How We Learn and What it Means for Your Agile Development Transformation

By · February 14, 2013 · Filed in Agile Scrum Training

The WFS team  believes in the use  of the 70/20/10 learning formula when developing our clients software development process improvement solutions. 

Any time we are talking about software development process improvement we are talking about change, and change requires learning.  Teams have to learn new skills and behaviours for the changes to actually occur.  Adoption of the new skills and behaviours must take place over the long term in order for the organization to realize the results for which they set out upon the change effort in the first place.

Ultimately, learning is at the heart of the entire change or transformation endeavor in some way or another.

The 70/20/10 learning concept was developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership.

The 70/20/10 formula describes how learning occurs:

  • 10% Formal traditional classroom
  • 20% Informal through relationships networks and feedback
  • 70% On the job experience
 Let’s start with the 10% – Formal traditional classroom

Organizations have done this 10%, traditional classroom delivery forever, although many still struggle to do it effectively. One of our customers recently said to us, “my team needs training but we are sick of looking at a talking head for 2 days”.  It’s surprising to hear that this lecture style  of training / teaching  is still going strong. Many organizations and even the training providers in some cases also expect formal training to be the sole solution for solving their problems. The 70/20/10 model  suggests that formal training should not stand alone.

The definition of learning is:

  1. The act or experience of one that learns
  2. Knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study (10% and 20%)
  3. Modification of a behavioral tendency by experience  (70%)

You can see the relationship between 2. Knowledge or skill acquired…and the 10% and %20 of how people learn.  As well as the relationship between 3. Modification of a behavioral tendency… and the 70% of how people learn.

In our business of making software projects more successful and agile software development adoption, behaviors need to change to be successful – if this is the case, we can’t only  depend on formal training.

20% – Informal through relationships networks and feedback

The 20% occurs through  relationships and interactions with others, by observing others, conversations with others or through receiving or giving feedback.  We can help facilitate the 20% by creating forums that promote this type of engagement.

For example: Social media tools and the internet provide many options to support the 20%. This could include  the availability of a learning community site that all participants to the formal training program join to support them in creating their own collaborative learning community.  This will provide a forum to ask questions of one another,  learn from each others experiences and share resources.

We  facilitate a weekly virtual Agile Development Lean Coffee Community  to facilitate the 20% and the “learning community” concept.

The importance  of a  learning communities  is demonstrated in this example, where during a recent delivery of our  WFS Agile Software Development public training session, one of the learners suggested that the opportunity to have met the other participants and share experiences  during the training was invaluable, and that they should commit to staying in touch to continue their learning around agile software development.  They were excited to know about the software development process improvement virtual community we have available to meet that need.

 70% – On the job experience

So we teach the masses the fundamentals and bring their knowledge and skills up to a particular baseline via formal training and offer informal resources via learning communities.  But to make the learning truly “sticky”,  to grow the knowledge past that standard baseline and to see the expected business results, we must ensure  implementation of the new skills and the needed changes to behaviour occur on the job.

Now, this is the real tricky part….  this is where the real good stuff happens, and when it occurs over the long term, the required business results can be  seen and measured.

Here are some typical reasons why  new skills and behaviours do not “stick” or are not implemented on the job over the long term:

  • Cold storage – forgetting what has been learned
  • People are more comfortable doing what they know and they digress back to the old way of doing things
  • Unanswered questions roadblock them from continuing to move forward
  • A natural resistance to change
  • Lack of confidence
  • Organizational constraints

To mitigate these blockers, and facilitate the opportunity to leverage the 70% of the way people learn through on the job experience, WFS  solutions include a mentoring / coaching component.   The mentor / coach has a schedule and roadmap of activities to support the teams once out of training and back on the job.  The specific details of which are determined through the analysis performed with the client.

An example of what this may look like is:

  • The mentor / coach is embedded with the team  out of training and supports them through each phase of a new software development project, from inception to completion. thus answering questions each time they arise, working out organizational constraints as they are identified, reassuring the teams and individuals when they lack confidence, thus enabling the teams to implement the end to end skills and behaviours needed. And making sure they keep doing it.

The mentoring / coaching phase is the perfect opportunity to measure true success, I am talking  Level 3 and 4 Kirkpatrick evaluations here, something that rarely happens in the corporate training   industry.  Part of the coaching roadmap would include a Level 3 and 4 evaluation strategy.  This would measure to what extent behaviour changes are occurring and the business results that are being realized.

The proof that this blended approach leveraging the 70/20/10 model works is demonstrated in this comment from one of our clients:


So in summary, %70 of learning  occurs though on the job experience, this means we have to create opportunities for on the job learning to take place, and for it to take place consistently.  Only so much can be taught and learned in formal training settings.  Formal training is a good start to establish a baseline of knowledge and skills, starting from the lowest common denominator skill set and bringing the learning cohort up to a particular standard.  After that, learning from experience is key, it’s how it all “sticks”, changes to  behaviour occurs and business results are realized.

For this reason our approach is to facilitate the opportunity to leverage the 70% of the way people learn through on the job experience by having a coach / mentor support the teams for periods of time to clear the common blockers I mentioned before; a natural resistance to change, reverting back to the old way of doing things because it is more comfortable, lack of confidence and organizational constraints.

Thanks for your interest,

Lynda Todd
Manager, Learning & Development

Web Financial Solutions provides expert Software Development Life Cycle process improvement.

The services we offer include: