Becoming a Great SAFe® Instructor

Safe Business Agility

Learning doesn’t just start in the classroom. It continues as learners take the knowledge they’ve gained and apply it to their role. So, how can SAFe instructors and trainers create a more powerful learning experience for the SAFe learners and give them the support they need to grow? In this episode, we turn to our Scaled Agile colleagues, Tamara Nation, director of product management, and Bill Sizemore, SAFe content advisor, for advice, tips, and stories from the field about how to become a great SAFe instructor.

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Learning doesn’t just start in the classroom. It continues as learners take the knowledge they’ve gained and apply it to their role. So, how can instructors and trainers create a more powerful learning experience and give learners the support they need to grow? In this episode, we turn to our Scaled Agile colleagues, Tamara Nation, director of product management, and Bill Sizemore, SAFe content advisor, for advice, tips, and stories from the field about how to become a great SAFe instructor.

Tamara and Bill discuss learning and training elements including:

  • Magic moments that create new perspectives and connections
  • Effective training methods based on their experiences
  • How to stay connected in virtual classes
  • Advice for people looking to improve their learning and teaching skills
  • The future of training

Follow these links to learn more about these topics discussed in the podcast:

Hosted by: Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, Melissa guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), and its mission. Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.

Guest: Tamara Nation

Tamara Nation - product management at Scaled Agile

As director of product management at Scaled Agile, Tamara is a results-driven servant leader with a proven track record of motivating high-performing teams to deliver positive outcomes in complex environments. She collaborates with her team of senior product managers, and other stakeholders, to identify and define customer needs, and understand customer and market dynamics to develop product vision, roadmap, and features to bring to market. Find Tamara on LinkedIn.

Guest: Bill Sizemore

SAFe Content Advisor at Scaled Agile - Bill Sizemore

Bill is a SAFe Content Advisor at Scaled Agile where he inspires people, teams, organizations, and companies to think differently. He taps into his extensive experience as an Agile coach and constantly seeks opportunities to mentor people, help them grow, and be better versions of themselves. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn.

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Looking for the latest news experiences and answers to questions about SAFe®. You’ve come to the right place. This podcast is for you, the safe community of practitioners, trainers, users, and everyone who engages SAFe on a daily basis.

Melissa Reeve:

Welcome to the SAFe Business Agility Podcast recorded from our homes around the world. I’m Melissa Reeve, your host for today’s episode. In this episode, we’ll share advice, tips, tricks, and stories from the field about how to become a great SAFe instructor. And if you aren’t a SAFe trainer, stay tuned as we teach others in our lives all the time. And the tips you hear on this might come in handy in other places in your life. Let’s get started. Bill let’s kick off with you. How did you become a trainer and how have you evolved as a trainer?

Bill Sizemore:

I actually have been training for many, many years, even before I moved in into Scaled Agile Framework and agility and software development. It’s been a part of my journey as a professional and even in my personal life, I’m always seeking opportunities to mentor people, help them grow, and learn to be better versions of themselves. Right? So in my previous role, I was the training lead and I used training from the back of room principles, right? As I worked in the classroom to help learners move on a journey of self-discovery, I believe it’s more important for them to discover the answer on their own; instead of impressing them with the knowledge that you might have as a trainer, let them discover it themselves. It’s a much more powerful learning experience that they’ll take beyond the classroom. After being the training lead for several years in my previous role, I pivoted from the classroom to the experience after the class, I realized that there was a bit of a gap, right?

So, I shifted my efforts to help learners move beyond the classroom. So, they finished a SAFe class, they get their certification, and what’s next? How do we help them grow in their role and build those muscles so that we can truly improve the flow of value across our enterprise? Right? So, I realized that we were missing some resources there and began to focus on our efforts on how to practice at scale, to take those concepts and competencies that we taught in the classroom, and then break them down into small, bite-size chunks in a 40-minute or an hour-long session to grow and really begin to build those muscles.

Melissa Reeve:

You said something that was really key to me, and it resonated, you know, there’s that, that old saying that says, you know, “tell me something, I’ll forget; show me something I may remember and involve me. I’ll truly understand.” And it sounds like you very quickly realized that in order to get that retention, in order to get that interaction, you needed to, your learners into a place of self-discovery, where they were truly interacting with that content.

Bill Sizemore:

That’s very true. It can be rewarding to impress people with your knowledge. But what happens to me as a trainer, when I see someone discover the answer on their own, it’s not only a more powerful learning experience for them, but I find it extremely rewarding because then I’ve helped them grow personally. Right. And discover the answer on their own. And it’s much more rewarding for me to help them move down that road than it is to impress them with knowledge. Right?

Melissa Reeve:

I agree with you. So Tamara, talk me about your journey. How did you get into training?

Tamara Nation:

Yeah, my mother would say it started when I was six years old, and I sat my sisters down in the basement and started teaching them. So, she wasn’t at all surprised that I started training in my adult career and I loved it. I love what Bill was talking about, which I think of as the magic moment. That magic moment when there’s a spark, when somebody sees something from a new perspective or learns something new or makes a connection in class about the topic or about some new concept. That is so much fun for me, I love that part. So, I don’t get to train as much as I used to. As I moved into product management, I get to work on how to build great classes now. So that’s how my training experience has been evolving. And I get to, you know, work with instructional designers and professionals in that realm to build modern learning approaches to things inside the SAFe environment.

Some of the things that we have been working on are ways to improve the training experience and are things that I was using to become a better trainer. Like how to review feedback scores and how to interact with the class and elicit feedback throughout the course through different types of assets that we’ve been creating, or different types of resources that we’ve been creating, like knowledge checks. Right? So, we added this ability to start to query the learners in class about their progress through a particular lesson. And that was something that I saw one of my colleagues do in the field. And it was amazing. Because you got to see those magic moments happen so much more quickly or clearly when we’re asking real, specific questions as we move along through the class.

Melissa:

Yeah. And I think that was an aha moment for me. I mean, I’ve spent 20 years in education and training, but I remember when I first came into the field, it was an aha moment to hear about things like instructional designers. Like, it had never really occurred to me that there’s a whole discipline behind how to structure content, how to structure learning, and how to present that. Do you want to share a little peek behind the curtain and talk about how we approach learning here at Scaled Agile?

Tamara Nation:

So, we use the learning cluster design approach internally and that’s been pioneered and really synthesized by two experts in the field. They wrote a book; they have a pretty significant impact in that instructional design community. And we’re really excited about that approach.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah, and we’ll go ahead and we’ll put that in the show notes if anybody wants to follow up on that learning cluster design. And I get what you’re saying about the magic moment, you know, and for me, some of those magic moments have been when we all start learning from each other. Because I think both of you would agree that as a trainer, you never walk out of a class where you also don’t learn something.

Tamara Nation:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. There’s the learning about yourself, like how I’m showing up in the moment as a trainer, and then how I’m handling tough questions or the challenges that inevitably show up in any kind of training class. And I think it’s also the kind of endless curiosity and capacity that people have to learn. I think that it’s like renewed learning every time I teach a class.

Melissa Reeve:

So, it feels like, you know, of course, however long ago, is at 18 months, 24 months, I don’t even know how long it’s been since COVID—it feels like the never-ending COVID. But it certainly has caused Scaled Agile, and I know many others, to rethink their approach to training and engage in remote learning. And Bill, I’d be interested to hear how remote learning has impacted your approach to training and what adjustments you had to do.

Bill Sizemore:

Yeah. When COVID hit, I have to say, we took a step back and for a couple weeks we thought, OK, this’ll pass <laugh> right? And then it didn’t. And then we waited a little bit longer and it was persistent and here we are now, but after about three weeks of that, we had to make the decision as a training team. Are we going to be remain relevant and impact our customers and impact our transformation at our company? Or are we going to become obsolete? So, we chose to be relevant, and we had to dig in to understand what it takes to teach a class virtually. You know, one of the things that I discovered early on, and I actually shared this when I had a voice of the customer before I came on board here. I did a session on how to read the room when you’re not in it, because after a little while we were like, “how are we going to understand what our learners are experiencing?”

If we’re not in the room with them, we can’t see their body language necessarily. And even though you’ve asked them to have their cameras turned on, they don’t often have them turned on—their camera’s broke or they’ve got something else going on and they’re doing other things. And so you have to run with that, but it became very challenging with our learners, right? So, we had to do things like listen for engagement from folks in the session and those less-dynamic voices in the room, make sure we’re pulling them into the conversation. In the breakout sessions, having somebody in those breakout sessions from our team who was good at pulling them in and making sure that they’re inclusive in the discussion. So, we had to do a lot of things around that. And then of course you ask yourself the question, “how good do we want to get at this?” Right? You know, because honestly, my feeling is that nothing beats face-to-face training. But the reality of our world is that we’re probably headed toward a hybrid approach that we need to focus on. Right? And so, there are other challenges that come along with that, that we could unpack as well.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah, as I was listening to you, I was thinking about not only the people who are training, who might be listening to this, but also just in my everyday life. I think a lot of the things you brought up could be applicable. You know, if you’re in a room or you’re in a meeting at work and it’s your meeting, be sure to listen to the quiet voices as well. Look for that engagement and try and read the room because that will help you determine, probably the effectiveness of the meeting, but also how people feel about that meeting. So, I really like the guidance that you’ve given there.

Tamara Nation:

That’s a tricky one, Melissa, because I can think about times that I’ve called people out in meetings like, “oh, hey Melissa, what’s going on?” And then they ended up being distracted. So, that is something that we’ve, we’ve seen in both meetings and the training, there’s this particular challenge in the work-from-home environment where who knows what kind of distractions are happening for folks. I’ve met all my colleagues’ pets and children. And that’s certainly a huge treat, but that may not be the most conducive thing to an effective training environment. So, we’ve seen some of our SAFe trainers develop some really amazing home studios and different types of noise mitigation techniques in the remote environment. I’ve certainly seen people upgrade all their microphones and lighting in the field. So, all of those things I think are in service to the learner. So, the great instructors that we get to work with are doing this because they know the training’s not about them. So, yes, they look better, and they sound better, but that’s because it’s so hard to concentrate at home with all those distractions. So, just a really clear voice, a well-lit screen, a well-lit speaker, well-presented material—that all helps engage folks and accelerate that learning that can be … it definitely is more challenging in the remote environment.

Melissa Reeve:

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. So, do you feel Tamara, you talked about those, those people who are easily distracted and you know, I think all three of us have been there where you’re calling on somebody whose camera is off and, and they’re not responding. So, I’m going to posit something, and I’d like your reaction to it, which is, do you feel like there’s less judgment in this remote world to things like kids and pets and distractions and noises than perhaps there was before everybody went remote?

Tamara Nation:

I don’t know. Let me think about that a second. I mean, certainly for me, I feel more connected to my colleagues. So, I know that people worry about that but getting to meet people’s family partners, children, pets, see their homes. I think I know them better. So perhaps there’s more empathy and that drives less judgment.

Melissa Reeve:

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Yeah. It’s cool. I agree, to get to know more about the people we work with. Bill, what’s your take?

Bill Sizemore:

You know, that’s a really a powerful statement Tamara, to think about the fact that when we moved into a 100% virtual environment and working situation, did we think that our relationships would actually improve? I would venture to say that at the beginning of that, we probably would’ve said, this is going to be much more challenging to be effective in the work that we do. But we were resilient. And in that, we got to your point, we got to know each other better. We got to know people’s pets, you know, someone’s cat walks across the screen on the desk, right. I’ve seen that in meetings over and over again. And so, we get to know each other on a different level. So, we’re taking that and leveraging it in our relationship. Not necessarily consciously, it’s a byproduct of the environment that we’re in. And if we can find our way to a hybrid model in this new way of working in the state of the world that we’re in, we may find some great, positive results in response to that.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah. Thanks for that, Bill. So, we’ve been talking a lot about trainers and the trainers’ point of view. Let’s flip the table around and start to talk about learners. Tamara, what advice can you share with learners about staying engaged in these virtual classes?

Tamara Nation:

Well, the first thing that comes to mind there is ask questions or write them down. Like start to create a list of questions that you have for the instructor, for your colleagues, things you need, want to get answered when you’re back on the job, and just be really curious. I mean, that’s just a life perspective, right? Curiosity. But being really curious in the class is one way that we find helps folks stay really engaged in the moment. The other things I could think about that really drive engagement for myself and for others in the class, things we’ve seen some data on are, “how do I want to follow up with additional learning?” So, we often find that the class is just a first step, right? In fact, they’re written and designed to be the first step in a SAFe journey.

So, what’s my next step. So, starting to think about, well, this is an area that I need to explore, learn more about when I get back on the job. Or I want to partner with someone to get better at facilitating a retro or conducting a specific kind of workshop that we have in SAFe, like value stream identification. So, kind of what additional learning. And then the other thing that I can think of that I’ve heard folks use to their advantage is to start to engage with the videos. So, we’ve created a large number of well-produced videos for the SAFe community, and those are really popular. So, kind of looking through that and trying to figure out what that next learning is, maybe just watching a video is another way to kind of stay engaged in class.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah. What I heard you say was, as a learner, you know, there’s absorbing the content, and there’s understanding the content, and then there’s something that has to happen beyond the classroom, which is applying what you’ve learned. And so, if you can bring that stage into your classroom experience, and as you’re hearing something, think about “how am I going to apply this in the real world, in my life? That really helps your brain stay tuned in to what’s being presented.

Tamara Nation:

Yeah, absolutely. I think you’ve said it better, Melissa <laugh>.

Melissa Reeve:

Well, thank you, Tamara. So, Bill, how about you? You know, I know you’ve dealt with a lot of learners. What, tips do you have for the learners out there?

Bill Sizemore:

This is actually one of my favorite questions. When I am training, which I haven’t had the luxury of doing. And I said luxury because I love training people. I’ll usually close out the class with some comments in this space. And I understand that we throw a lot of material at our learners in a short timeframe, and they feel like they’re drinking from the fire hydrant, and they leave there thinking they have to go solve world hunger. And my message to our learners is that “no, you don’t have to go solve world hunger.” Pick something that we talked about in here that might resonate with you, and whether you apply it to your work or your personal life, try to apply it and move the needle just a little bit to make your situation or your life better in some way.

And then, if we all do that and we do that collectively, we can then collectively begin to move those bigger mountains, right? An example would be you go into a large company that might have 250,000 employees, the big question or constrains you hear, or impediment that you hear is will never solve the funding model. It’s always going to get in the way of us doing this work. And they’re right. The people in this room in this class won’t be able to solve that. But if each person who takes a little something and moves the needle in their personal experience, and it impacts the world around them, collectively we’ll move those big mountains in those funding models together. But it begins with us taking action on just one concept. And once you feel like you’ve moved on that, grab a hold of something else and begin to apply that to your work.

Melissa Reeve:

Well, what I’m hearing you say, Bill is take an Agile approach and do small incremental changes.

Bill Sizemore:

Yes, exactly.

Melissa Reeve:

Lovely, yeah. And just to throw my hat into the ring here, something that I’ve found as a trainer is setting expectations up front. That we are all here to learn from each other. And just because I’m leading this class or serving as the primary facilitator, that doesn’t mean I have all the stories. That doesn’t mean I have all the answers and having people contribute their stories really can add to that engagement and enrich the class. So, now I’m going to ask you to peer into your crystal balls and give me some thoughts about what you think the future of training and teaching look like. Tamara, why don’t we start with you?

Tamara Nation:

Oh, the future is hybrid. So, I think that that was already the trend. I mean, we were seeing all kinds of remote and hybrid PI Planning events. The big change for the SAFe community was the move to all remote with COVID. But now we’re seeing all of the advantages to what we might call blended learning. So, using e-learning before the class to start to prepare, to develop cohort-based classes. So, we have two cohort-based classes that are shortly to be released. And what that means is the class will last several weeks. There’ll be instructor-led portions where you’re conducting them in a group, and then there’s some homework and practice that happens between sessions. And then you come back to the same group and the same instructor, and then you continue the discussion and the learning. So, definitely the future of SAFe learning is all about the hybrid model. Like, people mixing in-person and remote, mixing different types of learning modalities, like e-learning, cohort-based learning, social learning. It’s still our favorite instructor-led learning and training of all types.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah, I can see a huge advantage to that, this multi-modal approach where you can really optimize the learning for the mode that is most appropriate for what you’re teaching. Maybe video is that, maybe in-person is that, maybe it’s e-learning. Whatever it is, I can really see the power in that. Bill, what about you? What do you think the future looks like?

Bill Sizemore:

I agree. I think the future is a hybrid model. But it’s not going to be without some challenges. Right. Our folks that are training in facilitating sessions are going to have to be experts at facilitating. An example would be when you’re in a hybrid model and you’ve got some students in the room with you, and you also have people remote. You can’t, unless you have a camera that tracks you in the room, you won’t be able to move from the podium because then the remote folks are looking at a blank wall or something else where the camera is focused to. The other piece is dynamic conversation. The people in the room, while they’re talking, it’s hard for a voice on a microphone from a conference call to interrupt that dialogue. So, the instructors, the trainers, the facilitators, are going to have to get really good at facilitating so that the remote learners don’t feel like their experience is less than the people in the room. And that’s going to take some growth and some digging in to really understand how to be a good facilitator.

Melissa Reeve:

Yeah. And I can see the seeds of that. You know, I I’ve seen, for example, those cameras that sit in the middle of a conference room table and, you know, you’ve got, I think it’s called an owl or something like that where it can; it’s got a 360 view of the table. And the audio is responding in a much more responsive way for the remote folks. So, I think there might be a technology component to making this work as well.

Tamara Nation:

Yes, multiplex sound <laugh> you always need it. So, the idea that you can hear two people. That’s the power of a multiplex sound. So, yeah. Upgrading, continuing to upgrade our home equipment, I think, is money well spent in this hybrid world.

Melissa Reeve:

Totally agree. Yeah, and while we’ve focused a lot on, and we’ve offered up some great tips for trainers and people who are learning, I do want to emphasize that if you are looking to improve your training abilities, Tamara mentioned it earlier, there is the SAFe® Community Platform. There are a lot of great videos out there and resources, guides, et cetera, on remote training, tips on remote training, just how to get the most out of your classroom. Bill, Tamara, it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you today.

Bill Sizemore:

Thanks, Melissa. It was my pleasure to be here. Yeah.

Tamara Nation:

Thanks for having us.

Melissa Reeve:

And thanks for listening to our show today. You can find even more helpful links about topics we covered today in the show notes at scaledagile.com/podcast. Be sure to revisit past topics at scaledagile.com/podcast.

Speaker 1:

Relentless improvement is in our DNA and we welcome your input on how we can improve the show. Drop us a line at podcast@scaledagile.com.

How I Prepared to Teach My First Remote SAFe Class

Teach My First Remote SAFe Class

In March 2020, I co-taught my first SAFe® class. I made a big course Kanban board on the wall with each lesson and designed flip charts for feedback. I printed out the entire trainer guide (trees, RIP) and took physical notes on each page and lesson I was accountable for presenting. I printed and cut out all of the features and stories for the PI Planning simulation, divided up the pennies, and organized the room with pens and sticky notes.

I still have the “business executive” visor I like to show off to friends. Little did we know, those few days teaching that course were our last days in the office together.

In March 2021, I co-taught my first remote SAFe class. I didn’t print out or physically organize a single thing, but I did spend a lot of time preparing: I’d say three to four times as much. This time it was browser tabs, online tools, email messages, and files. And since this was my first teaching environment for any subject in a remote space, I had a lot to learn and explore. 

Luckily, I wasn’t completely alone in my exploration. The SAFe® Community Platform centralized a lot of the resources and information I needed to make the class a success. 

Scaled Agile-provided Preparation

Course enablement. Just as with in-person teaching, mastering the content before teaching it is vital. Listening to SAFe experts discuss the intent of each lesson and subsequently passing the exam was a great (and mandatory) first step.

Remote Trainer Badge. Taking this learning plan helped prime my mind for teaching in a remote context. It gave me confidence and allowed me to see opportunities in teaching remote rather than just its limitations. I got tips from some of SAFe’s best trainers on creative ways to teach, appropriate adjustments, and reframed expectations. For example, even with a pre-course webinar to prepare your students and yourself for the tools and technology to use in class, you should still have a plan A, plan B, and plan C, because anything can happen. 

The SAFe® Virtual Classroom. With Virtual Classroom, I didn’t need to find a collaboration tool, buy a subscription, rebuild all of the activities, and have my students register for it. In one click and with no extra effort, my activities were set. Thank goodness for Virtual Classroom! I could spend my precious time elsewhere instead of tediously recreating activities and adding, copying, and pasting every user story in the PI Planning simulation.

Knowledge-check questions. At the beginning of every trainer guide, there’s a link to a set of quiz questions associated with each lesson written in the style of the certification exam. Right now, it’s still a bit tedious to transfer all of the knowledge-check questions and answers to a polling tool, but this ended up being a highlight for several of our students. It was a great review of each lesson and was a good litmus test to give confidence that the students were learning and retaining information. 

Self-guided Preparation

Reviewing each slide. Getting very comfortable with the content and flow of the course is important to me. This largely means going through each slide and adding notes for stories, metaphors, and analogies—no trees harmed this time. Taking the time to get creative with the content enabled me to set up jokes and prepare realia props to surprise and delight students.

Preparing each activity. This may seem tedious and redundant, but really getting clear on the activities and exactly how they will be performed set both me and my students up for success. The virtual space can be confusing sometimes, so getting crystal clear on resources, breakout rooms, timeboxes, and objectives is key, especially when there are a few ways to run activities. 

Virtual audience engagement research. This means Google searching and YouTube browsing about how to make a remote class effective and fun. I wanted to get suggestions from experts in the general business of video conferencing, from webinars to interactive courses. I learned about alternatives to slide decks, relevant icebreakers, and online tools to keep the class on track. 

Was the class 100% perfect? No. But I went in feeling prepared, taking advantage of several available resources. I took risks and tried new things. And ultimately, I learned from the experience.

I discovered that remote teaching is nothing to be afraid of. For many people like me, it’s simply something new, something different, and something with which to experiment, have fun, and fail fast. In the words of one of my favorite professors, “The best teachers are the ones who try.” So, get caught trying.

About Emma Ropski

Emma Ropski is a certified SAFe 5 Program Consultant and scrum master

Emma is a certified SAFe 5 Program Consultant and scrum master at Scaled Agile. As a lifelong learner and teacher, she loves to illustrate, clarify, and simplify helpful concepts to keep all teammates and students of SAFe engaged.

View all posts by Emma Ropski

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Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe – Benefits of SAFe

Welcome to the final post in our series on learning networks. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the power of informal learning networkshow informal learning networks emerge, and how to uncover these networks in your own organization. In this post, I’ll explain how to connect your learning networks with SAFe®.

Benefits of SAFe

I like to think of these learning networks as essential tools in the toolbox of a SAFe enterprise as it works to create a continuous learning culture. Formal events are valuable, intentional, and complement a shift from formal to informal learning opportunities. Creating learning—or serendipitous—moments catalyze a change in mindset with curiosity at the forefront.

A Learning Mindset

Everyone is always learning, all the time, and creating a continuous learning culture is paramount to acknowledging that. 

The informal learning networks I’ve been describing align nicely with the three dimensions of a continuous learning culture.

  • Become a learning organization. Formal and informal learning networks can help you get there. Informal learning networks are a grassroots-level way to create a learning organization, without anyone actually realizing it. 
  • Create an innovation culture. Do your teams have the time and space to work on different, unique things and learn from each other? People in these networks are meeting, learning, and innovating together.
  • Cultivate a relentless improvement mindset. People in these informal learning networks are curious and always looking to get better at what they’re doing. Relentless improvement is how they think and part of who they are, and they’re meeting, learning, and improving together. 
Connect Your Learning Networks to SAFe

Creating a continuous learning culture is about more than learning how to code in a new system. People want to learn how to coach their leaders, how to mentor people, how to share what they’ve learned, and how to become lifelong learners in the process. And this culture enables people in a Lean-Agile enterprise to solve challenges behind the scenes. In my last post, I wrote about how people in informal learning networks aren’t interested in recognition. They’re passionate about learning new things and applying what they’ve learned to the enterprise. They seek out others with the same mindset, and that’s how the learning mindset and culture grows which is better for any organization and its success without doing much.

How SAFe Promotes Learning Networks

The fact that an organization has adopted SAFe in the first place is a catalyst for promoting these learning networks. So, where in SAFe do these learning networks appear? And where are the opportunities for informal learning networks to emerge as enterprises adopt SAFe, business agility and sustain their transformation over time? Let’s do some exploring.

Communities of practice

The best communities of practice (CoPs) I participate in don’t have a full, formal agenda. Instead, they leave space for thoughts and ideas to surface. CoPs don’t exist for people in similar roles to get together once a month with a guest speaker. Rather, they exist to organically create tremendous learning opportunities and thriving social networks. 

Before I left my last enterprise, I was an SPC at the time, and I started a CoP for all the SPCs across the organization. There were a lot of us, and I’m still active in a few informal learning networks that started from this CoP, as well as other CoPs that crossed organizational boundaries. Many informal networks start from the most casual conversations and events, some with just a few people, and expand from there—within and outside the organization.

Benefits of SAFe

Continuous learning culture

Fostering a continuous learning culture isn’t about checking boxes, bringing in external trainers, or transactional learning. It’s about tying these elements together from formal and informal events. And I remember being part of an organization that was great at this. 

One time in particular, there was a fairly large internal Agile conference organized in one of our Texas offices. As a speaker for this event, I got to meet so many other coaches and agilists from business units that I didn’t even know existed in our enterprise. It was an amazing experience. The event launched numerous social networks that turned into learning networks for me—many that I’m still part of. Other times, less-formal events would just emerge. Events like unplanned coaching clinics we’d spin up to help associates discover growth areas that they could focus on within their role. A lot of mentoring relationships even grew from some of these. Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of available learning networks to lean into. Once I joined them, my traditional perspective about having to go outside of my organization to learn just disappeared.

IP iteration

The innovation and planning (IP) iteration is a perfect opportunity to build and expand informal networks. People typically have more time and space to explore and focus on something other than their day-to-day work. Oftentimes, we see leaders try to take this iteration off the schedule and go directly from one PI to another. There isn’t a pause for innovation or learning or preparing for the next PI. This is why I think the IP iteration is non-negotiable and should be a promise that all leaders make to their ARTs.

I’ve seen so many learning networks emerge during IP iterations, including from hackathons. After the hackathon demo, people that are curious about the outcome and want to lean in and help take it forward, often (quite informally) start a learning network.  Maybe they put some stories on a backlog. Maybe they decide to extend the network to more people outside of their teams and ARTs. That’s exactly how these networks start and grow.

What’s so great about learning networks is that you can meet with anyone from anywhere internal and external to your organization. You can create a protected space where people can connect and find new ways to improve their skills. Everyone can learn together from practicing SAFe.

Informal Learning Networks: Find One. Join One. Start One.

I participate in a number of informal networks. Some of them originated from past enterprises where I worked. Some of them originated from Agile conferences. Some of them originated from other formal facilitation groups that I’m part of. But they all share a key characteristic: the only constraints that exist are the ones that we may place on them ourselves.

At one time, I had four mentors that emerged from my learning networks. And from each one of those relationships, I created new, informal learning networks. I couldn’t wait to keep sharing what I learned, including practicing new skills. I wasn’t the only one who had external mentors, so I got to learn from others in the networks too. By joining all these learning networks, I sharpen my skills, and extend them in areas where it used to take me twice as long to do something. But now that I’ve learned from others, I can work smarter. The biggest benefit? It doesn’t actually feel like work when you’re part of a learning network.

In the first post I wrote for this series, I described the moment when I shifted from being a transactional learner to a lifelong learner after my leader told me to, “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” In your quest to be a lifelong learner, I expect that many of you are already part of an informal learning network—you probably just didn’t have a name for it.

I challenge and encourage you to find someone in your enterprise who’s interested in the area that your learning network is currently exploring. Invite them to collaborate with you. Although these networks are informal, they’re still open to everyone.

Here’s my advice around finding, joining, and creating a learning network:

  • Be curious.
  • Seek out a learning network. Find out how it started and what members are learning about. I can almost guarantee you won’t find a calendar entry for it.
  • Join a learning network. But not the first one you come across. Find one whose members are exploring and learning something you’re passionate about.
  • Start a learning network. All of us have topics that really excite us. What’s the one thing you spend your weekends learning more about? And how can you contribute your knowledge, expertise, and experience to help others learn? Start a learning network by bringing what you know into your daily collaborations at work. Chances are once you start sharing what you’re learning, people will come to you.

I truly believe that learning networks are a best-kept secret in organizations. Primarily because they catalyze learning and help organizations cultivate a continuous learning culture. What will you learn next?

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

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Uncovering Your Organization’s Hidden Learning Networks – Agility Planning

 Learning Networks

Welcome to the third post in our series on learning networks. In previous posts, we’ve discussed the power of informal learning networks and how informal learning networks emerge. In this post, I’ll share how you can uncover these networks in your own organization. Chances are they exist; they’re just not necessarily in plain sight.

I’ve found that people in learning networks aren’t in them to put themselves in the spotlight. They’re interested in sharing what they’ve learned and learned from others. If that’s the case, how do you find these people and networks? It’s actually what you find around these people that will give you some clues.

Be curious: listen for hints of learning

Have any of these scenarios ever played out in your own organization?

  • Impediments that mysteriously disappear without any leadership involvement and people are asking “Who fixed this?”
  • Teams and ARTs delivering work that they’ve never had the skills to work on before.
  • Casual mention of “People in this business unit do this,” or “I learned that if we …” or “Did you know that …”

Informal learning networks help agility planning, solve real business and operational problems, often without anyone else knowing anything about it.

Be curious: explore the most unlikely of places

Now, think about that one business unit, team, or department where there’s low attrition, lots of innovation happening, and lots of employee excitement. 

Being a curious person myself, I remember looking across the landscape of my enterprise and noticing one specific Agile release train (ART) with about 145 people that had absolutely zero attrition, for a very long time. Nobody wanted to leave. They were completely engaged and enjoyed their work so much that people stayed, even when tempted by attractive opportunities elsewhere. Around the same time period, I also observed another ART that had the opposite environment. Picture a revolving door at the entrance. This ART struggled to keep people and couldn’t replace them fast enough to stay on track with their commitments.

As I reflected on my observations, two things became very clear. One ART was learning and one wasn’t. And that meant that one ART had informal learning networks and one didn’t. The people on the first ART I described, which I call the learning ART, were learning from every single place they could, internal and external. And they were bringing in what they learned and sharing it with their coworkers. “Just keep doing what you’re doing” wasn’t even part of the conversation.

This is exactly why I encourage you to explore and ask the question, “Does anyone know this technology, this Agile skill, etc.?” Explore outside of your specific area as you seek opportunities to accelerate your learning journey. Spend time not only with your teams and ARTs but with leaders in other areas—even those completely outside of your business unit. Taking that leap to start connecting with people in other business units is a crucial first step. Inquire about what they’ve learned, what they’re learning, and where they’re learning it from. Even just sitting down for a cup of coffee (in person or virtually) and talking to someone can be the best way to find these learning networks. Which, by the way, might be hidden from direct view but aren’t secret. 

Be curious: engage the people-connectors

As I alluded to earlier in this post, people in learning networks truly want to learn something and share it to mentor others, so, chances are they’re willing to tell you about everything they’re learning. I like to call them the people-connectors. These are the people that seem to know everybody, are curious, and are part of at least one internal learning network—which they probably started themselves.

Learning Networks

Here’s an example of a typical conversation with a people connector.

Person 1: “We need to learn this skill.”

Person 2:  “Maybe we could bring someone in to teach us.”

People-connector: “I know someone on team K who has this skill and who’d be happy to teach it to you.”

Think about it: what you’ll remember most about that conversation is not how you got the connection but the learning you received from it. People-connectors are motivated to share what they’ve learned to better the organization. The more they connect people and share, the more they learn from others too. 

Find and join a learning network  

One of the best benefits I’ve experienced working within large enterprises is that there are lots of people in various business units to connect with while on your learning journey. Many of us, including me, have unknowingly added constraints to our thinking about who we should collaborate with, such as people in our general area of business. A world of learning awaits as soon as you remove those constraints and find ways to connect with people in other areas.

But don’t stop there. Seek out others outside of your enterprise that has common learning goals and start a learning network with them. I’m in a variety of learning networks with people all over the world—and each of them started with one conversation or interaction.

Now that you know where to find these networks, read the final post in my blog series about how to connect your learning networks with SAFe.

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

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Taking the Sting Out of Remote Teaching with Scaled Agile’s Virtual Classroom

The backstory

Scaled Agile’s Virtual Classroom

Due to the global pandemic, almost overnight, we had to convert all 2020 SAFe® classes to virtual delivery. I’m most proud of how the worldwide SAFe community came together and experimented to figure out remote delivery. My contribution was to imagine the class experience and determine how to help instructors facilitate learning activities remotely. We came up with remote training aids which were simple slide templates for each activity that groups could collaborate indirectly. It was an early stage MVP in our journey to evolve remote learning.  

Remote was not for the faint of heart

As instructors, we had to figure out the tooling and how to set up those templates for the class. I remember when I remotely delivered new Lean Portfolio Management Alpha and Beta classes, it took me close to 30 hours to set up the activities and groups for each class. Delivering back-to-back classes, while good for our work, was exhausting because setup activities would bleed into our evenings and weekends. I could definitely understand why some SPCs were hesitant to venture into remote delivery.

The virtual classroom evolution

We kept experimenting with different formats and tools in class, and learning with each one how to make the experience better. We started to use SAFe® Collaborate, our cloud-based visual workspace, to standardize the activity templates. Early feedback was positive about the learning and ideation experience. But attendees still felt that having too many windows open was distracting and tedious, especially during activities with short timeboxes. For instructors, it took time to set up these templates for each group and class. And while we were able to automate a portion of the setup via script, that wasn’t the case for course updates. Instructors still had to revise class activities when Scaled Agile introduced a new class version.

During a hackathon at Scaled Agile, colleagues built an interactive virtual classroom prototype in SAFe Collaborate that solved the navigation and usability challenges. 

This hackathon idea won first place and got approved as a feature during our next PI Planning.  

Scaled Agile’s Virtual Classroom

Virtual classroom for the win

I recently taught my very first class using our virtual classroom, and it was such a wonderful experience. I’ve switched from being a sceptic to a fan because it’s so awesome! All the templates were indexed by lesson, well organized, and easily accessible for both students and teachers. Students could quickly navigate to their own group activity and even browse around to see what other groups were doing.

The learning experience was much richer and more fun for the students, especially when we got to the PI Planning simulation. The best part for me as an instructor? I could set up the class and groups with a single action! I simply showed up to class, clicked a button to designate the number of groups, and started teaching.

Lean Agile Centers of Excellence (LACEs) and SPCs that need to update templates with every course upgrade will score an even bigger win with the virtual classroom experience. Scaled Agile now provides the activity templates and automatically updates them when new course versions are released. This is a huge value and time saver. 

If you’re an SPC or a LACE member, I encourage you to try our virtual classroom in your next class. Just select “SAFe Virtual Classroom” as you set up your next remote class, and explore the different activities. Or, watch the remote trainer enablement video to see a demo.

If you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to go back!

About Deema Dajani

Deema Dajani is a Certified SAFe® Program Cons

Deema Dajani is a Certified SAFe® Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT).
Drawing on her successful startup background and an MBA from Kellogg Northwestern University, Deema helps large enterprises thrive through successful Agile transformations. Deema is passionate about organizing Agile communities for good, and helped co-found the Women in Agile nonprofit. She’s also a frequent speaker at Agile conferences and most recently contributed to a book on business agility.

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Three Ways Informal Learning Networks Emerge

Welcome to the second post in our series on learning networks. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read the first post to get caught up.

So, how exactly does an informal learning network emerge? There are three different ways that I’d like to share with you. 

Learningful conversations

Learningful conversations

The first comes as a result of a ‘learningful’ conversation. I first discovered these while reading the book The Lean Machine by Dantar Oosterwall. Learningful conversations balance two key elements:

  • Advocacy, where you state your point of view and ideas
  • Inquiry, where you ask someone about their point of view and encourage them to ask about yours

Learningful conversations are fundamental to dialogue because they’re not one-sided. They lead to experiments and curiosity to learn from others. Here’s an example.

Picture a development team that wants to present a new technology as an option to implement a feature currently being refined. A team member learned about this new technology from a close colleague in another business unit. She shared everything she knew about how this technology would work, then paused to ask what others thought of it. Just that one question opened up several conversations, more ideas, and other possible options. Once other teams heard about this, a few people requested to be involved in exploring the technology.

Learning moments

Learningful conversations often lead to learning moments, something I came upon in the book Organizational Learning and Performance by Ryan Smerek. Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40, developed the concept of a learning moment, “… an opportunity to grow from the experience of our colleagues, who are free to report back to us.”

I’ve personally experienced more of these learning moments than I can count. And the most profound ones, the most impactful ones, were those where teams came forward and said, “We made a mistake that we’d like to share, along with what we learned from it.”

I remember once where a team member pulled something out of production the night before the release and forgot to put it back in. Rather than trying to somehow conceal it, he came in front of our ART leadership first thing in the morning and explained what happened. Most important, he shared what he learned from it, as well as how the team would change its processes and the way they’d work together to avoid this in the future. Not only was that a brave move but the team member’s transparency was the number one thing leadership remembers about that team. It was so profound, in fact, that the leaders still use that example in ARTs across the enterprise.

Learning moments

Now, imagine you just heard someone share a learning moment like that and it was relevant to an area that you’re curious about or would like to grow in. Maybe something similar has happened to you. Imagine afterwards that you had a conversation with that person and they were open to teaching you about what they learned. That’s another way a learning network can emerge.

Aha moments

So, the first two ways I described how informal learning networks emerge relate to interactions with others. But there’s another way that these networks form that’s even more personal: the aha moment. 

“… any sudden comprehension, realization, or problem solution that involves a reorganization of the elements of a person’s mental representation of a stimulus, situation, or event to yield a nonobvious or nondominant interpretation.” —John Kounios & Mark Beeman 

Personally, I’m always on a quest for aha moments. Every time I go for a run, I work through things in my mind, and when that aha moment emerges, I wonder how I didn’t see that before. Then I start thinking about the next opportunity where I can share it.

CoPs and classes

OK, I lied. I actually have two more ways learning networks can emerge, but these two are more formal. One is from a community of practice (CoP). 

While participating in a CoP, you might have a conversation with a colleague who’s interested in learning more about a skill you have, or vice versa, and you start to share and learn together. Listen for conversations that start with, “We don’t do that in our area. Maybe we could get together and I can learn from you.” The same types of conversations happen during meetups, too.

CoPs and Classes

Another formal way is through classes. You’ve probably been in a training or workshop where you and other students are having conversations and forming social networks  that actually create learning networks. I was teaching a class a few years ago and another trainer from a different business unit and corporate location asked to observe my class. She happened to be in an informal learning network with me and wanted to learn from our business unit and how we did things. The coolest part of this whole experience? Not only did she learn a lot about our area within the organization but all of the class participants learned from her, too. This is how the start of an informal learning network generates opportunities to create a formal one where you can recruit even more people to join you on your learning journey.

Start experimenting

I hope that after reading this, you’re inspired to experiment with some of these techniques. Start by engaging people in a learningful conversation. The next time you’re trying to solve a problem, create a new solution, or present one of your ideas, share an idea (any idea) that you have with a colleague and ask them what they think about it. More likely than not, other ideas will emerge from the interaction. WARNING: Once you have your first learningful conversation, it’s easy to become slightly preoccupied with them. 

Now that you know how learning networks emerge, read my next post about how to uncover them.

About Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston

Audrey Boydston is a senior consultant at Scaled Agile and an experienced SPCT, Lean-Agile coach, trainer, and facilitator. Her work focuses on continuous learning, building fundamentals, re-orienting around principles, and helping clients—from senior executives to developers—build networks and communities that support their transformations.

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Continuous Learning, Design Thinking and Customer Centricity – Agile for Business

Safe Business Agility

Learn how continuous learning helps leaders lead the change, how one organization embraced a culture of continuous learning for proper business agility, how design thinking drives innovation and suggestions for becoming more empathetic with the customer.

Click the “Subscribe” button to subscribe to the SAFe Business Agility podcast on Apple Podcasts

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SAFe in the News

Raytheon CIO: Continuous learning starts with IT leaders

By Kevin Neifert, Chief Information Officer for Raytheon

Full article

SAFe in the Trenches

Hear Joe Vallone discuss the importance of creating a continuous learning culture and examples of an organization that was able to achieve this.

To learn more about the Continuous Learning competency, visit scaledagileframework.com

Audio CoP

The Audio Community of Practice section of the show is where we answer YOUR most frequently asked and submitted questions. If you have a question for us to answer on air, please send it to podcast@scaledagile.com

The two questions we answer in this episode are:

  • How does design thinking help organizations unearth innovative solutions for problems that potential customers don’t even know they had?
  • A new concept in SAFe 5.0 – well, if not new, maybe called out in sharper focus – is the notion of Customer Centricity. It talks about designing with empathy. For someone who is not familiar with being empathetic, how would you recommend he or she start on this journey?

Hosted by: Melissa Reeve

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile

Melissa Reeve is the Vice President of Marketing at Scaled Agile, Inc. In this role, Melissa guides the marketing team, helping people better understand Scaled Agile, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and its mission.

Hosted by: Joe Vallone

Joe Vallone is an experienced Agile Coach and Trainer and has been involved in the Lean and Agile communities since 2002. Mr. Vallone has helped coach several large-scale Agile transitions at Zynga, Apple, Microsoft, VCE, Nokia, AT&T, and American Airlines. Prior to founding Agile Business Connect, Joe Vallone served as an Agile Coach at Ciber, CTO/CIO of We The People, and the VP of Engineering for Telogical Systems.

What Is an SPCT and How Can You Become One?

“I am so glad I did it. It is unreservedly the single most important thing I have done in my career. If you are a seasoned professional with a commitment to lifelong learning and are wondering what your next career move might be, I highly recommend you take a look at the SPCT program.”

 Michael Casey, SPCT, Agile Big Picture

As more organizations engage with SAFe®, it’s even more critical that we have knowledgeable, experienced SAFe leaders to help transform large enterprises and continue to shape the way SAFe is being implemented. If you have deep SAFe knowledge, are a lifelong learner, are SAFe Program Consultant (SPC)-certified, and excel in training and coaching, I invite you to consider becoming a SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT).

“As is the case with any certification, you should carefully evaluate SAFe instructors and consultants, and make sure that they have demonstrated experience that is relevant to the role you are asking them to take on. Do not rely on certifications alone as a measure of the skills of a consultant or prospective employee. A notable exception to this is the SAFe Program Consultant Trainer (SPCT) certification, which does require demonstrated experience with agile, software development or product management, training and consulting. If you’re hiring someone who has [an] SPCT certification, you can be confident that they do have experience in these areas, as well as experience with SAFe implementation at multiple organizations. However, SPCTs are in short supply. As of February 2020, there are fewer than 100 people worldwide holding this certification.”

Gartner, “A Technical Professional’s Guide to Successful Adoption of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe),” Kevin Matheny, Bill Holz, 13 April 2020

SPCTs are transformation catalysts, sharing their vast industry expertise and skills through teaching, coaching, and handling the most challenging SAFe implementations. They are experts at communicating, consulting, and creating SAFe knowledge.

SPCT SAFe

SPCT is the most advanced certification you can achieve with SAFe and can be career-changing through job advancement and new opportunities.

SPCT credentials bring the highest level of credibility, which opens doors for you and generates confidence within the organization that you’re helping to create the highest-quality SAFe implementation.

That said, you should know that our selection process has very high standards and not everyone will get in. To be accepted into the program, you must not only meet the skills and experience prerequisites but have presence and gravitas. The requirements and expectations are slightly different for partners and enterprise employees.

Nominees must either be sponsored by a Gold Partner or an enterprise customer with a SAFe Learner Subscription (SLS). However, both must be full-time employees of their respective organizations and are expected to have several years’ experience in the tech industry, with five years of Lean-Agile experience and five years of software/systems/product experience.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. Get nominated: If you or someone you know would make a good candidate, request access to the SPCT portal by sending an email to spct@scaledagile.com. Through the portal, you can submit your documented accomplishments as you achieve them.
  2. Have an interview: After your nomination requirements have been reviewed and accepted, you’ll have two screening interviews with SPCT guides. Our team will then determine whether you’d be a good fit for the program.
  3. Attend Immersion Week: If you’re accepted, you’ll be invited to attend SPCT Immersion Week (currently, we hold three to four classes per year) where nominees showcase their knowledge, skills, and abilities in training and consulting with SAFe. You’ll also learn how to teach an Implementing SAFe® class and may even work on a class project that contributes to SAFe’s intellectual property.
  4. Complete field experience: After Immersion Week, you’ll need to complete additional certification requirements that include teaching SAFe classes, completing SAFe implementations, and finishing the required readings.
  5. Co-teach an Implementing SAFe® class: Lastly, you’ll participate in a pairing test by co-teaching an Implementing SAFe® class with one of our guides. During this class, we’ll evaluate your presentation, training, and coaching skills.

I believe becoming an SPCT is a valuable and rewarding career goal to aspire to—but I’m not the only one. Here’s what some of our SPCTs have to say:

“SPCTs are differentiated in the marketplace. The SPCT certification is rare and the knowledge and expertise it represents is valuable and much in demand.” 

—Simon Chesney, iSPCT, Western Digital Corporation

“Becoming an SPCT takes hard work, but it will pay you back many times over what you put into it in personal growth and career advancement. Get on board the SPCT program and you won’t look back!” 

—Michael Casey, SPCT, Agile Big Picture

I encourage you to explore what it takes to become an SPCT to see if this would be a good fit for you or someone you know.

Learn more by contacting spct@scaledagile.com.

About Bria Schecker

Bria Schecker - SPCT Program Lead Scaled Agile

As the SPCT Program Lead at Scaled Agile, Bria continuously integrates customer feedback into the evolution of program operations and requirements. Some of her professional passions are bringing the voice of the customer into businesses, facilitating groups of all sizes, and scaling programs. In her spare time, Bria loves hiking, traveling, and spending time with her husband, two cats, and dog.

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