What do pipe cleaners have to do with going agile?

Senior Learning Expert Kenn Coops from the Group Learning department had a busy 2016. He has been responsible for an extensive training program that has prepared 500 colleagues from SimCorp’s Product Division for scaled agile.

What has been the approach to training Product Division for the agile transformation? When SimCorp’s Product Division decided to introduce agile development in a department of 500 employees, transformational Epics for Change Management, Continuous Integration, Code Ownership etc. were set up to facilitate and support the process. Since I am the Principal for three of our Academies: Software Engineering, Product Management and Project Management, I became Epic Owner for Training & Coaching and in charge of designing a program that was closely aligned with the overall change management effort around the transformation.

 Kenn Coop 
Culture might well eat strategy for breakfast as Drucker writes. But people eat culture before getting out of bed – if you teach them howKenn Coop, Senior Learning Expert, SimCorp

Once we got started with the training, we quickly realized that we needed to design a program that not only provided the necessary basic training, but also had enough flexibility and scalability to adapt to an organization that was constantly getting smarter as well as more ambitious about the pace of the agile transformation.

Moreover, we had to tailor the program to fit our learning culture. A big part of the Scaled Agile Framework is the adoption of best practice processes and workflows. But before best practice comes practice, and we needed to ensure that the learning experience and SimCorp context was designed in a way that would provide the most value for our people.

What has been the most challenging part of this transformation?  I would say the sheer scale of the program we had to put together and execute within short timeframe has been a huge challenge. In order to succeed in the most effective manner, we teamed up with some of the best and most experienced external consultants and coaches to help us.

We started training the management team in February 2016, and in April 2016 we launched the first of the new Agile Release Trains, which form the backbone of the new organizational structure in Product Division. In the beginning of January, we launched the last of the eight Agile Release Trains. In total, we delivered well over 180 courses just for the agile transformation in 2016. This also speaks to the importance that our senior leadership team places on training and development in SimCorp.

I think the biggest challenge for the learning team has been to ensure that the content of the training program was constantly updated to fit the growing maturity of the organization. It has been incredible to watch how everyone has grown into the new agile mindset, and we have constantly had to rethink and shape our offering to fit our skilled audience.

I have to ask, what is the deal with all the pipe cleaners? It is difficult to move anywhere in SimCorp today without noticing them. Good question – and yes, the pipe cleaners have rather taken on a life of their own. By now, I think we can make an art exhibition with all the creative pieces that are decorating the offices in both Copenhagen, Kiev, London and Bad Homburg.

Pipe cleaner bikePipe cleaner animalPipe cleaner plane

Initially the pipe cleaners were something we used in our classrooms. We always ask our instructors to establish some house rules before they start a class. Checking mails and phone messages tend to be on the list that everyone agrees not to do. However, checking your phone is almost muscle memory for many people. So whenever people feel the urge to reach for their phone, they are encouraged to grab a pipe cleaner instead. It is very simple, but it works remarkably well.

Moreover, research shows that fidgeting has a positive impact on people’s ability to learn and absorb new knowledge. The pipe cleaners are also a very effective way of just livening up a room. Since visualization is a big part of agile, we decided to use them for the Program Increment Planning Events where everyone get together to plan the next increment, and it sort of took off from there. 

Okay, final question. What has been the best part of this transformation? It is difficult to single out one thing as the best. The move to Scaled Agile is probably the biggest change that SimCorp has ever undertaken. And seeing how Product Division has evolved in record time to embrace a completely new approach to software development has been incredibly rewarding and certainly something that I am very proud to have been part of.

But probably the best part is the journey. The past, as Shakespeare wrote, is prologue. Last year we put down a solid foundation for Scaled Agile and this year we will build on that and continue to develop world-class people, and that really is the best part!

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