Poll JumpOne of the key elements of a successful Agile implementation is to be, or to become, a learning organization. This is the basis for being able to adapt.

This is why Scrum, for example, has numerous mechanisms to enhance learning.

However, it is important to understand what is learning, and what is not. 

First, it is important to understand the difference between Deliberate Practice and Deliberate Learning

In this article I first describe this difference. Thereafter I explain what makes Scrum's learning mechanisms work.


Deliberate Practice

This is a concept we are fairly familiar with - what is required to become:

  • A good runner?
  • A good pianist?
  • A good mathematician?
  • A good Scrum practitioner?

The answer is, of course, to practice.

To become a good runner, you want, how not surprising, to run frequently. You also want to follow a training program, including interval workouts, power workouts, muscle exercises, and so on.

To become a good mathematician you want to follow a math program, beginning with add and subtract, progress to multiples, fractions, gradually advance to powers, geometry, calculus, infinitesimal, and so on.

Well, you get the idea.

To become a good Scrum practitioner you want to gradually practice Scrum planning, daily, review and retrospective; relative estimations; servant leadership; agile requirements and so on.

After you persistently repeat many times, following a gradual process, you become an expert in running, piano playing, math or Scrum.

It is therefore implied that almost everything we call learning: sports, school, music, is actually practice. Not learning.

So what is learning?

Up until 1968 the 100m sprint world record was just over 10 seconds. It was considered an unbeatable barrier. In 1968 Jim Hines changed that, when he broke the barrier.

Up until July 13th 1985 a 6-meters pole-jump was considered unattainable. On that day, Sergey Bubka changed that, improving his own world record of 6.15, which was not broken for almost 21 years. When he first broke the 6.10m record he was quoted: "My jump was imperfect, my run-in was too short and my hands were too far back at takeoff. When I manage to iron out these faults, I am sure I can improve."

Practice is the basis for learning. This is most evident in the martial-arts concept of shuhari: First obey the rules, and practice to perfection; then break the rules and detach from your learning; then, when all moves are natural, transcend the physical.

Sadly, they don't, or hardly, teach you learning at school. In order to break the rules you must first know them, and then be able to experiment with them in an isolated manner, where failure is not catastrophic, and with enough understanding to figure out the results. If you are like most adults, the last time you were taught something of the kind is in kindergarten.

If you were lucky enough to become a member of a research lab, you might have been so lucky to learn at university.

Otherwise, you have practiced the scientific method on a scale of the-result-can-be-predicted experiments.

This is one of the reasons why Scrum is so hard. You must practice Scrum only to unlearn much of what you were previously taught, just to get to the starting point of the real benefits of Scrum.

What is learning in Scrum?

Scrum provides many opportunities for learning. For example:

  • Experimentation out of retrospectives
  • Experimentation in the form of requirements (POC, MVP, etc) during sprints
  • Enhancing Definition of Done with experimental concepts
  • Trying out engineering practices from one domain, and trying them on another

See a pattern here? Learning comes from experimentation.

To be able to succeed in experimentation, the team must first be able to isolate the experiment as much as possible from interferences.

And the way to do that is first to master Scrum.

Learn Scrum. Practice a lot. Practice experimentation. Experiment. Adapt. Exapt

So did Bubka and Hines. The enabler was to leave behind the limiting belief that something cannot be done.

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