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How To Build A Lean Learning Sprint

In a fast-changing world, we need to solve business problems quickly and create content that delivers this while minimising time and cutting waste.

In other words, we need to break down work into smaller chunks that allow us to deal with changing demand.

And a Lean Learning Sprint does just that! It’s our process for delivering value to customers faster while gathering feedback early and often to continuously improve what we do.

Our CEO and Co-Founder, Nelson Sivalingam, delivered a brilliant 30-minute workshop on how to use them to drive impactful L&D, and you can watch it right here 👇

What are Lean Learning Sprints

In a nutshell, they bring together cross-functional stakeholders to go from ignorance of a business problem to a learning strategy that delivers value to the individual and organisation by solving the challenge at hand.

This happens in a time-boxed period, normally lasting two to four weeks, with most L&D teams finding a two-week sprint works best.

The benefits of Lean Learning Sprints

The benefits of Lean Learning Sprints

If we can work in smaller chunks, we can release learning experiences quicker and receive feedback early to iterate. This also means we can learn fast and apply the lessons to future developments.

By bringing stakeholders together and aligning them behind a shared purpose, we do three key things:

  • Provide momentum, focus, and confidence for the Sprint Team.
  • Create clear and transparent communication through regular sprint updates.
  • Streamline our communication process with the fixed timeframe encouraging people to act faster and make decisions in hours and days, rather than weeks and months.

Five steps for building a Lean Learning Sprint

One: Assemble the right team

Typically, your sprint team has five to seven people from cross-functional teams, and with diverse skill sets. 

However, there are normally three main roles:

  • Sprint Master: Leads the process and is responsible for keeping the team on track toward solving the problem. It doesn’t need to be the L&D manager, but they will need to be influential and have the relevant skills for the task at hand.
  • Challenge Owner: Helps the rest of the team understand the challenge to be solved by acting as the voice of the customer. This can be filled by someone who’ll directly benefit from solving the problem.
  • LX Team: The cross-functional group of people with the collective skills to create a solution. Remember, the goal is to deliver value to your internal customer by solving the problem. Job roles are also less important than skills here, so remember that your LX team needs the talent to come up with learning experiences that get us to the desired outcome.

2: Choose your strategy

Start with Sprint Zero

Once you’ve got the team together, it’s time for Sprint Zero – a lighter version of the sprint where you’re framing the problem and scoping solutions for the business challenges in mind.

This is your chance to establish the length of future sprints and consider other planning factors like which experts will we need? Who can help us test? And which tools/infrastructure do we need in place?

Leverage The Value vs Effort Matrix

As you’ll see from the graph below, this is about prioritising which ideas should be tested or implemented first. 

This is a collaboration between your Challenge Owner, Sprint Master, and stakeholders – one in which we build a shared understanding of what value and effort mean in this context.

Remember that we don’t want to overwhelm people with these new processes, and behaviour change is complex – so it’s better to start small and build momentum.

The Value vs Effort Matrix

3: Map your learning experience

Step three is essentially taking place across day one of Sprint One. Aim to spend 90 minutes ideating, 40 minutes gathering feedback, around 30 minutes researching and around 90 minutes planning the sprint.

Start by ideating! 

Think about the problem at hand and how we can get the right learning, to the right people in the right moments to have impact.

This is a way to generate ideas that drive performance or behaviour change because they take context into account.

And you can download your free Learning Experience Bullseye Framework to help you deliver relevant learning today.

Highlight ideas and gather feedback

Take the most appealing or seemingly viable ideas and highlight them. Give the Sprint Team time to decide which two they like or contain ideas they like.

Once you’ve narrowed it down, it’s time for a discussion that’s much more than a discussion. It’s the team deciding what’s possible and what could be improved.

Pixar use a great technique called ‘Plussing’ where you can’t point out a problem without proposing an alternative. This small tweak creates a collaborative environment where we’re building on ideas instead of shutting them down.

How to map your learning experience

Do just enough research

For example, if the idea involves curating short videos, where are we sourcing them from?

The idea isn’t to spend ages on research, but to research enough to produce minimum valuable learning (MVL) that solves the problem and can be tested.

Plan the sprint

The first half of this is about prioritisation, and there’s a great framework you can use for this: ICE.

ICE stands for Impact, Confidence, and Ease, and allows us to build a score for each idea based on how these three impact angles stack up.

Learn everything you need to about using the ICE Framework here.

The ICE Framework L&D’s Impact, Confidence, Ease Idea Scoring System

And the second half of the sprint planning is for creating a sprint backlog: a to-do list for testing our MVL. For example, do you need to find coaches? Will job aids need to be created? Or which marketing is required to build awareness of new learning resources?

4: Test your minimum valuable learning

Building something quickly allows you to start gathering feedback, so it’s important you don’t fall into the old habit of creating ‘the perfect content’. Timing always beats perfection, especially when we’re working in sprints.

And because you have the most unknowns and assumptions in your first sprint, spending less time on the building part lowers the risk of waste.

Daily standups help flag any blockers and establish progress – which should both keep you on track towards testing your MVL. They keep us on the same page and maintain those clear lines of communication.

Sprint Zero should have established your test users, but you should make sure the recruitment of those people happens in the first week. You don’t need too many people to test, just ensure you’re asking qualifying questions to get the right people and confirm their availability.

5: Evaluate your strategy

Without overcomplicating things, this involves the Sprint Team, stakeholders, and partners discussing outcomes and which parts of the learning experience did or didn’t move us towards it.

You should be presenting data about how well your MVL performed and SHOULD NOT be defining new learning experiences but establishing which parts of the learning experience or strategy need a new hypothesis based on those insights.

And once you’ve done that, you should be conducting a sprint retrospective to understand the performance of individuals, the team, and the processes.

How to run a sprint retrospective