As geeky as it sounds, I love learning. When I was first exposed to the world of organizational learning back in the 90′s, I picked up a couple of handy phrases that I chant on weekly basis:

  • Learn – Teach – Learn
  • No Theory, No Learn

These phrases capture two of my mental models on organizational learning. Mainly that it is an iterative cycle, only comes through sharing, and requires reflection and measurement on your theory to learn. With that in mind, we frequently open our doors to our customers to Learn and Teach.  They observe our stand-ups and planning meetings and we discuss how Agile development has infiltrated not just our development team, but our entire business.  I always try to ask them – “What is your Theory?” before they come.

Creative Commons Kathy Sierra - Click to view her blog post on the topic

Creative Commons Kathy Sierra - Click to view her blog post on the topic

What’s Your Theory?

Many organizations are simply happy to take the first step toward the smooth and continuous flow of Agile development. But what I love about working with many of our customers like Pinnacol Assurance is their desire to go beyond amateurism, what Kathy Sierra shows as the road to becoming an expert.  Amateurism is not enough; they want to become experts by fully adopting Agile throughout their organization and through a continuous improvement process.

At our last release planning session in April, members of the Pinnacol’s IT team participated right alongside our internal team. Wednesday of this week, members of Pinnacol’s leadership team shared in our company-wide rhythm of daily  stand-up meetings, rotating through a variety of stand-ups from the dev team to IT to marketing.

How about a Learning Journey?

The goal of their trip was bringing mental models from outside of Pinnacol into their organization. I love that approach and it’s one we use ourselves at Rally. If we see a company doing something particularly well – whether it’s supporting their customers or hosting an out-of-this-world event – we ask to visit their company, shadow them for a day or two, and get first-hand knowledge of their success. It’s one of the best ways I know to quickly learn a model in a very hands-on way and almost immediately translate that into success at your own company – all without reinventing the wheel.  Otto Scharmer who developed Theory U calls these trips – Learning Journeys.  They are the first step to help you see what you do not know and getting you to open up and learn as a team.

Pinnacol has been very successful at attaining the benefits of Agile in flow inside of IT, but they are already looking above and beyond. They brought business representatives and operations leaders to share and learn about increasing agility in a larger, enterprise-wide context. I am really looking forward to hearing more about Pinnacol’s path to fast learning. You can read about Pinnacol’s adoption of Agile and Rally in the case study.

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