What does the Best Agile Leader Training Include?

What does the Best Agile Leader Training Include?

Lately, I’ve been asked to teach more and more agile leader training classes. My focus for the training has not changed much since I first started teaching these courses – that is to help empower leaders to create an environment where people can do their best work. However, the content of my classes has changed.

The thing is, I want to make a lasting impact on the leaders attending these courses. I want the courses to be great, impactful, and memorable. I want my training courses to be the best possible agile leader training. With so many possible topics to discuss in such a class, which specific topics are going to be most relevant and most impactful? Which will make the training course the best possible agile leader training? Let’s explore this in more detail.

Do the CAL and PAL already cover this topic?

You might think that the best agile training for leaders has already been created. In fact, I wrote an article back in 2019 comparing the Certified Agile Leader Training (CAL) from Scrum Alliance with the Professional Agile Leader Training (PAL) from Scrum.org. My intent at that time was to provide guidance for people seeking agile leader training and not necessarily to determine which was the best agile leader training. I took both the CAL and the PAL classes to improve my own skills and understanding of the topic. And I enjoyed them both.

In fact, I wound up taking the CAL 3 times over the last 4 years. Part of that was getting a different perspective from different trainers and part of that was because Scrum Alliance changed the offering from one class to three classes with the introduction of the CAL Essentials (CAL-E), CAL for Teams (CAL-T), and CAL for Organizations (CAL-O). It seems that there is quite a bit of ground to cover in teaching agile to leaders, depending on their focus.

You may find it ironic that both the CAL and PAL were developed by Scrum organizations, considering the fact that the Scrum Guide and Scrum Framework do not include any details for leaders or even call leaders out as a role. That said, I found that both courses provide complementary insights and perspectives:

CAL Focus – The main benefit and focus of the CAL training is on the leader themselves and the mindset of agility. It is about how the leader shows up, how they support agile teams, and how they promote agility in the organization.

PAL Focus – The PAL course is more grounded in Scrum. The main benefit and focus of the PAL training was on the relationship between the leader and the Scrum Team. It provided a way of thinking about how much to intervene and the role of that leader in Scrum in relation to the team maturity, the Product Owner, and the Scrum Master. And overall how to promote Scrum in the organization.

So while both of these classes are great, I have found that many organizations want to provide training for their leaders which these courses don’t address directly. They want to learn about underlying Lean principles and specific frameworks like Kanban or Extreme Programming. And those organizations don’t necessarily need or value the certification that comes with the PAL or CAL.

Why is Agile Leader Training Important?

In my work with client organizations and in the training classes that I deliver through Northwestern University, I have found that many leaders did not really have a grasp of the basics of agile and the various agile frameworks like Scrum. Not to overgeneralize, but many leaders I encounter don’t understand business agility or they think that agile is a buzzword for get more done with less people. Or they believe that Agile is something that teams do that doesn’t impact leaders. Rarely do they think of agile as a fundamental change in the organization that transforms the culture and creates an environment for people to do their best work.

So What Topics Should be Included in the Best Agile Leader Training?

I would really like to understand what YOU think should be included in Agile training for leaders. With that in mind, I present the list of topics that we typically start with for leader training. This content outline below represents 3 days of training and we work with organizations to tailor this agenda to their needs. Rarely is the training 3 days because most organizations don’t want to dedicate that much time to agile training, particularly for leaders.

Which of these are the highest priority topics? Which of these are the lowest priority topics?


  • Discussion: Why are we pursuing Agile?
  • What Others Have Reported as Benefits
  • Project Failure Rates – Waterfall vs. Agile
  • The Agile Manifesto – 4 Agile Values and 12 Agile Principles
  • Leading Causes of Agile Failure
  • What is the Agile Leader’s role?
  • Barriers to Agile Adoption & Transformation
  • Leaders Concerns about Implementing Agile


  • Lean Principles
  • 7 Core Lean Concepts
  • Value Stream Mapping


  • The Scrum Pillars and Framework
  • Scrum Roles & Responsibilities
  • Scrum Meetings
  • The Project Manager Role in Scrum
  • Rules of Scrum
  • Scrum as a force for Organizational Change


  • Description of Kanban
  • 5 Core Kanban Practices
  • Exercise: Kanban vs. Scrum
  • Overview of Extreme Programming
  • Extreme Programming Values Technical Practices
  • Overview of Lean Software Development
  • Core Concepts of Lean SW Development & Lean Wastes


  • Collaboration and Alignment
  • User Stories
  • Acceptance Criteria
  • Story Points
  • Short Timeboxed Iterations
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Definition of Done
  • Velocity
  • Reality-Based Forecasting
  • Forecasting by Scope or by Time
  • Multi-team Planning in Agile
  • Limiting Work in Progress of Project Delivery
  • Agile Teams in Action


  • Create Effective Teams
  • Create Appropriately Sized Teams
  • Create Cross-Functional Teams
  • Create True End-to-End Teams
  • Eliminate Handoffs
  • Create Long-Standing Teams
  • Create Self-Organizing Teams
  • Avoid Fractional “Resource” Assignment
  • Focus and Limit WIP / Context Switching
  • Protect Agile Teams from Distractions
  • Plan Work by Teams not by Individuals
  • Leaders’ Role in Self-Organizing Teams?
  • Servant Leadership
  • Communities of Practice
  • Attend to Team Health


  • Promote experimentation and a safe to fail culture
  • Demonstrate and promote learning
  • Leaders Focus on Removing Friction
  • Create a Leader’s Backlog
  • Improve How Work Gets Done
  • Optimize the Overall Value Chain
  • Create Transparency
  • Discussion Topic: Transparency
  • Co-Located Teams vs. Distributed Teams
  • Co-Locate Teams in Team Workspace
  • Align HR to Agile
  • Advocate for Improved Staffing Models


  • Moving from Commanding to Coaching
  • No Trust = No Coaching
  • The Shu Ha Ri Development Model
  • Coaching Teams to Self-Organization
  • Key Skills and Tools for Coaches
  • Self-Awareness
  • TAPS Framework
  • Powerful Questions
  • Master the Retrospective
  • Listening Skills


  • Leading Transformation
  • Kotter Model for Organizational Change
  • Rogers Innovation Adoption Curve
  • Create Your Coalition for Change
  • Storytelling Techniques
  • Communicating Vision & Celebrating Wins
  • Satir Change Process Model
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction Levels
  • Employee Engagement is Generally Low
  • Agile Transformation is a Culture Change
  • Key Cultural Aspects of Agile
  • The Schneider Culture Model
  • Tailoring the Agile Approach Based on Culture
  • Recognize and Address Organizational Resistance
  • Discuss Organizational Resistance to Change


  • General Principles for Metrics & Reporting
  • Leveraging Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)
  • Traditional Project Reporting Doesn’t Fit Agile
  • Move from Activity Measures to Impacts
  • Common Agile Metrics
  • Team Velocity Charts
  • Release Burndown & Reality Based Forecasting
  • Agile Teams Estimate in Points & Hours
  • Team Maturity Assessments
  • Team Health Surveys


  • Pilot & Scale Agile Teams
  • Let 1,000 Flowers Bloom
  • Group by Group and Team by Team Conversion
  • Mixed Methods (Scrum + Kanban)
  • Agile with Vendors
  • Contained Agile
  • Common Approaches from Patterns of Agile Journeys
  • Establishing Your Roadmap
  • Example Roadmaps
  • Don’t Plan Agile Transformation as Waterfall
  • Creating Your Own Transformation Roadmap

Please Participate in Identifying Topics for the Best Agile Leader Training!

So the above is my palette of topics that I choose from when tailoring training for a specific organization. Is it comprehensive? Is it impactful? Does it lead to the best agile leader training possible? I don’t know!

But with your help perhaps we can narrow this down a bit. We have created a survey that will allow you to quickly rank the sections of training based on priority and I would appreciate your feedback. We will provide updated results of the survey here in this article.

Here are the top results posted so far:

  1. Lean Concepts
  2. Agile Intro and the Leaders Role
  3. Leading Organizational Change
  4. Leaders Shape the Environment
  5. Leaders Adopt a Coaching Stance

And the top write in response was: Change Management Coach

Please participate in our survey here: Take the Survey of Agile Leader Topics

Thank you in advance for your participation!

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By Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.


  1. This is an excellent blog. As well as an informative and helpful blog about agile leadership training.

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