Agile for Developing Education Programs

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This blog explores different perspectives and usage scenarios for agile project management. Please share your thoughts, best practices and concerns about the application of agile in different fields, including ones that don't feature the traditional uses of agile. Let us have conversations on the benefits that can be expected from using this excellent approach in different projects.

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Agile for Developing Education Programs

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All over the world, educators, parents, and political leaders are working toward continued improvements in Education Programs.  This continued development is needed to keep pace with opportunities presented by technological advances, new ideas and new knowledge about how students learn. 


The process of developing an education program is complex with numerous stakeholders; learners, teachers, parents, administrators, employers and the government.  Each stakeholder has competing priorities with; schedule, scope, quality, risks, resources and cost constraints.  Large complex projects require the management of a skilled and experience project manager. However, there is a gap between individuals who are working in the education field with their academic background and business people who look at the deliverables at the end of the education program.  This gap can be filled by professional project managers who have a background in both education programs and a project and business management.


Looking at the development and improvement of education programs as a project or a program (a group of projects) allows us to apply proven project management methodologies to managing these efforts.  Selecting the right approach and methodology is critical to meeting the needs of the education program and the various stakeholders.   The most common methods are; the traditional waterfall method, the Agile Project Management method or a hybrid model, using both methods.


The traditional waterfall approach is adequate to define, manage and control the scope, schedule, quality and budget in the stable environment.  The waterfall approach requires a complex communication plan.  There are numerous stakeholders when developing an education program; learners, teachers, parents, administrators, employers and the government.  Each of these stakeholders has their own definition of success and often with competing priorities.  Add to these challenges the dynamic, fast-paced environment where the needs of the learners can change before the education program is developed.  The waterfall approach can lead to delivering obsolete knowledge to the learners or an old fashion delivery technique which does not match the new skills that the new generations master.


Agile Project Management reduces complexity by breaking down the longer development cycle into smaller usable segments, Agile “stories”.  These “stories” can be prioritized based on the needs, student level, environment, available resources, technology and others.  Agile also creates different “personas” for the various stakeholders and analyzes the impact of the education program before it is completed. 


The iterative approach of Agile Project Management delivers a part of the program, tests it, collects feedback and adapts the deliverables.   This allows the development of the new education programs to adjust quickly and align with all the dynamic changes in the education environment. With each iteration you can apply the changes based on student’s ability to understand, maximizing the value.  This value driven approach can lead us to invent new ways to improve the value to the students without delivering obsolete knowledge.


In 2012, I worked with a team of six to evaluate using the Agile approach for education programs.  We developed and executed an education program to teach eight to twelve-year olds “Project Management”.    The first pilot project was one-month, divided into four “sprints” of one-week each.  Each “sprint” had its own set of objectives.   We developed the Agile “personas” based on the nature of students, parents, teachers, and others to know exactly how can we deliver value which matched their needs.


Each week we would develop and deliver the curriculum and exercises based on the previous week’s feedback from the students, parents and team.  The Agile approach allowed us to quickly incorporate the feedback and deliver a new program to be tested and evaluated each week.


The team and I did a second test.  In the pilot project, we used the students going to a circus as the project theme, in the second program we used creating a Lego educational kit as the project theme.  This allowed us to further test our approach.  The Agile Project Management test has been done with the same approach in different countries, each time the team was able to deliver the value without compromising the quality. This is one of many of examples of how to use Agile Project Management in Education. 


Working on these test projects was a learning journey for the students and the test team.   Having completed these test projects, we now know we can use the Agile methodology to manage any educational project. Agile enables us start earlier and adapt quickly.  The methodology creates an environment that encourages an open approach, soliciting new ideas and options. It builds a strong team who believe in the value.


The Agile Project Management approach is well suited for developing education programs. It is important that we as project, program and portfolio managers educate the academic staff and the individuals working in Education about the new tools and techniques of Agile.  As project managers when we develop any new education program we should consider Agile approach or hybrid approach to deliver a real and updated value to the learners.

Author : Mohamed Khalifa Hassan
Edited by: Cindy Coan

Posted on: March 20, 2017 01:53 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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I really liked this article and have a few questions if you have time? Montessori Education is a very valuable educational methodology. The two samples you gave are concurrent in some ways with the objectives for the students, aged Infant - 13.
How as a Project Manager would you recommend setting up milestones in Scheduling baseline?

How do you think with Agile method, scope creep could occur? And can be prevented?

If the particular school is implementing many mini-projects, do you have suggestions on how to implement a strategy of possibly combining a few of the projects and then using AGILE to complete the loner tasks so no one Project is left unchecked and unworked?

I'm curious why you think waterfall approaches require more complex communication plan? Would you please elaborate on how you see the personae simplifying the communication plan?

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