My workplace is adopting Agile methodologies for our development and client relations departments. As part of the adoption, it was decided that all of IT would attend a three hour overview of what Agile is and why it was important. This is all fine and well, but in making the training mandatory, instead of optional, the organizers lost a good deal of opportunity.

Mandatory training carries a stigma. Those who have jobs that are not directly involved in Agile were instantly resentful about having to spend an afternoon in training where they can see no immediate value. They were there because they had no choice, and even if no one actually said it, they were thinking the same thing: “This is bullshit.”

Participants involvement in the lecture reflected this attitude. When the speaker asked for questions there were none, when she asked for volunteers, no one raised their hand. They were biding their time, waiting for the lecture to be over, hopefully as quickly as possible.

This could have been different.

Imagine instead if the email announcing the mandatory training was worded like this:

We at $WORK are adopting Agile methodologies. Agile is important to how we do business, so you will be expected to have a good understanding of the basic concepts and terms relating to Agile and how we are applying it here. To help understand the new practices and vocabulary, we are offering a three-hour overview which will cover everything you need to know.

This email still gets the point across that upper management believes that the training is important, and leaves the decision to attend the training up to the employee. It also makes it clear that the employee is responsible for knowing the content of the lecture, if they choose to attend or not. It treats the employee like a trustable adult, not an 8th grader.

They would have packed the house.

Not only would they have had a full class, the participants in the class would have been engaged and interested. Now the feeling of resentment, of not being able to choose, of being treated like a child instead of an adult, is gone. Instead, the participants are there because they want to be there, because they care about their job and the company.

If you make something optional, without question some people will choose not to attend. There might be several good reasons, maybe the agile training really doesn’t affect them in their current position (although they might want to learn it anyway, because, you never know). Maybe they have several years of experience with it in their previous position and have no need for an overview. Of course, there might be some that should come and do not. Some people, if given a choice, will make the wrong choice. It is possible that they might not be the right person for that job.

Making things like Agile training mandatory brings everyone down to the same level as the person who doesn’t care. Even those who take their job seriously, those who strive to be recognized as experts and craftsman are relegated to the same level as the guy who’s just there to collect a paycheck. The reasoning is understandable in a large organization, but unfortunate because of the number of missed opportunities to let those who care shine.