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InfoQ Homepage News Agile Games 2016 Keynote - Faster, Cheaper, Better Training Design

Agile Games 2016 Keynote - Faster, Cheaper, Better Training Design

Training is a challenging activity, especially when you want it to be effective. While lots of companies have started their Agile journey, having an effective training regimen to bring everybody along on the journey is a real challenge for organization transformation, and  finding or designing a good training program can be a lengthy and expensive exercise.

If there is no magic trick to succeed, Sivasailam Thiagarajan, also known as Thiagi, opened the 7th Agile Games Conference where he explains how to build “Faster, Cheaper, Better” Agile training.

Agile Games Conference 2016 took place in Cambridge, MA, April 28-30 2016. InfoQ attended the event and this is one of a series of articles about the sessions.

This article is a two parts: starting with a report on Thiagi's keynote, and then the workshop he facilitated just after on how to build a training course. InfoQ  also interviewed Thiagi about this concept of “Faster, Better, and Cheaper”, his specific value proposition, his way of cracking the “scaling dilemma”, the use of games in training –especially agile ones- and the games he used.

Faster, Cheaper and Better

Thiagi has a MS in Physics, and after some years in teaching, he got interested in cognitive science and worked on a PhD in the Field. He is not really fond of giving lectures. This comes from a motto of his:

I don't like talking: people learn much when teachers keep their mouth shut.

To deliver a training class, Thiagi’s perspective is that learning happens only when mixing two ingredients:

  • Content, that is to say the core materials, the ideas that has to be transmitted (the what),
  • Activities, which are the way to convey and transmit the content.

People suffer from the delusion that telling is training. You can tell someone your name. But what is useful is to explain, repeat, and give immediate and useful feedback.

According to Thiagi you have to get both content and activities to build an effective training course. Content without activities is mindless learning, and activities without content is "headless chicken".

Activity is just a way for people to talk to each other, which is one of the most effective ways to fix the memories. Moreover, a long time ago, contents (and activities) were proprietary, and it was hard to find them. "Today 99,9% of content is stupid", Thiagi said, "but for a given topic if you have one hundred thousand hits on Google, you still have enough good material".

The most important factor for a good fit between content and activities is to keep the activities simple, reuse and tweak them a lot, and use an effective debriefing technique at the end. For the first part, Thiagi orders activities in three families :

  • Archive content, that is to say anything written or recorded that you can reuse,
  • Live content, which is basically someone speaking live,
  • Format, which is the way to convey the other two.

As an example, Thiagi shared a simple card game explaining why games are so useful in training. It's basically a set of 3"x5" index cards with edited text. It goes that way :

  • Every participant gets one card, has to read it, and has to move around the room and share the content of his or her card. At the end, everybody was able to get at least two good valid arguments beside his or her own (and it was a five minutes activity).
  • With the same activity, Thiagi introduce a first tweak: everybody has to find someone else and find which of the two cards has the most convincing argument.

To fix the memories, and make the training effective, activities should have these characteristics (the 6 C):

  • Capture: Participants have to become addicted
  • Choices means that participants have to feel they are free to choose, because that makes them happy
  • Confidence is what makes them feel safe to engage and do not see the complexity
  • Challenge is the part where people can enter a flow state and not fall asleep
  • Consequence is the bridge the participants can build to the real world
  • Conclusion (indeed the lack of) is a way to better understand and mark your mind.

There is no true learning without suffering

Most trainers fear that some people do not want to engage in activities, especially when dealing with Senior Members and Executives. Thiagi shared two techniques to deal with that :

  • Let the peer pressure make them engage: there is no need to shake people that do no want to engage (the confidence C), and peers can facilitate that.
  • "Bore them to death": you start with a very boring powerpoint, with no hope to be interesting. After five to ten minutes of this treatment, just ask the audience to form pairs and discuss a topic. When they are onboard, you can keep going.

Thiagi concluded with this Indian philosophy statement :

You can't make people learn if they don't want to. Trainer must learn to be detached and...

To wrap it up, "Faster, Cheaper, Better" training is made possible using very engaging and effective ways to match a content and an activity, with not much means that printed cards (or less), in a configuration of the  6 C’s and finish with a debrief.


InfoQ : Mister Thiagi, thank you for having us. Would you mind to remind our readers who you are ?

I keep a low profile and let my actions speak for themselves. I invite your readers to check my website.

InfoQ : You will open the Agile Games Conference with “Faster, Cheaper, Better: designing agile training that delivers results”. What are the main issues with the way people usually design agile trainings?

I am sure that people design agile training effectively. I am not suggesting that current training needs to be fixed. I am just sharing what I have learned about interactive training in general and its application to agile training in particular.

InfoQ : Your talk being centered on “Faster, Cheaper, Better”, how do you achieve results when teaching agile, and how do you measure these results?

I measure the training results by tracking down business results (faster development time, more reliable software, etc.) and relating them to the training process. My research suggest that faster and cheaper training development actually results in better learning (and application). This is probably because the training developers don’t have time to fool around. Instead, they are forced to use available assets and entrust the participants to own the learning. The FCB training design is not a waterfall process. Instead, it uses a set of evidence-based principles, such as these:

Let the inmates run the asylum.  Design airplanes while flying them. * Don’t design content, design activities. * Wrap the content inside an activity. * Be spontaneously systematic. * Be an oxymorn.

InfoQ : on your website, we can read that you can handle training events from 5 to 500 people. It really sounds like you have cracked the “scaling dilemma”. Could you share your receipt with our readers?

If you think of 500 (or 5000) participants as comprised of interactive units of several pairs, you can focus design learning experiences, similar to peer programming.

InfoQ : Speaking at Agile Games Conference, how do you see gaming helps training?

There are more 30 reasons that active learning improves training. Actually, I have a game to help people learn this principle. You will have to experience it at the conference.

InfoQ : The agile community loves having a bunch of tools to use. Though, in a recent article, you explained that you mostly use six games. Would you mind sharing those games and explaining why you think there are enough?

The underlying principle is “save the activity, change the content”. Let’s take a crossword puzzle to be solved by a group of participants. The puzzle may deal with principles and procedures related to decision-making during software development. The participants will be encouraged to use various learning resources (online and nonline) to solve the puzzle. We can solve the structure of this activity and change the puzzle to deal with the Lean Approach (or Scrum or User Types of Sprint or the meaning of life).

InfoQ : If our readers want to better how to design trainings “Faster, Cheaper, Better”, what do you recommend to read/watch/do?

Check out my web site . It has more than 400 ready-to-use games to be creatively plagiarized. Also search YouTube with ”Thiagi” as the search term.

Thiagi makes it clear that you can use his games if you want to. And you can acknowledge him when doing so.

Note: This post was edited by Shane Hastie


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