Maximizing Agile by Understanding Learning Styles
Agile methodology positions software development as both a communication and learning-based creative process. Part of being agile is recognizing the need for teamwork, and valuing people and interactions over processes.
Often, this means working with people who think, communicate, or learn differently than you do. Like all teamwork, it also means working with people who are in a different role than you are. To be an effective team member, you need to be an effective communicator.
In this context, “communication” is defined as the output to learning’s input, because you need to be able to share the knowledge you have. The whole agile software development lifecycle relies on this learning-communication cycle—planning and design sessions; troubleshooting and working through problems; discussion between developers, testers, and product owners; and product owners and end-users providing feedback to improve what is being built. This constant learning is what promotes sustainable development and allows the team to grow and evolve.
Everyone learns differently, and the way people learn is based on far more than their preferences for information presentation. A learning style is just a group of behaviors centered around absorbing, processing, and retaining information. There are multiple models of learning styles; none are exhaustive, and they tend to overlap.
Learning styles can be strengthened, and everyone uses different styles in different situations. For example, we all have the capacity to think intuitively and to think analytically. When you are planning your budget, analytical thinking is more helpful. When you are in a crisis situation, intuitive thinking is of more use because it has a faster time to action. That said, it is important to develop different methods of intaking information.
It’s also important to note that content can suggest a particular method of presentation to help maximize its absorption. For example, it is appropriate to use more visual diagrams when learning geometry than when taking a writing class.
It’s interesting to look at how these learning styles fit into the Scrum model of agile. Certain ceremonies are better suited to particular styles of information presentation. It’s good to observe which people on your team are more easily engaged or more easily lost during these ceremonies.
For example, the daily standup is geared toward verbal communication. If you find that you are losing the attention of your team, try making the ceremony more visual by looking at a product board every day. And since the daily standup is supposed to be a short conversation about work, this can be a great time to practice social communication. Instead of listing information as tasks, practice telling a short story about how work went yesterday and what today holds.
To be most agile with your communication, it’s good to have a grasp on several models of learning styles, where you fit into them, and where your team fits into them. By tweaking the ways in which you communicate to fit the information and the situation, you are helping your team to remain agile by valuing people and interactions over processes.
Robin Foster is presenting the session Maximizing Agile Benefits through Understanding Learning Styles at Agile + DevOps East 2019, November 3–8 in Orlando, Florida.