How to Plug Course Development Elements into Scrum

Updated: Apr 2


You should understand the elements of scrum from the previous blogs written with Bill Cushard at ServiceRocket: Five Reasons to Use Scrum for Course Development and A Quick Guide to the Scrum Process. If not, take a moment to read them now.


Now it's time to relate scrum to our world of course development. In other words, we apply what we learned to creating a course.

Traditionally, training teams work through the full ADDIE methodology (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) before delivering courses. The result is that your course may take months to complete and then when finished, it may or may not be what your customer wants or needs. Donna experienced this when developing a course for a client. Using the source documents the client provided, she got busy meeting with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), writing learning objectives, building the storyboard, and creating a first draft of the slides before presenting her fabulous work. The result: the course wasn't right.


The client realized that the source documents were not the "source of truth" they had assumed, so they chucked everything Donna built and defined a whole new set of learning objectives. Donna would have saved a lot of time and stress using scrum. By providing incremental deliverables to her client at the end of each sprint, and addressing issues early on, she would have obtained sign off on the learning objectives before she built anything else, and stayed on track with her client requirements.

Scrum doesn't disregard ADDIE, rather it weaves design and development into each phase of ADDIE in order to get feedback from the client and from potential learners along the way. See Megan Torrance's article Reconciling ADDIE and Agile to learn more.


Below are common elements of just about any course development project:

  • Conduct needs analysis

  • Write learning objectives

  • Develop course outline

  • Write storyboard

  • Deliver internal dry run

  • Define learner actions / tasks

  • Write instructor notes

  • Build training environment

  • Finalize labs

  • Deliver to pilot customer group

  • Incorporate feedback

  • Deliver to customers


In a traditional course design project, you complete all of these things before delivering a course to a customer. By then, after weeks or months, you deliver a final course that may not suit customer needs. At worst, the course doesn't align with the current product features.


Using scrum to create a course, you might plan to complete three tasks in your first sprint:

  1. Conduct needs analysis

  2. Write learning objectives

  3. Deliver run-through of course to internal stakeholders


If you actually deliver a course run-through, you will get excellent feedback. Trust us. Two things happen that are critical to understand. First, you complete clearly defined work during the sprint. In this example, the needs analysis, and the learning objectives. Second, you ship a minimally viable product (MVP), the run-through of the course based on the learning objectives. It will not be pretty. Your run-through might include vague statements like, "I don't know how we'll explain this learning objective yet, but we cover this function and best practices for using it." The result of sharing the MVP with your customer, is getting valuable feedback and ideas to add to the backlog. These are prioritized in your next sprint planning meeting.


This article originally appeared on the Learndot blog on July 11, 2017, and is co-written with Bill Cushard.