Elisia Choi and Susana Esparza introduce you to ICAgile and discuss:

  • How organisations can achieve true agility
  • Why agility is achieved through people not processes
  • What are the current trends in the industry
  • How agility transcends technology into business agility
  • How ICAgile’s Business Agility roadmap can help you achieve organisational transformation
  • The benefits of certification

Watch the video, listen to the podcast or read the transcript below. 


- Paddy Dhanda: Welcome to The Inspire The Nation podcast. We at QA are super excited to be bringing you a regular dose of thought leadership, industry insights on all things related to tech and learning. I'm Paddy Dhanda and I head up the Agile Practices at QA. I started off as a software engineer and I accidentally stumbled into the world of learning, having headed up the agile learning for a global bank and playing lots of Lego along the way. My biggest passion lays in creating engaging experiences through elements of visual thinking, gamification and storytelling. This is my colleague John Gordon.

- John Gordon: Thanks Paddy, so I'm so John Gordon, and I am Software Practice Director for QA. And really what we want to use this podcast for is to inspire anyone into technology, regardless of background. Personally, I really fell into software... if I go back 10 years ago, I was working in air traffic control in the military, and by chance, I got into a software development project. What we want to use this [podcast for] is to meet some amazing guests with a real inspiration for trying to get people into tech jobs.

New episode:

- PD: Thank you so much for joining today. And today's episode, we have some very special guests from one of our accrediting bodies. But first, I just wanna introduce you to my co-host, John Gordon. Hey, John, how are you doing?

- JG: How are you doing, guys? Pleased to me you.

- Elisia Choi: Hi, pleased to meet you as well.

- Susana Esparza: [Waves]

- PD: Awesome, so we have Elisia and Susana from ICAgile. Thanks so much for joining us. I believe you guys have joined us all the way from the other side of the pond, the USA.

- EC: Yes, I'm out in California.

- SE: And I am around the DC area.

- JG: I bet the weather in California is a lot better than it is in Manchester, England.

- SE: My weather probably matches your weather right now, John.

- JG: It sucks.

- PD: And Birmingham's not too much better, so yeah, I can't say that it's any better here. So thank you so much for joining today, folks. And I believe Elisia got up extra early just for the show. So I do wanna acknowledge that, she's looking sharp today. We're gonna kick off with just finding out a little bit more about ICAgile as an organisation. So I'll leave it entirely up to you - who wants to jump in at what point - but it'd be great for our listeners to get to know a little bit more about your organisation.

- EC: Sure. So first, thank you so much for inviting us. We're so excited to be here and to chat about everything ICAgile and about agile in general, so excited to be here. So ICAgile as an accreditation and certification body. And what we do is we provide learning journeys for individuals and organisations to help them go on an agile learning journey and build sustainable organisational agility.

When we actually started ICAgile, the question that we were trying to answer is what do people need to learn in order to build competencies in different disciplines? So we weren't looking at teaching specific frameworks or methodologies, but really looking at the different disciplines within an organisation like agile coaching, agile engineering, agile testing, etc, to see what type of learning journey people need to go on to build competencies in support of the organisation's journey. So in a nutshell, we provide accreditation across different disciplines using learning outcomes and not specific frameworks or methodologies.

- PD: Okay, that's interesting. And Susana, you have anything more to add from your side?

- SE: Well, just to add onto the mission of competency-based learning journeys, it really is about acquiring the knowledge necessary to put it into practice and build that competency. So eventually you build mastery in that particular discipline and that's something that is very important to our organisation.

- PD: I guess a lot of learners, they're probably familiar with Scrum.org, Scrum Alliance, some of these other accrediting bodies, but just going back to what you were saying there around ICAgile which is more focused on... framework, agnostic elements, mindset. Why was that a conscious decision from your side?

- EC: Yeah, so one of the key differentiators about ICAgile is that we believe agility is achieved through people, and not process. We believe that in order for people to have that agility within an organisation, they also need to have the agile mindset. So we often talk about the kind of ShuHaRi model within ICAgile, looking at Shu as learning the basics - as an example, if you were cooking, just looking at a recipe - to Ha, to being able to make a few changes, and then Ri to being able to invent your own recipe.

We're trying to get people to the Ri level. And we believe that if you're only looking at a specific framework or methodology without being deeply rooted in the agile mindset, agile values and principles, you really can't get to that Ri level of agility. And that's again going back to: where is agility? We believe the magic happens with people, transformations in people. That's where true agility can be seen and can be achieved within an organisation.

- PD: Fantastic. And as a learner, if I wanted to get one of your certifications, what's the process? So is there exams, is there coursework? What do I do?

- EC: Yeah. So ICAgile actually does not believe in administering exams to test for knowledge. We believe that knowledge is acquired and applied within the classroom. And it's actually the instructors who can vet that. So when we meet with each of our instructors to authorise them for an ICAgile-accredited course, we're actually asking them how will you know to fail or pass a student? And how will you know if they've obtained the knowledge that they need, according to the learning outcomes that we've designed? And so it is up to them within the classroom to design experiential learning to allow [the learner] to actually take the knowledge, learn and to be able to apply it, whether it's through exercises, case studies, et cetera. And so we really want people to walk out of an ICAgile-accredited course learning how to do something different.

- PD: That's great, and Susana, I'm gonna ask you a question here. So having gone through the accreditation process myself as a trainer, I know you guys put a big emphasis on the learner experience. Are there any frameworks or models that you insist that trainers abide by and follow? And are there any standards that you expect as trainers to follow?

- SE: That's a great question. So first of all, we're not prescriptive about how you design your courses and how instructors need to facilitate. But when we're looking at courseware and looking at instructors, as we're assessing for accreditation and authorisation, as far as accreditation goes in the courseware, we're looking for a design that fosters an environment of participation and engagement from the students. So we do bring forward certain practices for people to be influenced by, or for example, liberating structures, training from the back of the room, and other best practices around how you can better engage and bring more participation from your students. So again, we're not prescriptive about it, but we certainly follow a particular rubric in order to better understand how that particular course has been designed to create that kind of environment.

And then, you can have a fantastic course, and it's designed beautifully, but if you don't have the right instructor with the right facilitation skills, it will not be that holistic learning experience that Elisia had spoken about too. So during that same accreditation session, we also look at the facilitation skills from the instructor and we make sure that they actually are well aware of that learner and ensuring that that learner is acquiring the knowledge necessary and kind of taking them aside if there's something that just doesn't seem to be jiving well for them, so that they can make sure that they truly earn that certification.

When you bring remote to the picture, so the remote learning space, now we're dealing with tooling and we're dealing with something that could potentially get in the way of the learning. I always caution people to make sure that tooling is great and everything, but don't let it get in the way of learning. So as you're working with tooling and the remote space, we also wanna see that facilitator be able to transition in a fluid way between the lecture piece, the exercises, the debrief, and the dialogue, and make sure that that learning experience is also fluid.

- JG: And for that Susana, from the software engineering part of point of view, from my point of view, what would that learning experience typically look like?

- SE: That's a great question. They're all very different. So the beautiful thing about ICAgile is that all our member organisations offer different experiences based on what they think is most appropriate to their audience. Now, as ICAgile goes, we do have some recommendations specifically, for example, around remote. An eight-day remote on-video experience is a very long one and it can really lead to what we'd like to call Zoom fatigue, or some people call that too. But then also looking at how the course was structured and broken down, when are people able to put into practice some of their learning and be able to not just learn from the instructor, who brings their own stories forward, but also be able to learn from the richness of the class and students being able to learn from each other, like bringing those opportunities forward creates an amazing opportunity for a better learning experience.

- JG: Thank you.

- PD: And I guess in terms of the curriculum, it is pretty vast. I mean, I've looked at the website, the ICAgile website and the famous peacock, as people call it, a really colourful sort of roadmap, and it is really, really substantial. But what would you say are some of the more popular courses at the moment that you're seeing, and what are some of the trends in industry?

- EC: Yeah, so we have two learning roadmaps, and one is called the Agile Delivery Roadmap, the other one is our Business Agility Learning Roadmap.

Our Agile Delivery Learning Roadmap was our first learning roadmap. So it does have a little bit more popularity because it's been around longer. Within the Agile Delivery Roadmap:

  • Agile Fundamentals, which is the foundation. So this is where we go over the mindset, the values, principles that is, of course, a very popular course to start with for most folks going on our learning journey.
  • And then beyond that, Agile Coaching has been for a while, one of our most popular learning tracks.
  • And lately we've actually seen a pretty big uptick in Product Ownership. And I think that's because there's been quite a bit of conversation around moving away from projects into products. And so we're seeing kind of an uptick there in demand and buzz happening in that realm.

Within the Business Agility Learning Roadmap, that's our newest learning roadmap, we launched that earlier this year. We're seeing quite a bit of interest in:

  • Business Agility Foundation, which is equivalent to the Agile Fundamentals within the Agile Delivery Learning Roadmap.
  • However, unlike Agile Coaching, we're really seeing a lot of interest in the middle part of the roadmap, which is operating with agility specifically around Agile Marketing and Agile HR. There's been quite a bit of interest.
  • The two side tracks that we have on the Business Agility Learning Roadmap are Enterprise Coaching, and then our leadership-focused tracks. The Enterprise Coaching one is another track where we're starting to see a lot more momentum happening. And I think that is partly because of the Agile Delivery Learning Roadmap and how popular that Agile Coaching track has been. A lot of agile coaches who have been coaching at that team level are now moving into that enterprise level and are looking for training and learning journeys to support that journey forward at that enterprise level.

- PD: And I guess what's driven the demand for business agility? Why is that such a popular thing at the moment? It seems to have sort of almost come out of the blue.

- EC: Well, I think Covid now has shown that business agility is quite in high demand. I think when we started it, it was because we were getting questions, and we were also seeing organisations who were looking at what is the organisation's journey? And so for us, we created that roadmap for a really a different audience. That roadmap, instead of only looking at individual journeys, we're looking at the organisation's journey. So as I mentioned, the two tracks on the side for leadership and enterprise coaching, we see that as the deep transformational journeys that need to happen within individuals within an organisation, without those two deep transformational journeys, business agility cannot be fuelled. It cannot be enabled. And then in the middle, we have the operating with agility.

So going back to your question about why the popularity: organisations who are trying to go forward, bringing agility outside of just that technical space outside of IT, they didn't know where to go next. They didn't know what questions to ask in terms of how do we learn? How do we continue to learn as an organisation? And so we worked with thought leaders from around the world to design that Business Agility Learning Roadmap, and we ourselves are still learning as well with it, being such an emergent field. We recognise that things are going to change. And so we are keeping our ears close to the ground, listening to organisations and getting feedback to see what makes sense in this journey forward and how can we best support with our learning programs.

- JG: Well, thank you.

- PD: Thank you, Elisia. Just for my benefit, because I've been sort of comprehending which option to suggest to clients, do I suggest the Agile Fundamentals or the Business Agility Fundamentals? What's the key difference between those two offerings?

- SE: Okay, so Elisia made a distinction that I think it's really important between the two roadmaps and that is the delivery roadmap is more about that individual's journey. So it really is taking on more of the individual perspective and the change in mindset that needs to happen. And what are the fundamentals and foundational tidbits that you need in order to be able to pursue the next step in your learning journey?

When it comes to the Business Agility Roadmap, it really is about organisational transformation. So a lot of the people that would potentially go into that Business Agility Fundamentals class will not be part of that delivery team because of the delivery roadmap tends to be around more of those roles that are traditionally part of what we'd like to call IT, right? But when you're talking about marketers and people in HR and people across shared services and people in all different roles, whether they're accountants or auditors, they still need to have that reset and that mindset and understand how they can be more agile in their discipline. That Business Agility Foundations class is probably one of the better ones for them.

- PD: Thank you. Well, that's great. Thank you, Susana. At this point, I'm gonna hand over to John. So John's gonna have a little bit of fun with you guys. It's over to you, John.

- JG: Yeah, absolutely, so we'd love to kinda get to know our guests. And so we've just got some questions to get to know you a little bit better. So the first one's for Susana: What is your favourite productivity tool on your mobile phone that you use daily?

- SE: Oh, that's really an interesting question. Okay, I personally just text [laughs]. A simple, simple communication mechanism that has made my life easier. I often feel like I can get a point across really quickly if I were just to send a text. So I am from Venezuela and Latina and I do talk a lot. So you get me on the phone, you'll probably get a much longer conversation in [laughs]. And so being able to be brief, just get the point across and be able to communicate across different channels, but specifically, text, would be perfect for me.

- JG: That's awesome, man. And over to Elisia. So if you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you take with you and why?

- EC: I feel like I'm already stuck on a desert island with this quarantine, to be quite honest. So I'll tell you what I've been surviving off of instead on this desert island of a home. One, my family. So I've got two young kids and my husband and definitely interesting being together 24-7, but I think that it has also been a great experience for us, just a growth opportunity I would call it. I would say, I definitely need a nice cooking knife. So not a knife, you know, for doing dangerous things [laugh], but I love to cook.

- What's going on, knives? [laugh]

- Yes, I need a knife. I need a really nice knife. I was talking about Shu Ha Ri and cooking. That really relates to me because I love cooking, and there's nothing more frustrating than when you're cooking and you have a terrible knife so I would really hate that. And then I would say, probably... I don't know if you guys have this game, but Uno, it's a card game...

[Nods all around]

It's something that our family has been playing a lot lately in this quarantine [laugh]. So it's something that my kids can still play, and they enjoy it and there's also some strategy to it. It's actually a pretty fun family-friendly game to pass some time. So I would say that we should be able to survive with games and a knife and my family.

- JG: That's amazing. And cooking is one of my pastimes as well. So I didn't actually put this question down, but what's your favourite dish when you're cooking up a storm, so I can maybe make it tonight?

- Yeah, yeah. Actually, so I'm Korean - we talked about Susana being Venezuelan, and I'm Korean. And so I love to cook Korean cuisine. One of my latest dishes that I've been doing, it's a chicken dish, it's called taktoritang and it's spicy. So I do a spicy version for me and my husband and a non-spicy version with my kids. But the base is soy sauce and garlic and red pepper flakes and red chilli sauce. It's absolutely delicious.

- PD: Stop, you're making me hungry already.

- EC: I know.

- SE: It is noon my time, so I am really salivating here.


- JG: And the final one over to you, Susana. So for all the people that stuck in quarantine at the moment, is there any Netflix shows that you're watching at the moment that you'd recommend?

- SE: So surprisingly enough, I don't watch that much TV. I never have time because I do have a family and the quarantine thing has made time go by in such a very weird way. But there is this one show that I do watch with my son as part of his bedtime routine that he loves, loves, loves. And it may be something that you have, I don't know, it's called "The Floor is Lava."

- JG: No, never saw that before.

- EC: I don't know that.

- SE: It's a strategy game, where they have to navigate a room that's basically filled with watery liquid that is red. And they have like different stations that they have to go from one end and they have to get all three of the groups of people into the other end of the room. So they just jump obstacles and so forth. So, I mean, I guess it's a favourite because I can do it with my son. It's a favourite because we get to discuss strategy. We get to root for a team. So it's just a little fun, little part of our routine in the evenings.

- PD: It sounds like a great agile course. Maybe we should...

- EC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. TV's not my big thing, so yeah.

- JG: Thanks for that, that's been great getting that questions, and back to Paddy to go through the agile stuff.

- PD: Okay. Now yes, thank you for that. I feel like I know you guys so much better. I'm glad I'm keeping a distance from Elisia though with those cooking knives...

- SE: Cooking knives!

- EC: Yeah! [makes sound a la shower scene in Psycho]


- PD: So actually this question, I'm asking it, you know, sort of with the safe distance between you, but you obviously provide learners with certifications off the back of the courses. So there seems to be a mixed feeling on this when talking to friends, associates, and even some delegates about certification. Seems like everybody's getting certified. And could you reassure those that are a little bit cynical about certification? What are the benefits of getting a badge?

- EC: Yeah, so I would say the question is: What does that certification stand for? And so when we looked at certification, ICAgile really didn't focus on certification as the end product that we really wanted to deliver. For us, it was about the learning journey. And as we were talking about that with the community, people said, but we need to gamify. People need rewards to see how they're moving forward. If you're thinking about, looking at a transcript for school, knowing that you did complete courses and that you know where your next step is - so we really see the certifications as a way to show journey forward.

And our certifications, there are actually two levels of certifications that we offer. One is our knowledge-based certifications, and the other is our competency-based certifications. Our knowledge-based certifications, what that shows is that someone has attained the knowledge according to the learning outcomes that are covered in that course. It does not say that that person is, for example, if they took an Agile Coaching course, that they are an agile coach after taking a course, that is not what our certification stand for.

We do have certifications that do stand for that, which is our expert-level certification. And that is a much, much, much more difficult certification to obtain. It's a very rigorous process. It requires deep transformation, a lot of practice kind of going back to that Shu Ha Ri example, it's really at that Ri level. And so with that expert-level certification, that is when we say yes, this professional has the competencies within agile coaching to call themselves an agile coach. So again, going back to your question. I think the question is what does that certification that you're looking at stand for? And for ICAgile, it stands for knowledge acquisition and competency.

- PD: That's great.

- SE: If you don't mind me adding, one of the things that I think is really important is it's certainly, you know, part of the gamification that Elisia was talking about, it certainly is a good feeling to earn that certification as you acquire that knowledge. But really, where the value stands is what do you do with that knowledge and how do you continue your journey in learning and building that competency within that discipline? So it is a milestone, it is a step stone, but it's not necessarily the final outcome. And even those that obtained that expert certification, there's still a lot to learn. Most of us have been in this journey for years over a decade, a decade and a half [laughs], and I still continuously learn. And that relentless drive to wanting to continue to learn is really, really important.

- JG: How long typically does that expert level and certification take to get?

- EC: It depends. I would say that most of the people who are going for that expert-level certification, they've already got the knowledge-based certifications and they've already been coaching for many years. Even after that, it still takes them six months to a year, depending on the cohort program that they join to actually practise and to be able to reach that expert level in terms of the competencies that we design.

The great thing about those expert-level certifications though, is that you don't have to do it alone. So we work with our member organisations to accredit their expert programs or expert cohort programs that you can join. So going back to what Susana was saying, being part of a cohort and being able to learn together and learn from each other, and to get feedback on this craft that you're trying to build is just beautiful. And it's a great opportunity for people to really move forward in their learning journey.

- PD: Actually, I'll probably share a quick story. So I've sort of been on both sides of the fence. Before I joined QA, I was working for a large global bank heading up the agile learning for them and for the first year or so, I was dead against giving anyone a badge. Everybody that came on our internal courses, the first question most delegates would ask is, do I get certified? Or, you know, what's the badge that we're gonna get? And I think being a bit of a cynic back then, you know, not just myself, but the team that I was in, we favoured the experience a lot more, just as you mentioned there. But it became pretty clear over time, you know, that there was this demand and who are we to stop people from having the badge? And I think as we see social media around us, you know, it's really exploding and people like to share. They'd like to share their achievements. It's actually a really nice way for people to showcase that learning that they've just been on, like you said, as well it's a continuous learning journey. So, you know, I really liked that. I really like the fact that it wasn't at the forefront of your minds, but actually, it's there to help people continue their learning, share it with other people so that we can get inspired in a way, rather than someone just saying, you know, this is my badge and look at me kind of thing. So that's great to hear. Fantastic. 

- SE: Yeah, I wanted to add something to that because I think it's really important. There was a previous question you had asked about the assessment process or the exam that happens, or what is it that happens for them to obtain that certification and how we delve into how important it is for them to acquire those learning outcomes that are necessary to earn that certification... When people look at certification as the end of all means, right, they're just looking to pass the exam or pass the class or get to that level. And the certification is the end goal. But when you look at it differently, where you look at it about I'm learning, so that I can further build that pathway towards building competency, that's where it is really, really important. And I personally, like Paddy, your experience, I personally have always favoured the learning and experience above the certification, but the certification is always, like you mentioned, something that a lot of people appreciate because it is this kind of moment of pride that happens, that thing that they can share with others. And that is also something that we need to be aware of. So the combination of the two is very important.

- PD: That's great. Yeah, thank you for that, Susana. So John, do you wanna finish off on the final question?

- JG: Yeah, absolutely. So the whole podcast is about inspiring people into tech careers. So would each one of you give your best bit of advice for a budding technologist if it's going to be into agile, into software, into tech, whatever it is, what would be your number one tip for them to do, to pursue a tech career?

- SE: So my own agile journey started in 2006. My tech started back in date when I did my computer science degree. But one thing that I can say is: be curious. Be curious... asking questions is not a bad thing. When I went through my own first transformation effort and being part of a team that was trying to be more nimble and adaptive, what we learned from that is that if we just follow what we're being told to do, what we were taught to do, and just try to make it work, it's not going to work. You will end up having challenges. So that whole concept of being agile and adaptive is about being curious, asking the right questions, asking them at the right time, creating an environment where you can be curious and can bring forward new ideas and new opportunities. So I always say that that is really, really, really important as you get into anything, including tech.

- JG: I couldn't agree more. And one of the things that QA does is we train lots of graduates and they go through a bootcamp and then grow as technologists at the end of that. And one of our big bits of advice is to be curious and have a growth mindset, and really always question the norm because that's the people who are most successful. Elisia, what about you?

- EC: Yeah, I would definitely plus one that. I think a lot of the success stories that we've seen with individuals and organisations is really about relentless learning. I think we use those two words at differently throughout this conversation, but those two together really bring a lot of power to the learning journey. I think the other thing is recognise that it is a journey and so you've gotta start somewhere, and I know I keep bringing this up, but start with the basic fundamental stuff, understanding what does it mean to have an agile mindset and to understand the values and principles? Beyond that, once you start there, you can start creating around it and with it and blend it, but you gotta start somewhere.

So if I can put in a plug... put yourself out there and go and find out more, learn, take a course, make sure it's ICAgile accredited [laughs] to make sure you're learning the right learning outcomes, but just start with the Agile Fundamentals or the Business Agility Foundations course, and then identify where is it that you wanna go next and find the mentors who will actually help you go forward in those journeys.

- JG: I absolutely love that. I think I'm going to  steal that off you, relentless learning. I think that is going to be the hashtag of the day. I think that's a great way to inspire people.

- PD: I have to say having taught some of the ICAgile curriculum, it's a lot of fun as an instructor, to be honest. I really do love training that course, because it is so interactive and you get to really sort of go off-piste sometimes because you have that flexibility. It's not really constraining you as an instructor to say, you must say X, Y and Z, as long as we're adhering to the learning outcomes. It is actually great fun delivering that training. So it's a bit of endorsement for you guys, I have to say on the other side of the fence, you know, that's how it does feel as well. So that's quite important.

Superb. Sorry, just talking about learning journeys and journeys, what is next for ICAgile? Is there any upcoming news? What's on your roadmap today?

- EC: Yeah, so our Business Agility Learning Roadmap, as I mentioned, we are learning with our community. We just launched a few new certifications on the Business Agility Learning Roadmap, including product management and org design, adaptive work design. And we're looking at what are some of the other things that we need to design in order for people and organisations to continue moving forward. So we're looking at a potentially lead portfolio management. Is there a need for that? And if so, what does it look like? What is the rest of the leadership journey look like? Right now, we have a couple of certifications there and we're just looking at what does it mean to be an expert in leading with agility? So those are some questions that we're also asking around just competencies within business agility. What would it look like? Or does it even make sense to have an expert in business agility?

So we're asking a lot of the similar questions that I think our community is asking, and we'd love to hear from you all, if you have any thoughts and any insight into what your needs are within an organisation and where you think we can best support your journey forward.

- PD: Thank you so much, Susana and Elisia - and John - it's been a pleasure and the last hour's just flown by. So we really do appreciate your time, and I'm sure we'll be talking more. I'm sure we launching more courses with you guys and constantly improving. Last word from you, John, before we wrap up.

- JG: Thanks so much, guys. It's been great to get to know you and thanks for coming. I suppose it's a little bit easier to join now, you know, from such far away, but it's been lovely getting to know you and look forward to have you on the podcast again in the future.

- SE: Awesome.

- EC: Thank you so much for having us.

- JG: Thank you so much, guys.

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