Managing Your Team’s Workload With Agile Learning Design

Managing Your Team's Workload Banner

Wanting to work incrementally, iteratively, and collaboratively is all well and good, but at some point you have to manage the work and timeline.

Agile does not mean there isn’t any planning, but rather that planning is different. Instead of creating one plan at the beginning and using your time and energy trying to hold everyone to that plan (which never works), we spend our time identifying what work is a value-add and what can be worked on based on priorities and availability.How you manage that work is flexible and can be done using several different methods. Two that we’ve chosen to use at BLP include Kanban and Scrum.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

Using Kanban to Pull Work to Team

Kanban is a methodology to control the amount of work that the team is working on at any given time. It was created at Toyota to help maintain a consistent amount of work that a team can handle at any given time. In Kanban, the team pulls work onto their plates. The team also has set work in progress (WIP) limits that tell the team and the people they work with how much work they can do at any given time. When done correctly, the team can keep the pace of their work in progress limits indefinitely.

BLP has been using the Kanban approach for our client projects. Because each project team has multiple clients and projects going on at any given time, using a Scrum type method where we try to plan out a two week period is not workable.Kanban works really well for our project teams because it allows us to pull work into our workstream, especially when existing projects hit snags or delays.

Below is an example of a physical Kanban board our team used. Having a visual representation of what’s going on helps the team stay focused and know exactly what everyone is doing when. 



What About Scrum?

By Steven Boller, Marketing Director

Scrum is the methodology most people think of when they hear “agile.” At BLP, we use Scrum on our product development team. The marketing team also uses its own variation of Scrum.

The “Product Dev” team decided on Scrum because they needed a way to rapidly evolve our Knowledge Guru® product. Scrum is more focused on the user of a product than the process for creating it. Like Kanban, it allows teams to maximize resources and get everyone working together. In Scrum, tasks are completed in short sprints of 1-4 weeks. Every sprint produces a working version of the product, and tasks are based on “user stories.” (Example: Learners will be able to play an interactive game about using widget XYZ). The flow of work is managed with a backlog of tasks that will be completed in the future but have not been assigned. At the conclusion of each sprint, the Product Dev team conducts a sprint review to verify completion of previous stories and pull stories from the backlog to be completed in the next sprint.

Each story is assigned “points” based on how long it should take to complete. In our system, one point equals one day of work. Every team member has a certain number of story points they can complete in a given sprint, which controls the workload.
While the sprint reviews and planning meetings are time consuming, the planning of work has to be done eventually, anyway. Scrum makes the process more efficient and intentional. The team has been pleased with Scrum so far and cannot imagine going back.

“Our time is being used so much more effectively. Scrum holds us all accountable for doing our jobs. Because work is now done in two week intervals, we have the flexibility to allow priorities to change. Agile has made it possible to complete major tasks like adding SCORM to Knowledge Guru, something that was not on our roadmap just a few months earlier. This would have been very difficult with an ADDIE or “Waterfall” methodology.”

–Sharon Boller, President and Chief Product Officer

Consider whether Kanban, Scrum, or a combination of the two make the most sense for your team.


Agile Learning Design for Beginners (Free White Paper)


Jennifer Bertram, Director of Instructional Design here at Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper on Agile Learning Design. In Agile Learning Design for Beginners, Jennifer gives a comprehensive introduction to one of her areas of expertise as a Director of Instructional Design: Agile. The white paper skips the buzzwords and gives a much needed overview of Agile methodology from the perspective of real instructional designers and managers.



Here’s an overview of the content covered in the white paper:

Why not ADDIE

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” In the past, we’ve assumed that instructional designers should not be seen or heard. We tell our clients or stakeholders, “Don’t look at what we’re doing. Wait until it’s built until you look.” But Agile instructional design is different. It’s about telling our stakeholders, “Come join me behind the curtain and work with me to create something great.” And this is just one of the many benefits of restructuring your processes to be more iterative… more agile. Jennifer will go into some of the benefits of Agile methodology over the traditional ADDIE model.

Managing the Work

Wanting to work incrementally, iteratively, and collaboratively is all well and good, but at some point you have to manage the work and timeline. It can seem daunting to do so using a whole new approach to work. The white paper will give you the manager’s perspective of Agile Learning Design. Jennifer breaks down Kanban methodology and shows you how our Agile workflow looks and feels.

What “kind” of agile do you need?

Did you know that “Agile” is just a broad term for a variety of project management approaches? BLP’s Learning Services team uses Kanban, but the Product Development and Marketing teams both use their own variation of Scrum. The white paper includes an interview with President Sharon Boller where she discusses the pluses and minuses of the Scrum methodology. Use it to decide what approach to agile is right for your team.

Getting Started

Theories and diagrams are all well and good, but this white paper isn’t limited to the abstract. You will use it as a practical, hands-on guide to Agile Learning Design. At the end, you’ll find a series of questions and suggestions to help you get the conversation started at your organization.

Are you ready to “get Agile”? Download the white paper now!

Agile vs ADDIE: Which Is Better for Learning Design?

My last post was about Agile Learning Design, an iterative model of instructional design that focuses on collaboration and rapid prototyping. And it’s become quite a hot topic this past year. It is the hot new alternative to the old, and some have argued outdated, ADDIE model that has been the ultimate instructional design model for years. The most welcome change is the fact that an Agile model has you sharing your mockups, prototypes, and early suggestions with the client—right off the bat! This way you can adjust on the fly. No more building a course only to realize the client hates the use of some button in every single section.

Agile versus ADDIE: It Doesn't Always Have to Be a Fight

How we talk about Agile versus ADDIE

This difference (of early sharing and collaborating) is such a breath of fresh air that some people have even recommended leaving ADDIE in favor of a new, more agile system.

I can see where they are coming from, because newer and more efficient processes have been developed. Agile (and other iterative models like it) take into account new technologies and more rapidly evolving ideas. But I’m not sure if “leaving” is the language we should be using. The concept behind the ADDIE model has worked for instructional designers for years. There is something about the simplicity of it—it grounds the team in stages so you know you’re not designing before you’ve defined the problem, or developing before you’ve laid out your design, etc.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

“To me it’s not really versus”

So I would say that Agile isn’t a complete replacement for the ADDIE model. We’re not urging you to pull an “out with the old and in with the new” approach. In fact, you can make the case that in an Agile model you still do all the steps of ADDIE. Why does it have to be a fight between the two?

That’s precisely the point Jennifer Bertram made during my interview with her for these Agile Learning Design blog posts. She’s the resident ‘Agile expert’ here at Bottom-Line Performance and here are some snippets of what she had to say:

So in Agile versus ADDIE, which one wins?

“To me it’s not really versus. I don’t think they’re incompatible or that the science of ADDIE is wrong at all, I just think about when working with other people it requires you to talk about it more frequently—and that’s why you need an Agile process. Our clients really love being part of the team in that design meeting that is deciding what the interactions are and so on. We’re getting to solutions our clients are comfortable with earlier because they were there helping create them. That’s how Agile expands on ADDIE.”

At BLP we primarily use the ADDIE process, but integrate it with Agile. Can you explain when each process makes the most sense?

“If all you want are your traditional words on a screen with a next button, then Agile doesn’t make sense because there’s nothing really to iterate—there’s nothing to prototype, there’s nothing to test—you would still use ADDIE there. The Agile process is about different functionalities and what task we’re having those learners practice.”

We’ve used the Agile process when building Knowledge Guru games, is Agile a good system for developing learning games?

“Agile is really helpful for learning games because there is a lot of functionality to test—there are a lot of moving parts. So you think about when we develop learning games you have the learning goal, the specific challenges you want those learners to complete in the game, how do they win and what’s that system look like—there’s a lot of things that could benefit from the Agile process, the collaboration and iteration.”

ADDIE wasn’t supposed to be so rigidly applied

A lot of the bum rap that ADDIE has gotten recently, the reason that so many are hailing it as “outdated,” comes from that fact that people picture the ADDIE model in a couple different ways. Yes, the original version of ADDIE—the one developed in the 1970’s by Florida State University—is rigid, linear, and completely impractical for us. However, even those who thought it up knew that. Very quickly the model started being revised and adapted for more practical use. The diagram below shows two different diagrams of the “same” ADDIE model. On the left is the very first diagram from Florida State University (1975) and on the right is a version of the model that started becoming popular later on.

The ADDIE Model: Old and New

You can see how the diagram on the right starts to become a lot more like Agile. The evaluation is more constant and the structure is much less rigid. It is still lacking a system of iterations and rapid prototyping, and it still doesn’t bring the client into the early phases, but it’s much better. It’s so easy to hold the diagram on the left up as a straw man argument for ADDIE.

Semantics aside, we still need to embrace Agile

All that being said, Agile is still the future of instructional design. Rapid prototyping, consulting with the client early on, and the constant collaboration leads to faster, more innovative solutions. Not to mention it saves you so much time and frustration. No more developing a pretty, polished game only to realize the client wants changes or had something come up with their budget. All in all, I think we should avoid talking about ditching ADDIE completely, but we need to start moving on to Agile Learning Design.

What Is Agile Learning Design?

If you’re in the learning design business or working with game based learning, then you’ve probably come across the term “Agile” a lot recently, so we’re going to try and make sense of it. For almost 40 years the ADDIE model has reigned as king, the ultimate framework for instructional designers and training developers—but we have a feeling that’s about to change. Agile is a fresh approach to learning design that takes the ADDIE model to a new level. So let’s dive in and learn about Agile Learning Design.

What is Agile Learning Design?


Agile started as a software development process—a reaction to the cumbersome “waterfall” methodology that had been brought over from older manufacturing practices. Early software development companies had no model for their new trade, so they simply borrowed what had been established for years in other industries where products are made.

Interested in learning more about agile learning design? Watch our webinar: Agile Learning Design: A Practical Perspective.

The problem is that this method is extremely impractical for software development. This is because in order to move to the next stage of development, the stage before it must be 100% complete, perfect, and documented… and that’s just not how software development works. (I’m sure you can already start to see how this applies to learning design).

The Waterfall Method

“Yeah, this just doesn’t work for us.”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

By the mid-90s software developers had had enough, and they came up with their own ways of doing things. They created the Scrum and Adaptive Software Development processes along with many others. And in 2001, 17 software developers came together to talk about what they were doing—thus, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born.

It defined the Agile development process as an iterative method based on collaboration. Agile would focus on adaptation, evolving development, rapid prototyping, and constant feedback and evaluation.

So What Does This Mean for Me?

I’m sure by now you are eager to find out what this has to do with us, the learning designers. Well I’ll tell you: We are like software developers, our learning solutions are our metaphorical software—and an inflexible approach to ADDIE is our Waterfall.

I will be careful not to make many more comparisons between ADDIE and Waterfall, because while Waterfall was a flawed method from the start, ADDIE has been a successful model for learning designers for years. My point here (the whole reason we are taking time to explain Agile) is that the rigidity of ADDIE is now holding back learning design. It could be costing you time and money, on top of hindering your ability to come to the best learning solution through iterations and refinement.

Let’s make this more real. Here at Bottom-Line Performance we’ve begun to use an Agile learning design process, and we have quite a bit to say about it. As part of this post I interviewed Jennifer Bertram, the Manager of Instructional Design at Bottom-Line Performance, and here’s what she said:

What has the switch to an Agile process done for you and your team?

“[Agile] has allowed our teams to collaborate a lot more between Instructional Designers and Multimedia, and I think we’re creating more innovative solutions and focusing less on dry content and info screens. Our clients have also really enjoyed getting to see things that work much earlier in the process. They also like the flexibility and having more opportunities to provide input.”

What has this upgrade from ADDIE helped you do that you couldn’t do before?

“Well I think that we’re still doing all of the steps of ADDIE… but what it has done is it has given us a better way to move through the phases of ADDIE and keep coming back to them again, mainly the first three—Analysis, Design, and Development—because as you’re creating this design proof you’re certainly in design mode, but you’re also already developing a little bit. Then when you’re thinking about development, when we’re getting to Alpha, we’re already going back and redesigning things.

This way we’re just planning for it so it doesn’t cause so much frustration and anxiety, on both sides really, for the client— if we say “oh, well you didn’t tell us that back then,” but now we’re having a lot more conversations with them about the design—and then for the development side as well.”

What’s something new about Agile that you like?

“More client interactions and more iterations. So now we’re not going away and creating something and saying “what do you think?”—we’re saying together what our ideas are. So we’re getting solutions that our clients are happy with, and we have a more solid foundation early in the process.”

Don’t worry, there’s more! We’ll continue this interview in next week’s post, Agile vs ADDIE: Which Is Better for Learning Design?

So What Is Agile; What’s the Process?

By now we’ve defined Agile learning design as an extremely iterative process. By using collaborative teams (client collaboration included) and constant iterations and feedback, you end up with a faster and more flexible (aka: agile) process that arrives at more innovative solutions. But this is a fairly vague description of Agile, only accounting for the big picture. How does an Agile process actually work? Where does it even differ from ADDIE? Take a look at this flowchart and see for yourself:

An example of the Agile process applied to learning design

Well there you have it, Agile learning design in a nutshell. Something that started with a bunch of software designers coming together to shoot down Waterfall Methodology became the secret to more efficient (and innovative) learning design. Stay tuned for next week’s post on Agile vs ADDIE where we’ll further break down the differences between the two processes and show you when it makes sense to be more Agile.