Scrum Notes 2013-20

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Not a Trainer ▶️

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I am not a trainer. Training is for circus animals, pet dogs and HR folk. I stopped using that term for myself years ago. Some partners I work with would like to promote me as a trainer. I used to tolerate it, but over time I've been learning to stand my ground a little more firmly. Training is about directing people (or other animals) to follow a process. It is about seeking compliance, and obedience. It is about adhering to standards. I don't care about any of those things, so calling myself a trainer would be nonsense.

So it is with some irony that I hold the title Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), a concession I make in order to more easily offer workshops to those wanting to learn about Scrum. Still, the very phrase is anathema to me, and my workshops are self-learning experiences rather than trainings. The certificate is a by-product. I actually see the certification craze as replacing actual skill and creativity, I don't believe in pushing Scrum onto organisations, and I see no value in training as an approach to learning—whether it's powerpoint-delivered, or the somewhat more engaging "training from the back of the room" it all ends up as a coercive approach to learning. It is manipulative, and has no place in the world of Agility.1

People don't learn new ideas by being trained. They learn through exploration, through engagement, through experience, through dialog, even through argument. And they learn through failure. Learning is about figuring things out for oneself, through dialog, critical thinking and research. The training approach is incompatible with true learning as it discourages questions, closes down possibilities and destroys the ability to think.

Of course, it is much easier to sell a training—especially a training that comes with a certificate—than it is to engage people in a meaningful learning workshop. And so we keep doing it, too often without qualm or question. It may be time to stop and reflect.

People can be trained in process and practice, so it may be appropriate to run, say, a Test-driven Development (TDD) training, but interestingly enough most TDD trainings are called workshops. Perhaps because there are no certificates. Perhaps because people who teach these are deeply engaged in creative practice themselves, and actually understand that even within process and practice what is really required is engagement and exploration, otherwise we become mere coding machines.

So the question I'm pondering is this: Why do we want to train people to be Agile, or to do Scrum? What is the goal here. I struggle to get past the idea of compliance. Agile consultancies, tool vendors and the various Scrum/Agile certification bodies all have a vested interest in getting people to think the way they do. That they are failing miserably and getting, not thinking at all, but dumb obedience on the one hand, and venomous dislike of Agile on the other, doesn't seem to deter them.

So, my friends, take a stand. Start questioning what you are really offering. Do you want people to be trained, or do you want them to learn and think for themselves? If the latter, please consider a rebranding. Offer explorations, adventures, workshops, or learning labs, and call yourself by your true name, perhaps guide, or facilitator, or simply teacher.

Training is a hangover from the command-and-comply days. I'd love to see the terms training and trainer eliminated from the Agile vocabulary, and the compliance mindset cast from our collective psyche.

1 To be clear, training is useful, even necessary when learning a pre-defined process, procedure or method. There are right ways and wrong ways, and we are trained to know (and follow) the right way. Scrum is not like that though, Scrum is a simple framework not a process, procedure or method. It can only be revealed and experienced. We can teach and facilitate Scrum. We cannot train it.

Palo Alto, 18/04/2015   comment