change be overcome. Finally, a vision provides alignment. Alignment keeps people moving in a common direction.

Kotter defines six characteristics of an effective vision.

  1. Imaginable – The people who consume the vision must be able to paint a rational picture in their mind of what the world will be like if the vision is attained.
  2. Desirable – The vision appeal to the long-term interests of those being asked to change.
  3. Feasible – The vision has to be attainable.
  4. Focused – The vision provide enough clarity and alignment to guide organizational decisions.
  5. Flexible – The vision must provide enough direction to guide but not enough to restrict individual initiative.
  6. Communicable – The vision must be consumable and understandable to everyone involved in the change process. Kotter further suggests that if a vision can’t be explained in five minutes it has failed the test of communicable.

In the third stage of the eight-stage model for change, Kotter drills deeply into the rationale and the definition of an effective vision.  Kotter defines strategy as the logic for how the vision will be attained.  An effectively developed vision makes the processes of defining the path (strategy) for attaining vision far less contentious. The attributes of an effective vision including being imaginable, feasible and focused provide enough of a set of constraints to begin the process of defining how the vision can be achieved.


“I never knew anybody . . . who found life simple. I think a life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details.” – Ursula K. Le GuinThe Birthday of the World and Other Stories

The act of measurement either reflects how work was done, how it is being done and what is possible in the future. A measurement framework that supports all of these goals is going to have to reflect some of the details and complexity that are found in the development (broad sense) environment. The simple Agile measurement framework uses the relationships between the areas of productivity, quality, predictability and value to account and reflect real world complexity and to help generate some balance. Each quadrant of the model interacts with the other to a greater or lesser extent. The following matrix maps the nuances between the quadrants.

Impact Matrix

Impact Matrix

The labor productivity quadrant most directly influences the value quadrant. Lower productivity (output per unit of effort) equates to higher costs and less value that can be delivered. Pressure to increase productivity and lower cost can cause higher levels of technical debt, therefore lower levels of quality. Erratic levels of productivity can be translated into time-to-market variability.

Predictability, typically expressed as velocity or time-to-market, most directly interacts with quality at two levels. The first is terms of customer satisfaction. Delivering functionality at a rate or date that is at odds with what is anticipated will typically have a negative impact on customer satisfaction (quality). Crashing the schedule to meet a date (and be perceived as predictable) will generally cause the team to cut corners, which yields technical debt and higher levels of defects. Lower quality is generally thought to reduce the perceived value of the functionality delivered.

Quality, measured as technical debit or delivered defects, has direct links to predictability (noted earlier) and value. The linkage from quality to value is direct. Software (or any other deliverable) that has lower quality than anticipated will be held in lower regard and be perceived as being less useful. We have noted a moderate relationship between labor productivity and quality through technical debt. This relationship can also be seen through the mechanism of fixing defects. Every hour spent fixing defects is an hour that would normally be spent developing or enhancing functionality.

Value, measure as business value or return on investment, is very strongly related to productivity and value (as noted earlier).

Based on the relationships we can see that a focus on a single area of the model could cause a negative impact on performance in a different quadrant. For example, a single minded focus on efficiency can lead to reduced value quality and more strongly less value to stakeholders. The model would suggest the need to measure and set performance level agreements for value if labor productivity is going to be stressed.

The simple Agile measurement framework provides a means to understand the relationships between the four macro categories of measurement that have been organized into quadrant. Knowledge of those relationships can help an organization or team to structure how they measure to ensure approach taken is balanced.


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