Effective Solutions Through Partnership

Category Archives: Corporate Training

Why Employee Training Is Really an Investment in Customer Service

Corporate Training, KAIP Academy, Learning, Training

Photo Credit: Stephen Alfano

By Stephen Alfano

Loop opened. Let me start by saying that I am a humanist at heart: I believe in and champion the philosophy that ultimately it is the critical thinking and rationale behind the actions of people that run any successful endeavor—especially business. I inherited this “people power” belief from my Socratic (and selfless) parents. This bent blossomed and grew with a ‘70s-era public grade school and ‘80s-era liberal arts college education. It then expanded further, and was honed razor-sharp over a 30-year marketing and business development career. Here, critical thinking and rationale took the form of extensive studying, shaping, and supporting the thoughts and behaviors of people at the center of the reaching the primary goal—satisfying customers.

“Customer service has everything to do with consistency, systems, training, and the habits you and your team create.” – Amber Hurdle, employee engagement author

Of course, considering Amber Hurdle’s insight, my preamble might sound a bit Pollyannaish to my fellow rationalist (albeit economist) peers and betters—those who might try to couch my thinking with the simple fact that without profitability, there is no business to be had. Fair enough. Customer-centric solutions delivered by educated and diligent employees don’t always spell profit in the marketplace. (The failures of Compaq, Circuit City, and Pets.com are textbook examples.) So, people—employees—are only partially responsible for effective customer service.

Statistically speaking, according to Jayson DeMers, Founder and CEO at AudienceBloom—leader in the social media audience acquisition marketing sector—in an Entrepreneur article, five out the ten reasons clients leave are directly related to employee involvement or interaction. And two more are indirectly related.

In my experience in marketing and business development sectors, I have seen surveys where 75% or more of the customer service satisfaction was employee-related, to wit: the difference between a loyal customer and one ready to walk away to a competitor seemed to hinge on the actions (or inactions) of employees. Considering that employee actions (or inactions) are mostly determined by training, investing in this area would then equate to an investment in customer service. Loop closed.

Below, you’ll find several incredibly helpful (and humanist) employee training-related links:

5 Tips for Developing an Effective Employee Training Program

Every Employee Needs Customer Service Training — Here’s Why

What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages

About the Author: Stephen Alfano is an Organizational Change Management Consultant and Communications Expert. He has 30 years of experience leading and managing internal and external marketing initiatives for both private and public-sector clients. His résumé includes providing both new business and business process improvement services to Apple, American Express, AT&T, California Department of Transportation, Chevron, Entergy, Levi Strauss & Co., Louisiana Office of Tourism, Mattel, Microsoft, Novell, SONY, Sutter Health, and Wells Fargo. Stephen currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing change management and communications expertise and support services to California State Departments.

7 Smart Ways to Make Your Sprint a Success

Agile, Best Practices, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Corporate Training, KAIP Academy, Learning, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Training, Waterfall

By Michael Bosch, CSP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSPO

KAI Partners is excited to share a guest blog post by Michael Bosch, Agile Services Director of Brightline Solutions, Inc., a locally-based firm offering Agile Delivery and Change Management Services to public sector organizations and private sector firms.

Remember, KAIP Academy offers Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training courses! For more information or to register your team and take them to the next level, click here.

Establishing all the components of an Agile framework (even a lightweight one) can be a daunting task for any organization. If yours is one that has decided to take the transformation plunge, then you’re likely planning (or have already started) your iteration cadence.

Timeboxed development periods, known as iterations or sprints (the latter promoted in the Scrum methodology), are the foundational rhythm to the “groove” of Agile. Supported by other elements such as roadmapping, release planning, demonstrations, and retrospectives, sprints are the dominant architectural feature of the Agile framework. And for good reason:

Sprints are where all the work is performed and where the innovation occurs.

The best sprint lengths are one to three weeks. If multiple Agile teams are working in your organization, the common wisdom is to have them running on a synchronized sprint schedule. The most critical aspect of running an iteration is that the team is formed in such a way that it can perform the work foreseeably asked of it, that the team is empowered and entrusted to a sufficient degree, and that the entire product community (not just the team, but everyone involved in its work) understands the mindsets, roles, and expectations required in Agile.

With that foundation in place, you’re ready to start looking to optimize your team’s sprint so that success becomes predictable. Below are seven things high-performing Agile teams do that you can use to ensure your sprints are optimized for business-driven delivery.

1. Create and Promote a Sprint Theme or Goal: One of my favorite ways to focus a team on the sprint is to ask the members to put together a headline of what is to be produced, accomplished, and attained in the upcoming iteration. I’ll ask, “If this next sprint was a newspaper article, what is its headline?” This technique allows the team to:

  • be concise and pithy,
  • create understanding amongst themselves,
  • share insights; and
  • have fun putting a “brand” on their effort to keep a sharp focus on what’s being delivered and why.

2. Encourage the Product Owner and Sponsors to Address the Team: Another stand-by technique to promote success in a sprint is to allow time for the product owner, sponsor, or both to speak to the team about why the planned work is important. Have them speak about the features that will be created and why these are important to the organization, its customers, and their users. I once had a sponsor talk to a team before a sprint about the importance of the new feature set to the world—you have never seen such commitment as I saw in that team in that timebox. Have your sponsor and product manager make the visit—the time invested can translate to delivered value.

3. Establish and Drive an Effective Product Backlog Grooming Process: Disaggregation (a term Agilists use to describe the defining a set of items that will result in the production of the whole) of the product into logical components, commonly referred to as “epics,” and the subsequent disaggregation of those epics into producible items (or “stories,” in Scrum) is the chief responsibility of the product manager (“product owner” in Scrum). This role works in close coordination with the development team, usually working with the Agile Coach (in Scrum, it may be the ScrumMaster) and/or other team members to prioritize the items listed in the product backlog, or PBL, prior to each sprint as part of its planning process.

There are several techniques that can be employed to support and mentor the work of a product manager (stay tuned for future blog posts on this topic!) and there are multiple resources on the Internet to get a good PBL up and running. The take-home message:

Make sure there is a close, communicative connection between the development team and the product owner throughout product development, and that the PBL is the central point of that connection.

4. Champion and Facilitate both Individual and Communal Commitment: A critical component of the translation of items from the Product Backlog to the Sprint Backlog (SBL) is a clear understanding on the team’s part of what each item is, how it will be produced, the criteria of satisfaction for its acceptance, and how it fits into the larger whole. As discussed above, this is fostered by a sufficiently-groomed PBL; another way to help facilitate this understanding is promoting a team-level mindset.

One of the steps in translation of items from PBL to SBL is the volunteering of team member(s) to perform the work involved in the item. This is the individual commitment necessary to produce the work. Great Agile teams, though, don’t stop there: They also commit communally as a team to all individual commitments.

To promote this, have the person(s) who has taken responsibility to produce the feature or component discuss:

  • how the feature will be produced (remember W. Edwards Deming, the father of modern quality management: if you cannot describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing)
  • what impediments may be encountered
  • what information gaps needs to be filled, and any foreseen dependencies, risks, or issues.

Then have the team ask questions, give feedback and suggestions, and (if warranted) recite back the work as described. This will ensure a critical common understanding: Not only do the persons doing the work have a clear plan, but the team also understands—and can help if needed. This adds surety that all the work the team committed to in the sprint gets done, which is one definition of a successful iteration.

5. Coach the Team in the Beginning, Coach the Individual in the Middle: As Lyssa Adkins points out in her book Coaching Agile Teams, interruptions—even in the form of well-intentioned but ill-timed coaching—can seriously impact a team’s flow during a sprint. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to prevent ad-hoc “mini-retrospectives,” “team teaching sessions,” and other events from occurring during the iteration. You should save that type of teaching for the planning sessions and lessons learned reviews that bookend it (see #6 for more on this topic!). While the sprint is active, it is best to keep coaching at the individual team member level, and even that should be limited to directly supporting an immediate need in the sprint.

6. Leverage the Opportunities for Retrospective: Keep your retrospectives fresh with some easy modifications: Change up the agenda, location, facilitator role, and other elements to keep your team interested and engaged. Come prepared, but be flexible—I usually come to a retro with an agenda in mind (for example, something observed during the sprint that indicates a need for review of an Agile principle), but I check with the team first to see if there’s something they’d rather review. Check with the team on where in the Sprint cycle they’d like their retrospective. Many teams like to hold it directly after the review, some like to do it just before, still others like to wait until just before the beginning of the next iteration. Find what works for each team, but continually impress the importance of the retrospective. It is more than mere ceremony—it is a vital step to allow your team time and space to reflect on the past iteration in order to improve future ones.

7. Foster Urgency and Fun: One of the most productive aspects of an Agile production environment is the consistent, predictable, confining nature of timeboxed development. It creates a sense of urgency that can almost be sensed, like a feeling in the air. The regular performance of sprints helps with this—it creates the downbeat that helps everyone stay (or get back into) rhythm. It is the chassis on which the other elements of the Agile framework are attached (as they owe their intrinsic value to the sprint itself).

Foster that sense of urgency in your teams, but balance it with the need to maintain a sustainable pace. Moreover, make sure that your team is having fun! Agile is fun—getting things done that provide needed value to our customers quickly is intrinsically rewarding. Let that shine on your team in whichever way you find works—they will reward you with sprints jam-packed with innovative product delivery!

About the Author: Specializing in transformation and disruption services for companies looking to improve, Michael Bosch has been providing high-value delivery services for more than 15 years. An Agilist with more than 10 years’ experience in the incremental development of complex digital solutions, Mr. Bosch has served as a Scrum Master, developer, and Agile coach for multiple sectors and lines of business, is a recognized Agile services technologist, product developer, and staff development expert. He specializes in creating breakthrough, team-empowering, lightweight communication and delivery frameworks for organizations of all sizes. Mr. Bosch is a Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), an Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Product Owner (CSPO), and an accredited Project Management Professional (PMP). He holds multiple degrees, including a masters in computer information systems. He has served as a professional trainer and speaker for more than a decade and is a published author and regular contributor to multiple information sources.

5 Steps to Building a Successful Agile Development Culture

Agile, Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), Corporate Training, Healthcare, KAIP Academy, Learning, Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Sacramento, Scrum, Training, Waterfall

By David Kendall

Software, and for that matter, product development of any kind, has historically been described as a conflict between three primary constraints: Time, cost, and quality.

The missing component to this description is the labor, i.e. the people involved throughout the product development lifecycle: There is a business need identified by the customer, an analysis is required to be completed by an analyst to convert the business need into a product solution, an engineer needs to convert that conceptual solution into some type of prototype which is then tested by another engineer or analyst, and finally an implementation specialist needs to ensure that risk has been mitigated to an acceptable level to present to the customer. Oh, and let’s not forget the customer needs—to experience business value once that product begins production—especially when evaluating the cycle success criteria.

All steps towards building a successful Agile development culture, including those outlined below, require that people be involved, engaged, transparent in communications, and aligned in their expectations.

The irony is that the conflict between time, cost, and quality cannot be optimized unless the culture that the people involved are working in empowers each of them to do their best work, to be accountable for their actions, and to do it in a timeframe that delivers business value throughout the product development lifecycle.

Rigorous application of the Agile principles and values through culture development is a powerful approach to empowering your workforce to do their absolute best work. Below are some of my tips to building a successful Agile development culture in your organization:

Step 1: Decide why (and when) you need Agile Methodology. The “why” part is straightforward: Agile will help you deliver your organization’s highest priorities faster—and more efficiently—than the conventional waterfall methodology. The overall Agile approach eliminates the need for finishing a project or product completely before moving on to the next iteration or dependent deliverable, allowing you to be more flexible with your input and output processes, and facilitating activities in shorter time frames that are much better suited to anticipating and mitigating changes along the way.

Agile methods work best when you are looking to break development down into small increments to shorten or skip up-front planning and design review processes. These small increments or sprints, as they are known in Agile circles, are typically set in one to four-week periods.

Step 2: Set goals for your organization that are compatible with Agile Methodology. If you don’t need the project or product urgently, then Agile methods should not be necessary. Of course, defining what is urgent isn’t always easy—especially when mission-critical operations or contractual obligations are factored into the schedule. Regardless, goal-setting can only be successful with disciplined and prescriptive analysis in hand. And ranking the highest priorities for your organization requires real-world experience as well as well-trained support staff.

Step 3: Equip and empower your Agile Methodology team. Once you have decided that you are going to use Agile Methodology and set the goals that it will help you achieve, you need to equip and empower your staff with the training and tools necessary for them to be successful. For example, investing in Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training for the members of your project management and product development teams ensures a common understanding and the practical application of a rapid-process development cycle, which will pay dividends in the form of production efficiency and time-savings.

Remember, KAIP Academy offers Certified ScrumMaster® (CSM) training courses! For more information or to register your team and take them to the next level, click here.

Step 4: Establish performance metrics and review your Agile Methodology practice continuously. Agile Methodology is designed to drive processes efficiently. Sprints are designed to help teams work collaboratively. Scrum teams are designed to create learning opportunities for individuals to prepare them to adapt to change—quickly. All outcomes from the Agile activities should be measured to ensure that the organization is optimizing the investment of training and tool sets on a continuous basis.

Step 5: Promote Agile Methodology with your staff, clients, and within your vendor community regularly. With purposeful planning, policies, procedures, and processes, Agile Methodology will become an integral part of your organization. By adding thoughtful and regular communication—promoting and reinforcing of the rapid-process development cycle principles and benefits—to both internal and external stakeholders, Agile Methodology will also become a pillar of your resource planning, new business strategy, and partnership programming. In short, it will become an integral part of your culture.

For more information on putting Agile Methodology to work for you, check out the following links:

Values and the 12 Principles of Agile
Agile Model & Methodology: Guide for Developers and Testers
3 REASONS WHY AGILE WORKS

When not to use Agile

About the Author: David Kendall is the President and Managing Director of KAI Partners, Inc. A Senior Information Systems professional with 30 years of experience leading Information Technology (IT) program and project teams focused on enterprise-wide solutions, Mr. Kendall began his career as a member of the United States Air Force working in Electronic Warfare. With an honorable discharge and a degree from the University of Maryland in Information Systems Management, Mr. Kendall moved into the Health and Human Services sector performing roles with increasing responsibility and complexity within the health care field. Mr. Kendall’s current work includes advising one of California’s health care agencies as a Senior Project Manager and Program Integration Manager.

Why—and How—You Should Implement a Training Workgroup

Best Practices, Corporate Training, KAIP Academy, Learning, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Prosci, Team Building, Train the Trainer, Training

By Elizabeth Long

Oftentimes, change management consultants enter a project and provide training resources and knowledge for their client. When the project is over, the consultants take these resources and knowledge with them and the client is left without the tools needed to replicate the work in the future.

Something I strive for as a change management leader on my projects is making sure the knowledge stays internal. I want to make sure the client knows what the consultants know, so that client has the information when the consultants leave.

After over 20 years of providing change management and training for clients across all kinds of industries, something I have found that works wonders is a Train the Trainer approach. With a Train the Trainer approach, a training workgroup is developed. This is a training implementation approach that directly engages the client. The training workgroup is important for knowledge transfer and for client ownership of the product.

Here are my recommended steps for creating the framework for a training workgroup in your organization:

  1. Assess the organizational structure and current training environment. Assess who in the organization is qualified to represent their location or department in the training workgroup. If the organization already has training staff in place, great—these folks are likely a natural fit for the training workgroup.
  2. Ask for volunteers to apply for the training workgroup. It’s important that the people identified in step 1 are interested in and want to be involved in the workgroup. After assessing the organizational structure and coming up with a list of possible participants, I recommend asking those who are qualified to officially submit their interest. You’ll be surprised how many people will want to be involved.
  3. Train the trainers. Once the training workgroup is created, members are trained to be able to deliver trainings to their peers. Here they will learn training best practices, presentation skills, and more.
  4. Deliver and check in. When the materials and trainers are ready, it’s time to deliver! Make sure the workgroup checks in regularly to assess how the training plans and resources are working, if there are areas for improvement, etc.

It can take some time, effort, and planning to get the training workgroup set up, but its benefits are numerous. Here are a few:

  1. Aligns employees across different locations. If you have an audience that’s widespread—perhaps there are satellite or virtual offices across cities or states—the representative from each office becomes that location’s training representative. This person brings back knowledge to the staff at their location. This helps create consistency by making sure employees across the organization are relayed the same information.
  2. Reduces travel/cost savings. A natural benefit of the training workgroup is that it cuts down on travel. Instead of sending an entire training team over to a satellite office—or sending the entire satellite office to headquarters for training—the location’s representative manages the training of the staff at his or her location.
  3. Empowers employees and provides them a new skill-set. We recently talked about career development and how important it is for employees to continuously learn and grow in their jobs. Allowing employees to be involved through the training workgroup can increase their skill-set and open them up to future opportunities within the organization.
  4. Knowledge stays in-house. Most importantly, the knowledge, resources, and plans stay with the organization. Once the internal training workgroup creates training plans and resources, there are now materials on-hand to use for new-hires, transfers, those promoting to new roles, etc. People are trained appropriately and are fully prepared with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed.

I have found that implementing a training workgroup can help break down the silos and bring people together. Members of training workgroups often reach out to one another directly to help problem-solve, which adds a layer of collaboration and cohesion within the organization.

Interested in creating a training workgroup or have additional questions? Email us at info@kaipartners.com or ask your question in the comments! Happy training to you!

About the Author: Elizabeth Long is a professional Organization Development Consultant and Curriculum Developer/Trainer. She received her Certification in Organizational Change Management from Prosci and is certified in e-learning development from Langevine Learning Center. Elizabeth has worked in many industries: High tech, healthcare, and state and local government. Currently, Elizabeth works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc. as a contractor working in a variety of California State Departments. Elizabeth has lived in Sacramento for the past 17 years and appreciates the history of Sacramento as well as its convenience to many well-known destinations like San Francisco, Tahoe, and Reno.

How to Plan Your Career Development

Corporate Training, Employee Engagement, Human Resources, KAIP Academy, Learning, Onboarding, Training

By Dr. Melissa McManus, SHRM-CP

Career development is the ability for you to manage your career. It involves goal-setting, awareness, and a willingness to learn. It is an ongoing process throughout the course of your career and sometimes, it can involve a bit of risk (don’t worry, I’ll come back to that later!).

You may have noticed in those first few sentences, I say ‘you’ or ‘your.’ There is a reason for this! Career development is driven by the individual—not by your employer, but by YOU.

While it is not uncommon for a company or organization to facilitate career development—many organizations these days offer employees certification training or tuition reimbursement—it is ultimately up to you to take the reins of your own career development.

Companies typically want to see their employees grow and improve, not only in their current position, but also so they can take on more elevated positions in the future. The better you are at your job, the better off the company is—it’s a win-win situation for all involved.

If you want a promotion, a position in a different department, or to simply be the best at what you do, then you must continue to develop your skills and knowledge.

And, you must be willing to take risks.

Anything worth doing involves some risk. While fear of the unknown and the ‘what-if’ part of your brain can keep you from doing certain things, when it comes to your career development, you should try to ignore that nagging voice. With great risk comes great reward.

For example, I recently obtained a SHRM-CP Human Resources certification through the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM). This certification provides me with more authority in my area, allowing me to advance not only my career, but within my organization as well. The SHRM-CP provides me with knowledge and skills in my chosen career, and ensures that I continue to be a life-long learner in my area through recertification activities.

While I didn’t start my career with a focus on HR, it was taking risks along the way that allowed me to follow a different path towards becoming SHRM-CP certified. If you don’t try new things, you could miss out on great opportunities—in your career, missing out can lead to stagnation and monotony, a situation I’m sure most would rather avoid.

At this point you might be saying, YES, I want to be in control of my career development! But where do I start, what do I do, and how do I do it?

The best way you can manage your career development is with a solid plan. Here are four areas you should take inventory of when planning your career development:

  1. Self-Assessment – this is something you should do on a periodic basis. This can be every six months, every year, or at an interval appropriate to you and your goals. You should assess where you are currently to help you plan for where you want to go.
  2. Career Awareness – this is understanding not only your current position, but other positions that are available to you based on your education, skills, and experience. This can include an awareness of careers that you want to have in the future, as well.
  3. Goal Setting – set goals, both long-term (5+ years) and short-term (1-2 years), as well as some immediate goals. These should include what you want to accomplish, how, and why. Keep it simple at first—you can always expand and make changes. Plus, changes will likely happen organically as you progress through your career.
  4. Skill Development – develop the skills that will assist you in meeting your goals and keep you informed in your career area. You can accomplish this though reading, seminars, trainings, conferences, etc.

Seems simple enough, right? The easiest way to get started with your career development is to start anywhere you feel comfortable. Famed sales coach Zig Ziglar said it well, “It is not what happens to you that determines how far you go in life; it is what you do with what happens to you.”

How do you incorporate career development planning in your life?

About the Author: Melissa McManus is a Human Resources Generalist and research guru and loves every minute of it. One of her greatest strengths is her resolute ability to soak in new information and her never-ending thirst for knowledge. Melissa has a Master’s degree in Counseling, and a Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership with a focus in Human Resource Development. Melissa’s professional interests include human behavior, career development, research, writing, training, and knowledge transfer. She is passionate about life and describes herself as an avid bookworm. In her free time, when she is not running her kids to gymnastics or karate, Melissa enjoys reading (a lot), wine tasting, CrossFit, being with friends/family, and spending time with her husband and two children.

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