Article

ICAgile Training Enters Virtual Reality: A Q&A with Li Bickerich, Roche

May 10, 2024

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Emily May

When we think of ICAgile courses, virtual reality isn’t normally the first thing that comes to mind. However, at Roche, innovation has no limits, including how they approach internal learning. 

Li Bickerich, an authorized ICAgile instructor and agile coach at Roche, set out on a mission to bring one of the team’s highly requested courses into the virtual world. Armored with unstoppable entrepreneurial passion, a team of online gamers, and the latest VR headsets, Bickerich led an experiment that brought agile coaching to a different dimension. 

In this Q&A-style interview, we sat down with Bickerich to learn more about how the idea for an ICAgile VR course was born, the development process, the experiment's results, and the future of learning at Roche.

Q&A with Li Bickerich, Agile Coach at Roche

Q: Can you tell us about your role at Roche and your involvement with the virtual reality ICAgile course?

A: At Roche, we have an organization called Roche Services & Solutions. We enable Roche to operate in a competitive and ever-changing business environment and provide our internal partners with end-to-end business services and solutions.

The RSS department I work in is focused on agile coaching. One of the programs I’m leading is the collaboration between Roche and ICAgile. Additionally, Roche encourages entrepreneurship and community, and I’m also leading the Roche eSports club. Between my role and leading the gaming community, this is how the idea for the virtual reality ICAgile training was born. 

Q: Can you briefly describe the VR ICAgile class developed by Roche?

A: Roche has three courses with ICAgile: Agile FundamentalsAgile Team Facilitation, and Agile Coaching. All of these courses, but especially Agile Fundamentals, are very successful. Most of the training is in-person, so the feedback from participants is very positive. Once or twice, we tried running online versions of the ICAgile training, but the feedback from our employees didn’t stack up to the in-person version. 

Because the demand for these courses is very high, as an international company, we were thinking about how to scale and offer these programs to people who cannot travel to Basel to attend the training, and that’s how we decided to leverage virtual reality. We did one experiment with six colleagues from all over the world. They all joined from their homes with their VR glasses, and then we ran the ICP Agile Fundamentals course. 

Q: Were there any other motivations behind choosing virtual reality as a medium for this ICAgile class?

A: For us, it’s not about checking the box based on how many training sessions we run, but rather, it’s about the learning experience. The learning outcomes matter. That’s why we thought about new ways to offer the class. Of course, virtual reality won’t be exactly the same as the in-person classroom training, but we thought, how about we just try this experiment and see if it works? 

Q: You touched on geographical barriers and your global team members wanting to take the in-person courses. Can you talk more about that problem? Was implementing the VR class financially beneficial?

A: Yes, the main driver is financial due to travel costs. We were able to save a lot on travel expenses and still offer a more engaging learning experience beyond what Google Hangouts can offer. 

Q: How did the idea spark for the VR agile training?

A: Roche is a pharmaceutical company that invests most of its revenue into research and development. Innovation is in our DNA. We have a spirit of trying new things and being on the front line of new technologies. 

We have an eSports club, a community of team members interested in online gaming. In these meetings, we bring new ideas about–and one of them happened to be combining our agile training courses with VR. As an organization that encourages an entrepreneurial mindset, we embraced this experiment. 


Q: Were team members in the eSports community hands-on in developing the VR course?

A: They were the testers in the experiment because people who like gaming understand new technologies. While developing the course, I tested working with different providers and their applications, which they call productive applications in virtual reality. I settled on Meta Horizon Workroom, developed by Meta, and it meets all of our needs when running the online training. 

Q: It sounds like you leveraged many agile principles to create the course. Can you give an example?

A: I’m an agile coach, which also contributed to the course's creation. From a customer-centric perspective, we run the course with eight people, collect feedback, and continue to refine it. We’re not looking for a perfect solution but always aim for improvement. 

Q: Can you speak to the design and development process of the VR course?

A: We needed to figure out how to translate the engaging learning activities from the in-person class into the virtual reality classroom. For example, in our in-person training, we use Lego Serious Play to demonstrate how planning, assigning roles, continuous delivery, continuous integration, and other practices contribute to the end product. When translating this to virtual reality, we integrated Minecraft, which is similar to an online version of using Legos to build things. 

The main difference between classroom and online training is the engagement level of participants. In a physical classroom, learners are less likely to get distracted by things happening in their environment, and at home, it can be easy for participants to lose focus. However, in the virtual reality world, we’ve found that the complete immersive experience provides much more engagement, with the ability to make direct connections with one another, such as giving a colleague a high-five or the ability to look into the eyes of the rest of your team.

Q: Do you think the popularity of remote settings during COVID-19 encouraged your organization to try a new type of remote learning?

A: During the COVID-19 outbreak, you had to work from home and take all of your training online, but at the same time, miss the interactions within the classroom. Virtual reality could be a good balance of flexibility and engagement. 

Q: Were there any other major challenges you overcame in this process, or that you are attempting to overcome now?

A: Yes, there are several. Usually, we run two full days of ICAgile training, but in the virtual reality space, we split it into four four-hour sessions. After every session, we ask for immediate feedback to see how we can improve. Through that feedback, we’ve discovered some challenges.

The number one challenge is the virtual equipment we use. From Meta, you have Quest 2, Quest Pro, and Quest 3; each headset provides a different learning experience. For example, Quest 2 is exceptionally heavy compared to the others. We also incorporate a break every hour because the headsets can cause eye fatigue or motion sickness for some participants. 

The second major challenge is the application itself. The VR class is just an experiment; we’re not expecting a perfect solution, but I provide feedback to Meta directly on technical issues or recommendations. Any application has limitations, but that’s why we run testing to see what works best for our needs. 

Q: What technologies and tools are crucial to creating your classrooms in virtual reality?

A: We’re currently using Meta Quest 3. If anyone wants to run a course in virtual reality, I recommend Quest 3 or Quest Pro. Regarding the applications, we ran our experiment with Meta Horizon Workrooms and are testing others. There are unique advantages to using Meta applications, such as integrations. For example, Minecraft, word games, and coin-flipping games easily integrate into the Metaverse.

I always tell people that challenges with applications and equipment are problems of time. These technologies will evolve. It’s similar to a mobile phone. In the past, they were like bricks–big and very heavy, but today, everyone has a smartphone that comfortably fits in their pocket. As long as we believe that virtual reality is the future of learning and connecting, these technologies will continue to improve. 

Q: You mentioned testing the VR course with participants who are already familiar with new technologies. How do you ensure that the VR experience goes well for participants who are not well-versed in these technologies?

A: Our current participants are gamers, so the VR course is intuitive for them. If Roche scales these virtual reality courses, we will need to provide participants with clear guidance, including hosting a pre-event to help people set up their equipment and understand its functionality, along with regular check-in sessions. 

Q: What key learning outcomes do you expect participants to take away from the VR course?

A: Our takeaways align with the required ICAgile learning outcomes. Although our course is administered through VR, the training is rooted in the learning materials. 

Q: Can you share any success stories or feedback from participants who have taken this course?

A: Our survey asked participants what they enjoyed most about the VR training session. They said the VR experience improved their focus compared to a video meeting and enhanced their ability to connect with others. Others noted that the spatial audio provided a more engaging experience that felt like the real world. For instance, in the virtual reality classroom, when a participant is chiming in, you will hear their audio closer or further away, depending on where they are seated. 

Further, 80% of participants said they would be willing to integrate VR into their regular learning environment, and 20% said they would consider it. All participants agreed that the VR space provides less distraction and helps them stay focused. 

Q: What impact has the VR ICAgile class had on Roche's approach to training and development?

A: Right now, there isn’t a huge impact yet, but we communicated the proof of concept internally, and it’s garnered significant interest. The next step is to take the feedback that we’ve received, run another class with more participants or different applications, and then collect feedback again. We’re on a journey to scale this VR solution within Roche. 

Q: Let's fast-forward a year or two. Where do you see this VR offering? How can you envision it in the future?

A: Our goal is for our global conference and some team meetings to be conducted in virtual reality. We are beginning this journey with testing through our internal course offerings. Ideally, in the future, we would have a VR headset at every site, acting as the primary communication device for our team.

Q: Technology is changing rapidly. Where do you see VR heading in the future?

A: I always use the iPhone as an example. Before the iPhone 4, there was significant competition between Nokia and iPhone–people were still skeptical about Apple products. However, since the iPhone 4 hit the market, Apple has outperformed traditional cellular devices–smartphones became and continue to be a staple product for most consumers.

The same concept applies to virtual reality. VR can potentially become a societal norm in the future, but the main challenge is the infrastructure to innovate these technologies. Factors like internet speed restrict the performance of virtual reality equipment. I believe a bigger evolution of this technology is coming, but we’re still in the very early stages of virtual reality innovation.

Conclusion

The ICAgile VR class at Roche illuminates what it means to be an agile organization. Through innovation, collaboration, and adaptation, Li Bickerich and her team led an experiment that produced positive results and insights for future impact. 

Is your agile organization experimenting with new ways to collaborate or deliver learning in an increasingly virtual world? Share this article on LinkedIn, and tell us about your latest innovations. 

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TAGGED AS:
Learning Excellence, Leading Change, Agile Team Coaching, Agile Team Facilitation

About the author

Emily May | ICAgile, Marketing Specialist
Emily May is a Marketing Specialist at ICAgile, where she helps educate learners on their agile journey through content. With an eclectic background in communications supporting small business marketing efforts, she hopes to inspire readers to initiate more empathy, productivity, and creativity in the workplace for improved internal and external outcomes.