Reconciling ADDIE and Agile

An agile project-management style, such as LLAMA (lot like agile method approach), offers instructional designers some significant benefits. In particular, such an approach means that you’re able to incorporate changes to your project without upsetting your budget or schedule. The LLAMA approach contrasts in this way with a more linear approach, such as ADDIE (analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate), with which many instructional designers are familiar.

While it may seem that ADDIE and LLAMA would work against one another, in this article I will show how ADDIE is actually embedded within an agile process like LLAMA.

Is it one or the other?

ADDIE and LLAMA are not an either/or choice. LLAMA takes advantage of ADDIE’s strengths and converts the linear approach to one that supports a creative process such as learning design. Those “a-ha” moments that elevate a product from pretty good to totally awesome rarely occur at predetermined moments along a prescribed schedule.

A linear approach leaves the instructional designer with two options: forgo the new idea because significantly altering the project is too difficult, or incorporating the new idea at the risk of jeopardizing the timeline, the budget, and morale as the team members contemplate many late nights at the office. LLAMA project management doesn’t put the instructional designer in the position of choosing between the planning and the project. Instead, it encourages designers to leverage change for a better product without sacrificing anything.

ADDIE and where it works

First, a quick reminder of the ADDIE process (Figure 1) and the situations in which it works well.

Figure 1: The ADDIE process

The ADDIE process comprises five sequential steps.

  1. The process begins with an analysis of the need for training. This assumes that the designer has collected all information about the potential learners at this point and that the organization’s needs and expectations of the training will not evolve after completion of this step.
  2. Next is the design of a course or series of courses that address the needs. The instructional designer includes all necessary content, creates spot-on interactions, and designs a course that matches the client’s expectations for aesthetics and usability.
  3. Following design, the next step is course development: building the course according to the design specifications. At this stage the project is nearing completion so it is too late to include substantive revisions.
  4. After this comes course implementation, or “release.” This is likely the first point in the process where an actual learner sees the course. Learners begin taking the course and applying what they learned to their daily work.
  5. Finally, there is evaluation of the training. Perhaps learners provide feedback about the course and the process begins again as the client considers other areas for improvement, which then undergo analysis for potential training topics.  

The ADDIE process works effectively in situations where everyone involved knows exactly what the finished product should be like, where it is certain that the content will remain static, and where no one will have any mid-development brainstorms that might require reworking the project. These situations are a bit like the El Dorado of the learning-design world—highly sought after but rarely (if ever?) encountered.

How do agile and LLAMA relate to ADDIE?

In an agile process (including LLAMA), the ADDIE steps outlined above are completed with an important twist. Literally—a twist. While ADDIE looks a bit like an arrow, the agile process takes the same five ADDIE steps but it looks more like a corkscrew. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: The agile process is ADDIE with a twist

Agile doesn’t wait until the very end to get feedback from the client and from potential learners. The goal of an agile team is to produce several iterations of the training, each of which is a usable version, meaning the course is substantive enough for the client to understand where the project is headed. The client and other stakeholders can offer feedback early, before the course is fully or almost fully built, so that changes can be made.

Building a bus: the ADDIE way vs. the agile way

You have to build a bus. With an ADDIE approach, you analyze the needs for a bus and decide the engine must be absolutely perfect. You start by building the engine, then optimizing it like crazy. Two weeks later, the project sponsor arrives in your shop.

“Can we take it for a test drive?”

You start listing the engine’s technical specifications. You describe your victory in finding just the right components. You show off the chrome fashion styling and the embossed logo.

“That’s nice. Can we take it for a drive?”

No, but we have these really nice little pink rhinestones over here. Aren’t they great?

A linear approach doesn’t lend itself to test drives two weeks into the project. Instead, you build the learning experience one component at a time and the test drive is frequently the drive off the lot and into traffic.

On the other hand, an agile approach might go like this:

You have to build a bus. You start by building a rough skeleton of the bus, with a basic frame, a basic engine, a steering wheel, and something to sit on. Two weeks later, the project sponsor arrives in your shop.

“Can we take it for a test drive?”

Sure! Let’s go.

“This is nice. But I forgot to tell you that we are going to be driving this bus in Ireland so the steering wheel needs to be on the other side.”

Sure thing!

You’re only two weeks into the project and you’ve still got time to accommodate changes to the requirements. You’ve only got the basics of the bus built, so it’s easy to switch the steering wheel.

Agile gives you the flexibility to handle changes, even after the project starts. Even better, agile encourages change. It helps you leverage those brainstorms and big ideas to create the best possible product.

The agile experience, iteration two

Consider this bus scenario:

You have to build a bus. You start by building a rough skeleton of the bus, with a basic frame, a basic engine, a steering wheel, and something to sit on. Two weeks later, the project sponsor arrives in your shop.

“Can we take it for a test drive?”

Sure! Let’s go.

“This is nice. But you know what would be really cool? What if we could make it amphibious, too?!?! Can you do that?”

Sure thing!

You’re only two weeks into the project and your project planning has positioned you to accept radical changes to the original concept. You and the client are both happy!

You’ll go back into your shop, incorporate the changes, and produce a new iteration for the client. It still won’t be a complete bus, but it’s getting closer. The project sponsor can take another test drive to see how you’ve modified the project and can suggest additional changes if necessary. Depending on your timeline, budget, and relationship with the client, you may make a new iteration or you may feel that it’s time to create the final, perfect bus.

Orient the client, communicate, and iterate to win

In agile, the design and development stages occur initially as you plan and build the first approximation. The “test drives” serve as the implementation and evaluation stages. You have not fully implemented the project in the sense that it’s ready for release, but it is usable which means that stakeholders can evaluate it. As the client makes suggestions, you tinker with the design and develop a new iteration, which leads to another round of implementation and evaluation. 

As you can see, the agile method requires more communication than a linear approach. An agile approach will make the finished product much stronger, but it can also mean the project can slow down if you’re waiting for the client to provide feedback or approve tasks. Orienting a client to the agile approach might be an important step to consider during the project’s initial meetings.

Instructional designers familiar with ADDIE don’t need to abandon their project-planning strategies or the vital stages of the ADDIE approach in order to adopt an agile approach. Instead, consider how you can complete the various steps more quickly and cycle through them several times, with the goal to build usable (though not necessarily beautiful and perfect) iterations that can generate useful feedback from project stakeholders, thereby leading to a superior final product that you complete on time and on budget.

Understanding the sequence of agile is only one part of putting agile to work for you. I will provide additional articles on LLAMA project management that will explain the nitty-gritty of planning projects at the discrete task, weekly, and project levels.

Note from the Editor

Megan Torrance teaches Agile Project Management for eLearning, a course offered by The Guild Academy. The next offering begins September 16, 2014; details are online here, and the course is available for private training for your team.

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