You’re a new SPC gearing up to teach your first class in the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®), i.e., formal training with lots of slides. You’re probably a bit nervous, maybe unsure about how to present all this information in an engaging, relevant way.
Want some advice? Preparation is key to success. Take it from two battle-hardened SAFe veterans who’ve taught thousands of students—going in prepared gives you greater self-confidence, more flexibility, and an opportunity to be more strategic with what you and your students will get out of the class. The end result? Grateful students who walk away feeling confident that SAFe will work for their organization, and maybe even inspired to teach their own classes someday.
So how can you go in prepared? To help you out, we developed a list of tips for new SAFe instructors, a list that we would've wanted at the beginning of our teaching careers. These suggestions are all tried and true, and we hope that they will help you motivate the newest crop of Lean-Agile change agents.
1. Learn About Your Students before the Class
To be the most effective communicator, you have to know your audience. What are their mindsets and where are they coming from? Research their organizations. Find out what their Value Streams are. Ask them about their businesses and the features they’re working on. If you can’t research ahead of time, then greet your students as they walk in and ask some questions. Just a few minutes of learning about your students can help you create a much more meaningful context for them.
2. Get Familiar with the Trainer Guide
The Trainer Guide comes with each SAFe course when you purchase the course license. You can find it in the “Getting Started” folder. One of the best ways to learn the materials is through this Guide, which contains all the slides and speaker notes. We recommend that you study it twice over before teaching your first class.
3. Research the Hard Concepts
When you’re new to the material, there will be things you don’t understand. For me (Randy), it was U-Curve optimization. I had to study it and phone a friend or two before it made sense. If you’re unsure about a concept, reach out to your network, maybe even a previous instructor.
4. Pre-load the Videos
Most course modules have a video or two. What happens if you don’t have network access? Switching back and forth between the course PowerPoint and a web browser is awkward and not a good option. For a smoother approach, embed the videos in the PowerPoint slides before you start class. Duplicate the PowerPoint slides with the links, download the videos, and then insert the videos onto the duplicated slides with AutoPlay set.
5. Master Stories and Analogies
There are concepts your students just aren’t going to understand without some connection or context. Think about real stories or analogies from your own work to help students make the connections. If you can’t find your own stories, then borrow someone else’s.
6. Pair Teach or Watch Someone Else Teach First
If you can, pair with someone who has taught the class before. We recommend creating a system that allows for pairing, if you don’t have one already. Can’t pair? Then watch someone else teach the class and take notes. Even though we’ve taught more than a thousand students, we still watch others teach to learn valuable tricks and stories from them.
7. Get the Room Ready Early
Get the room set with supplies, posters, etc. the day or night before. By strategically placing furniture and materials to optimize learning and reduce distractions, you are setting your students up for better outcomes.
8. Manage Student Interest Levels
Being able to deliver and manage your training is critical. Let’s face it—our attention can wander after about 10-20 minutes. So how can you engage (or reengage) your students?
- Move around the room.
- Change the tone and tempo of your delivery.
- Whiteboard out a concept.
- Don’t read every bullet point on the slides. Instead, focus on a particular bullet point or two and relate it to your audience (see Tip #5).
- Don’t do all the teaching. If you can, ask powerful questions that lead to deeper thoughts. A great question might be: “What will it take to make this happen in your organization?”
9. Manage the Timebox
If you’re lucky, your students will be highly engaged and have lots of questions. That’s a blessing and a curse. What are some ways to stay on track?
- Study the Timings section of your Trainer Guide and stick to it as best you can.
- Give students short, two-sentence answers to their questions, then encourage them to write their questions on the classroom Parking Lot or offer to talk more over the break.
- To shave off a few minutes, you can shorten the exercises. Don’t eliminate them entirely, because they’re there for a reason.
- Many exercises involve solo thought, then some discussion. You can cut some time by skipping right to the discussion. While it’s not always ideal, students get more time to hear others’ perspectives.
10. Manage the Energy
Every class has a lull where the students start to get groggy. Prepare a few activities to get them up and moving.
- One of our favorite activities is “Share One Thing You Learned." The class stands, and each student shares one thing that he or she has learned with someone else in the room. It gets students moving and adds energy and positivity to the class. Just be aware that you may have to work a little bit to get them back on track.
- Snacks help (sometimes a lot). Balance healthy options with junk food. You don’t have to buy much; offer a little of each and see what disappears the fastest. Then buy more of that.
- Everyone loves fun and interesting videos that demonstrate a point. Some of our favorites are:
- Sh*t Bad Scrum Masters Say (“That’s not an impediment!”)
- A Funny Scrum Master Movie with Jeff Sutherland
- The Resource Utilization Trap
- ICON’s Transformation Coach Susan Strain curated 6 Videos that Reveal the Secrets of Lean-Agile Leadership, some of which you may recognize. Our personal favorite is “Location, Location, Location”.
If you’re interested in learning more, invite us to train with you or come to one of our public classes. Some ICON coaches have been teaching SAFe courses as early as 2013...that's a lot of teaching experience!
Written by Scott Green & Randy Smith
Scott has 20 years of experience in software development companies implementing process improvement. His foundations in Agile, eXtreme Programming (XP), and Scrum have enabled him to deliver products and solutions for enterprises around the globe. While coaching and hands-on problem-solving, he was led into the exploration of and certification in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and became an SPC in 2014. Scott specializes in integrating Scrum teams into larger Agile Release Trains focused on value delivery and organizational OKR's and KPI's. Leading SAFe Transformations has given Scott the tools and skills needed to help large-scale enterprises appreciate the benefits of transformation In his free time, Scott enjoys hanging out at the beach and golfing. His claim to fame is playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods in high school.
Randy is a Consultant, Trainer, Agile Transformation Coach, and SPCT. He believes that a transformation is about more than adopting a framework—it's also about meeting people where they're at to help them create an optimal human system that can happily and effectively deliver value to customers. Randy has more than two decades of experience in the industry and has worked in several sectors, including tech, manufacturing, shipping, financial, and medical firms, and he has served many roles like developer, test management, release management, support, etc. He started using Agile principles and values with a team in 1999, got his SPC in 2014, and completed his SPCT in May 2019.