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Sharpen Your Trainer Skills… With the Trainer Kata

An Opportunity for Trainers to Continuously Grow

I have been active in theTrainer Approval Community (TAC) of the Scrum Alliance®for several years now. The TAC is, so to speak, the last bastion that an aspiring Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST®) has to take. In this context, I am often asked how to best prepare for the TAC. This usually refers to the second part of the application process for the CST® of the Scrum Alliance®: a personal examination situation of about 100 minutes, in which you have to demonstrate your skills and abilities as a trainer to a group of five members* of the TAC.

In this blog post I would like to present a method that can help any trainer to grow, no matter if you are moving towards CST® or not. For this you need the following information:

What Are the Learning Objectives?

By talking to the customer/client about the assignment, you can already get some helpful insights. Ideally, you also have an idea of what additional knowledge is required to achieve the desired learning goals. Finally, you should take into consideration your personal opinion about what you would also like to teach the participants of your training. You can then use all of this to develop your own “learning dramaturgy” or “learning journey” that the participants can experience.

How Much Time Do I Have for the Learning Objectives?

In addition to the learning objectives themselves, this information is also essential.. This way you know how much time you have for the learning journey. There are two approaches you can take as a trainer:

  • Delivering the content within the time available, whatever the cost (output) may be or
  • making the desired learning experience happen (outcome).

I see a lot of trainers optimising their learning journey to make sure that even the last minute is spent on content delivery. In doing so, they do not take into account one important factor: the participants. After all, they are the ones who make a training successful through their learning experience and the resulting impulses for their everyday life. Here, too, the Agile Manifesto can be wonderfully integrated:

Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

It’s about the person participating in your training. Experience-based learning is what is most effective. Already Confuciusknew the following about teaching:

“Tell Me and I Will Forget.

Show Me and I May Remember.

Involve Me and I Will Understand.”

Confucius

Which processes, tools and interactions you should use depends, of course, on the individuals involved and on the time available. One way of interaction between trainer and participant is often in the form of questions. Learning journeys that are not as good often start with the fact that questions are not welcome during the session. Better learning journeys allow questions at any time. And one thing you can be sure of: there will be questions! Whether they are being asked or not. And the less I can express and address questions, the more I become frustrated and usually learn less and less. So make sure to include time for questions in your training sessions. Trainers who have scheduled even the last minute for their topics usually don’t manage to actually keep to this time box.

Working Products Over Comprehensive Documentation

The product of the training is what the participant(s) ultimately make of it. For this reason, one should be more concerned with the design of the learning journey and thus the evolution of the participants than with glossy PowerPoint slides or fancy flipcharts.

Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

It always becomes interesting when trainers have designed their learning journey,  try it out on the participants and don’t even ask them during the whole journey how they are doing on this journey and whether it is valuable for them. For me, I have found and always practise the following things:

  1. At the beginning of the training I ask the participants to write down their individual learning expectations: What do we need to talk about in this training, what questions and topics do we need to cover so that you would consider the time spent here was worth it?
  2. At regular intervals we look at the learning expectations again: Have questions/topics been clarified? Wonderful – we can put them aside. Are there new ones? Great – add them to the list of learning expectations.
  3. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking, “Does this help you?” every time I answer a question. And if there is hesitation or even a “Not really” or similar, then I can provide more information.

Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

What good is the best learning journey if the participants don’t get anything out of it? The above points help me recognise at an early stage whether the learning journey is valuable for the participants or not. If it turns out that the learning journey is not really working, I need to be able to act freely enough around this topic to be able to redesign this learning journey ad hoc. This may mean that I cannot achieve all the learning objectives previously discussed – but what is more important: output or outcome? In my opinion, the latter is more important. And I’d rather have taught less but got it right than have taught a lot that wasn’t properly understood.

The Trainer Kata

In the Japanese martial arts, such as karate, katas are fixed sequences of movements that help the user to master them through constant repetition. And the more mature you are, the deeper the insights you can gain from the katas. It goes as far as fully grasping the essence of these sequences, their backgrounds and their application. In this context, some also call it the Shu-Ha-Ri model. Since I have been practising Asian martial arts for ages and find katas (or kuen) very valuable, I wanted to transfer them to my everyday life as a trainer and came up with the format of the trainer kata. I practice these katas very often myself and the trainer candidates I accompany on their journey towards CST® also practice them with great success.

What Do You Need for the Trainer Kata?

For the trainer kata you don’t need much:

You probably already got the desired learning objectives and time available in advance. Wonderful.

How Does the Trainer Kata Work?

Step 1: Take all the learning objectives that are to be taught and write them down on small pieces of paper. Only one learning objective per piece of paper. Put all the slips of paper in a large bowl and mix them well.** **

Step 2: Take the set of Planning Poker cards, remove the “0” and shuffle them well.

Step 3: Draw a slip of paper from the bowl and one card from the set of Planning Poker cards.

So now you have the following things:

  • The learning objective to be taught (comes out of the bowl)
  • The time available to you in minutes (represented by the Planning Poker card)

Step 4: Now think about how you can best communicate the learning objective in the given time frame.

Step 5: Set the timer and complete the learning journey.

Step 6: Start over from step 1.

Example: Using the Trainer Kata

I’ll give you an example here from my experience as a mentor for aspiring Scrum Alliance® CSTs. This is where Nava*** comes in. Nava wants to become a Scrum Alliance® CST® and has familiarised herself extensively with the path to becoming one. She already has many years of experience as a ScrumMaster and has also mentored aspiring ScrumMasters herself. For this reason, Nava focuses on the training of ScrumMasters. This gives her an advantage: the requirements of the Scrum Alliance® for the training of ScrumMasters are well-known and available as a download (Scrum Foundations & Certified ScrumMaster®).

Step 1: Nava prints out the above mentioned learning objectives, folds them so that she cannot see the contents and puts them in a large bowl. She then mixes the learning objectives well.

Step 2: She attended a Certified ScrumMaster course some time ago where she received a set of Planning Poker cards. She uses them now. Since in the TAC session the practical part is limited to 20 minutes, she only uses cards 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 and 13. She also shuffles these cards.

Step 3: Now she draws a learning target from the bowl and a Planning Poker card:

  • Learning objective: Sprint Planning
  • Planning Poker card: 8

This means that Nava now has 8 minutes in which she can teach the topic of “Sprint Planning”.

Step 4: First, she checks which points are required by the Scrum Alliance® . Then she thinks about what is important to her about the topic and what she would like to pass on to the participants from her own experience. Now she can think about what the learning journey should look like and what interactions need to take place in the 8 minutes in order for the learning experience to be successful. 

Step 5: Nava conducts the learning journey she has elaborated in the 8 minute time frame. Fortunately, she was able to involve a few people as participants. Afterwards she gets feedback and can reflect on what was good about this learning journey, what was missing and what she would like to do differently next time in 8 minutes.

Step 6: At the next attempt, Nava starts again at step 1. Now she has several options:

I. She keeps the objective and the timebox.

II. She keeps the objective and chooses a new timebox. To do this, she can remove the 8 minutes from the Planning Poker deck.

III. She keeps the time box and chooses a new objective. To do this, she can remove the respective objective from the bowl.

IV. She chooses a new objective and a new topic. To do this, she can remove both the objective and the Planning Poker card.

V. If she has done this a few times, she could try to teach several objectives in the time given by a Planning Poker card.

With this approach, you can develop a great methodological confidence so that you always have a suitable approach for any timebox that helps you to convey the part that is essential for you. So if Nava finds herself in a situation where she has 20 minutes for a learning objective, but after 14 minutes she still hasn’t been able to convey this objective, she can switch to her approach for a 5-minute timebox. Maybe the approach is then more frontal and not as interactive, but the part that is important to her could still be communicated.

I would like to know if the trainer kata has helped you or if you see a way to make it useful for you. If you would do certain things differently or if you miss things, I would also be interested. Please leave me a comment here. That would be great.


* The five people are generally three very experienced Certified Scrum Trainers (CST®) and two employees of the Scrum Alliance®.

** For trainers who are often on the road, a bowl is not so practical. I found blank playing cards helpful here. Otherwise, a corresponding app such as Tiny Decisions can be used.

*** This name is chosen at random and the person Nava is fictitious.

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