Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why "Rapid" is a word your clients will like.

I love the word "Rapid". I recently wrote an article on "Rapid Instructional Design with Powerpoint". Rapid is good, because Rapid is fast. Something that customers (internal/ external) have trouble understanding, is that an off the shelf program can often be "one-size-fits-all-but-fits-nobody" and hence may not create the desired results and that sometimes a custom training program is needed, to achieve a learning objective. If they do understand the need for custom design, they often have difficulty in comprehending why it will take someone 100 hours to develop instructional content.

"Isn't the material on the wiki already?
Cant you copy paste it into a Powerpoint by the end of this week?""

Its difficult to quantify the importance of the time spent on instructional design to a customer, because time=money and there's really no way of proving that developing that instructional content has any impact on "money". Its a catch 22 situation for learning professionals to either sacrifice quality in their instructional content, or to live with a customer that's unhappy with their turn around time.

This is where the word "Rapid" works really well for me. There are few principles that any kind of Rapid development rests on:

Learning is a process, not an event

Tom Kulhmann's recently written quite a brilliant blog post to indicate how learning is more a series of events that a single "big bang" occurrence. With that wisdom in perspective, it makes sense to create multiple, small, low cost learning opportunities than it is, to create a really high cost, seemingly perfect training program. Its important to know that learning is an experience and not a commodity, so believing that you can achieve it through the transactional act of a single training event is really being unrealistic.

While I've grown in my career as a facilitator of face to face events, I've learnt that a face to face training program is a disruptive influence. It means that someone has to organize logistics, it means that people have to leave their daily jobs and spend time in a training room. Then again, if you go by the "conscious competence model", training can only:
  • move people from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence;
  • OR move people from conscious incompetence to conscious competence
Its well nigh impossible for individuals to move to a stage of unconscious competence because reaching this stage takes practice in real situations; it takes experience; and it takes a genuine interest for what you do. I cant think of a program that can do that!

Now don't get me wrong, instructor led training has its time and place and is obviously more appropriate than others in certain context. What I'm trying to say is, that Instructor Led Training (ILT) is not the same as learning. Learning needs other, more regular, less disruptive events to support classroom training.

Design and Content will evolve over time

Design can't ever be perfect. An ideal course evolves over time. The usual tendency with course design is to throw the kitchen sink at a few hours of learning. If you're designing a course, the key things to ask yourself are:
  • What do participants need to be able to do at the end of this course?
  • What's the minimum information they need, to be able to do this?
  • In what scenarios will they apply this learning?
  • How can I model these situations in my classroom/ self paced learning environment?
By asking yourself these questions, you're making learning worth the time and you can keep your course design simple. If you're designing ILT, then yes you need to make the course repeatable by:
  • including instructions on how to run the course;
  • direct speech for what you need to say;
  • standard questions/ standard responses;
  • AND tips and tricks;
The fact is, however that most of this is information that becomes explicit only at run time and information that evolves with time. There's no way you can predict standard responses to your socratic delivery -- so why bother with that part of design? When you're first designing a course, you have little idea of what can go wrong before you do a dry run - so why document that now? Is there a simple way of creating instructions, without making the whole process cumbersome? Can you get by, if you were to just polish up consumer (participant) facing materials and wait until the first run of the course to create reusable trainer artifacts?

Questions like this help in making the course development process more iterative than monolithic. It helps get learning out quicker, it helps customers realize value soon and it makes you look like a rock-star!

Learning internalizes On the Job and informally

In most consulting engagements what we really do, is create learning. The engagements that work are the one's where we understand learning to be a continuous process and hence we create mechanisms for people to to learn in informal situations. 1-o-1 coaching, mentoring, lunch and learns, tiny tasks as stepping stones, big visible charts, open spaces, microblogging, wikis, collaborative workspaces, e-learning -- they all take less time and continuing effort than the coordination of a big bang classroom session and they help internalize learning over time.

Giving yourself the opportunity to create these light-weight learning experiences will allow you to relax a little more on your actual course development and will help you generate far more value for your customer, in far lesser time -- I mean rapidly.

So my suggestion for the next time you're trying to solve a learning problem is to think of the learning process first and then think how you can bring in the word Rapid to create value quicker for your customers.

If you like this post, you may also like my other articles:


Michael said...

Nice post. I like "rapid" too.

James Bach and I co-author and teach a course and a methodology called Rapid Software Testing. Rapid testing is a mind-set and a skill-set of testing focused on how to do testing more quickly, less expensively, with excellent results. The stated goal is "to teach people how to test a product when the have to test it right now, under conditions of uncertainty, in a way that stands up to scrutiny."

As I was reading your post, it occurred to me that the stuff you're saying is consistent with the themes of the course--and that rapidity in general incorporates some of the stuff we say about testing specifically. You could replace the string "test" with "work", and it seems to complement what you're saying quite nicely.

- Put the tester's mind at the center of testing.
- Learn to deal with complexity and ambiguity.
- Develop testing skills through practice, not just talk.
- Use heuristics to guide and structure your process.
- Be a service to the project community, not an obstacle.
- Consider cost vs. value in all your testing activity.
- Diversify your team and your tactics.
- Dynamically manage the focus of your work.
- Your context should drive your choices, both of which evolve over time.

I really liked your line that learning is a process, not an event. Amen.

You might also be interested in Jerry Weinberg's upcoming workshop on experiential learning.

All the best,

---Michael B.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Hi Michael,
I'm a great fan of James Bach's book on Testing. Thanks for your comments and being a player in an "Agile" environment, I can completely see why you empathise with my thinking.

Thanks for pointing our Jerry and Esther's workshop -- its a pity I'm in India (as I always am). I just keep missing all these great events.


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