Ask Questions And Create A Plan For Success
Let’s say you want to build a house. Are you going to draw a picture on a napkin and start building? Of course not. You are going to hire professionals to guide you through the process, develop the plans, and then build the house. L&D projects should be approached the same way.
For home building, you meet with architects and contractors and tell them what you want, and they produce a blueprint and a plan of attack for your new home. For L&D projects, it’s very much the same. L&D professionals guide customers through conversations about what they want and what their business needs and they create a blueprint and a plan of attack for a training project. In this biz, we call it analysis. “But I already know what I want.” Sometimes a few key questions from someone who’s done a million and one of these can elevate the entire experience!
Flavors Of Analysis
Analysis can mean different things in an L&D project. There are large-scale program analyses and course-level analyses. They are similar in methodologies and practice, but the results are very different.
1. Large-Scale Analysis
These projects are typically used when an entire program is needed, not an individual course. Think leadership or onboarding. Basically, you don’t have a formal program, but you recognize the need for one. This process reviews the current state, looks at what the future state should be, and identifies the gaps that need to be filled to get there. The result of the analysis is a comprehensive description of the learner experience that includes several different deliverables and multiple modalities.
2. Course-Level Analysis
This is typically conducted before development begins on a particular course or small series of courses. The discussion focuses on job tasks specific to the topic, the business processes, and ultimately what learners need to know or do to be successful. It results in task-level learning objectives and is typically one modality. We call this “discovery”.
Larger projects that seek to solve program-level issues can be handled in a couple of ways. They can be the initial step to a large-scale development project, or they can be scoped as individual L&D projects all on their own. Vendors can be hired to conduct analysis projects that are then passed on to internal L&D groups for development. In those cases, ensuring a comprehensive handoff is key to success. The smaller, course-level analysis provides a deeper dive into individual topics that the larger program analysis does not typically cover.
While it would be nice if every individual course development requested was the result of some kind of analysis, that’s not always the case. When that happens, it is important for the instructional developer (ID) who conducts the course-level analysis to ask some of the same questions that would be used in the program-level analysis. This will provide the ID with some parameters for the course.
It’s not unusual for course development requests to come without any analysis at all. Someone calls L&D and says, “we need a course!” With just a couple of questions, an experienced ID can tell whether any type of analysis has taken place before that call was made. So, how do you verify and clarify the request? With a little analysis, of course.
According to Cathy Moore’s book Map It! The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design, the trick is to not refer to “the course” that was requested. Focus away from that, at least at the start. Instead, get the customer to pivot from their request to talking about the problem that led them to make the request. Performing just a few analysis tasks before diving headfirst into development will save money and time in the long run.
This does not mean you have to back all the way up and conduct a full-scale analysis project. In fact, trying to make everything fit ADDIE or SAM or even Agile is not the answer. There is nothing wrong with operating within a framework, but don’t let it become a barrier to overall efforts.
3 Steps To Success
A relatively short conversation with the customer can provide all the information you need for a simple project when you concentrate on these three things:
1. Identify Or Validate The Problem
There is a good chance the customer knows exactly what the problem is and what the solution should look like. The analysis may be more of a validation and clarification effort. To do that, ask things like:
- What does the problem look like?
- What tasks are supposed to be done?
- Why aren’t people doing them?
- How is the problem currently measured?
2. Define The Goal(s)
Training is all about starting with the end in mind. Training goals should be aligned to overall business goals at a high level, but when looking at an individual course, you are also looking for knowledge and performance expectations for learners at the end of the course. To get that information, ask things like:
- What does success look like?
- What are the performance metrics tied to this course?
3. Identify Tasks Required To Meet The Goal(s)
If you have identified the problem and defined the goals, not only should you have an idea of what this is going to look like, but also who to go to for the answers. These are your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). In the steps above, you may have been talking almost exclusively to leaders. Leaders may have worked up through the ranks and supervised people who do the job under analysis. However, if they are not doing the job today, they are not the right people to talk to about task-level performance. The right people in the room can make or break a learning project. Ask things like:
- Who is the audience?
- What job tasks are required to meet the goal(s)?
- What do learners need to do to complete the required tasks?
Armed with the information obtained from those few items, an ID can build a relevant, engaging, and successful course.
Time Is Money
Suggesting an analysis of some kind may result in pushback from decision-makers who see it as taking too much time, which costs money. Turn the “we don’t have time” argument around with information about project failure risks. Failure to identify or validate the problem results in:
- Poorly defined scope and scope-creep
- Identifying the wrong SMEs
- An inefficient and impractical learning solution
Failure to define the business goals results in:
- No defined way to effectively measure success
- Cannot “sell” the learning solution to decision-makers
Failure to identify the training audience or the job competencies/tasks results in:
- Training that is too easy or too hard
- Irrelevant training topics
- Inaccurate training for job roles
If you are about to call your L&D team and say: “we need a course!” don’t be surprised if they want to ask a few questions. Those few questions can save a lot of money and a lot of time in the long run.