How much is important for a trainer to know what is the learning process of a student? And, moreover, how much is vital for an agile coach to know how to facilitate a team that is growing according with the tuckman’s theory?
Every time I teach in a course, whatever the content, even if the organizer tried to arrange the classes in a balanced way in terms of experience level of the attendees, it happens that someone knows less than the others regarding the area I’m going to talk about.
In these cases, I try to keep aligned the class starting from the basic concepts, avoiding to be excessively detailed and trying not to annoy the experts. Then, when I switch to the advanced topics, I make a great use of metaphores: it helps to catch the gist using past experience, idioms or whatever could sustain the interest of the whole class.
It happens, though, that the experts patiently wait for some more details and once supplied, the novices start to shake their heads, looking at me somehow “lost in transactions”.
This happens because it is usual that, when we are called to learn something new, we should pass through three different stages:
Alistair Cockburn explains this theory very well here. That theory, actually, is somehow inherited from the Shu-ha-ri martial art japanese concept, which describes the stages of learning to mastery.
ShuHaRi - Wikipedia
When we are learning something new, something not easy, we are completely dedicated to understand the topic, circumscribe it and finally derive a method that could help us facing that new knowledge.
Any additional information, alternative, tip or trick is not well accepted during this phase, most of the time is discarded as “waste“, because during this step we only want to learn the easiest and most effective approach to “survive”: other data is entropy.
At least for a period of time that can vary from one weak to 6/8 weeks (depending on the complexity, etc.), we are called to practice the new knowledge, inspecting and adapting our approach in order to verify what we learned. It’s during this phase that we feel the necessity to find other ways to solve the problem, exploring new paths.
Mary Poppendieck - In theory there's no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.
This is the exact moment when we enter the second stage called detaching (or leaving).
We are no more satisfied of what we have learned so far, probably we found some flaws, we want alternatives, walkarounds, more detail regarding the problem and what causes it. That’s the moment to come back to books or teachers learning something new.
Again it’s a matter of time and dedication. Lot of water has to pass under the bridge, we just need to practice the new knowledge, like when we learn to swim. In that occasion we repeated the same movements many times, again, again and over again, letting that “knowledge” passes from the conscious to the unconscious mind, also called “muscle-memory“, that digests that knowledge and makes it available, automatically.
Papua New Guinea proverb: Knowledge is only a rumor until it’s in the muscle
Finally, the water passed under the bridge and we don’t strive anymore to use the knwoledge: it is part of us. It happens and that’s enough.
As it happens to trainers to have course’s attendees with different level of knowledge, it happens to team leaders or coaches, to have teams that comprise both juniors and seniors members.
In this case the XP practice of pair-programming help-us.
Pairing helps juniors when they are navigators as well as drivers.
As “navigators” they have the possibility to see, ask and verify new approaches, techniques, tools and as “dirvers” they can practice what they just learned, being corrected immediately in case of errors. Both situations take advantage of one of the most important values of agile discipline: the short-feedback-cycle.
And what if we don’t have aboard any senior team member? In this case we as Scrum Master, Agile Coach or technical leaders, are called to get our hands dirty, pairing with the juniors and bringing some new fresh air by teaching new things, concepts, approaches.
This could be the moment when we cross over the Tuckman’s theory.
Tuckman's Theory: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing
During the first stage (forming), the team listen to what you’re saying trying to accomodate this new knowledge with the one they already have: they don’t want to argue, they only want to learn and understand how to apply new knowledge.
During the storming phase, instead, different ideas and perspectives grow, they don’t want to change or they fear changes: but most of the times it is only a matter of listen to their doubts, assuring about the goodness of the theory and finally practicing, a lot.
This for sure will happen the first time a team embraces SCRUM: the first iterations aren’t so easy and the team will try to force to change the rules of the game, trying to cut some practices or changing some behaviors.
In these case is very usefull to put in practice what Jeff Sutherland called the Shock Therapy that can be summarized as follows:
- Train the team
- Set iteration length to 1/2 weeks, in order to have a short feedback between what the team does and what are the results
- Set Definition of Done
- Large use of information radiators
- Respect any SCRUM meeting
- Do not change anything before three months
Furthermore, he used to say to the team the first time it entered the workplace, that it is like when a karateka enters in a new Dojo. Above the entrance there’s a poster saying
“Forget what you know about karate,
forget your way of doing that,
this is my dojo,
you all are asked to do it my way“