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Running an agile content development team like restaurant

If you are part of a software development company, you have probably heard about the Agile Methodology and how it is applied in and across product development teams. In this blog post, let’s have a look at how you can structure your software education teams to foster agile content development.

Running an agile content development team is very similar to running a restaurant. Everything starts with customer satisfaction, i.e. making customers happy and willing to come back for more.

If you run a restaurant, you need to have a variety of offerings to satisfy the needs of your customers: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, spicy, a kids menu, etc. Similarly, everyone has their own taste in learning—some prefer videos over classroom training, some enjoy hands-on. In the restaurant, you arrange your meals in a menu. In a learning environment, your menu is your portfolio. Items in the portfolio may vary from “appetizers” such as getting started guides or videos, to “main courses” like in-app help or eLearning trainings, to “desserts” such as best practices webinars or blog posts delivered by experienced consultants. Oftentimes, exploring your menu is the first interaction your customer has with your restaurant and directly influences their decision on whether they will dine with you or not. Therefore, you need to keep your menu simple, understandable, attractive, and engaging. The same goes for your portfolio.

The menu lists all available meals in your restaurant. Those meals are prepared in the kitchen. For a successful restaurant, it is essential to have a well-organized kitchen with a team of skilled chefs that can prepare tasty food. Typically, the kitchen team consists of a master chef, a sous-chef, a team of chefs and an expeditor.

A master chef is a person who designs the menu, defines signature dishes and ensures quality. In an agile content development team, a master chef is a product owner. Based on the customer’s feedback, the product owner defines the portfolio, decides when it needs to be updated and translates it into actionable items in the backlog. The backlog lists all items from your portfolio that your team needs to create or maintain.

The sous-chef, the master chef’s right hand, typically specializes in a specific type of culinary experience. The sous-chef is a content architect with domain-specific knowledge, often considered as a software product expert in charge of a project within the portfolio such as classroom or web-based training.

A team of chefs helps in preparing high quality food and beverages according to restaurant standards and policies. The chefs are content developers or who create the learning materials. The product owner, content architects and content developers can have their “signature dishes” be learning assets or software products they specialize in, e.g. videos for experts vs hands-on exercises for developers.

Finally, the expeditor takes care of the kitchen operations, and understands in which order dishes are served to the customer. In an agile content development team, that person is a scrum master. The scrum master ensures the team can accomplish their tasks in defined timelines by organizing and moderating meetings (sprint planning, sprint review, daily stand up), distributing tasks and tracking progress. Like the expeditor delivering dishes in the right order to the customer, the scrum master organizes the team’s tasks based on the highest priority to ensure the most important materials are delivered to the learners first.

It is time to serve the food. One can’t imagine a restaurant without polite and helpful waiters. The waiter represents the restaurant and makes the whole dining experience unique. In an agile learning setting, the waiter is a person from your delivery team. It could be a trainer delivering a virtual session, an SME answering questions on a portal or anyone having direct interactions with your customers. Typically, those people are relevant stakeholders who provide feedback to management

The master chef, the sous-chef, the chefs and the expeditor work with the waiter and management as a team and apply quality standards that have been set for the restaurant, from the dish quality to the restaurant’s interior design, to deliver an extraordinary dining experience.

Similarly, the product owner, content architect, scrum master, content developers and delivery team need to work hand-in-hand to create and deliver remarkable learning materials.

If you are very successful, you might want to open a second, third or chain of restaurants. In that case, you want to make sure your dishes are prepared in a similar way, adjusted to local markets or cultures if necessary, and delivering the same recognizable quality that meets your customers’ expectations. In such cases, you will need a portfolio manager .  The portfolio manager defines the portfolio’s structure and provides general quality standards and guidelines on the type of learning assets and publishing channels to be created across different software products.

The experience of dining in a restaurant is more than just being served by a polite waiter and eating tasty food. There are intangible elements such as comfort, the atmosphere, the view, and the location that make customers return and lead to the restaurant’s success. The same goes for your learning experience: your team’s learning materials are not stand-alone, they are part of a greater environment, be it in a learning management system, a documentation portal or a community page. Therefore, to create a Michelin star learning experience, make sure the learner’s entire journey, from discovery to consumption, is enjoyable.

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