Lou Russell’s presentation, The Truth About Agile, Gamification and Quick Fixes, was easily one of the most popular at E-Learning Symposium 2015. An engaging speaker, she had a lot of strong take takeaways on a wide range of topics.
Be aware that the project team no longer exists. We all have so many projects, and so little time to effectively focus on them—maybe a couple of hours of focus time each day—that no one can be on a team where the only focus is on one project. Instead, we do bits and pieces as time allows. We need to approach project management from that perspective.
Are your teams internal or external? Internal teams know the politics, processes, power relationships, and history. External (consulting) teams offer other experiences, energy, focus—and they have to do a good job on this one so that they get hired for the next. Internal teams have a budget; external teams have a contract. Both have advantages. Internal teams know who the real players are, what the nature of the organization is. External teams can break up political processes.
Understanding Project Motivation: What Do You Ask?
When tackling a project, her two essential questions are what will the person do after the training that they can’t do now, and why today.
The question of what will they do is an important one, and it’s a question that’s been covered in several places—designers (and their clients) need to focus on what learners need to be able to do, not what they’ll know. Focusing on that will do a lot to help winnow out the “nice to know” in favor of the “need to know.”
It’s the second question that strikes me as a great way to get to the motivation behind the effort to train. Why today? Why not yesterday, why not tomorrow? What’s driving the schedule? Is it time, funds that are about to be lost, a new system that’s about to roll out? Once you understand the big picture, motivations, risks, and constraints all assume a new and more relevant perspective. You know what the real deadline is, and why.
On the question of which project methodology is most effective for elearning, the answer is…it depends.
ADDIE is the standard model for elearning, and one that everyone wants to replace. It’s rather inflexible—designed, as Lou said, for sign-offs, not to go back. And it’s slow. By the time you get to Design, Analysis can be three months out of date.
Agile is a project methodology that comes from the software world. The idea is that you set a “sprint,” where you outline what you’ll have done in the next week or two. After that, you do the work and check in daily in the “scrum” stand-up meeting. At the end of the sprint, you have a functional product. Lou points out that if you don’t have a functional product, then you’re not doing Agile. The most important question is whether all these little pieces will scale. Do the little pieces stick together, does it create something that will enable learners to do something that they didn’t before?
The third methodology she discussed was SAM, the successive approximation model. This model basically has the designer create a model, show it to the client, revise it, and do this for a total of three times. The single most important factor in successfully using SAM is governance. Someone needs to be there to say stop, so that iterations don’t go on forever. In this sense, it’s a great tool for consultants (Allen Interactions, which developed SAM, is a consulting company). Internally, there can always be another change. But if you’re dealing with a contract, the point of contact has the final say.
Which to use? It depends. Lou suggests employing aspects of design thinking (there’s a free Coursera course Design Thinking for Business Innovation available). Essentially, projects can be broken down to puzzles and mysteries. If the project has a right solution, it’s a puzzle. If it’s something no one’s done before, it’s a mystery. Design thinking is about mysteries.
So if the project’s a puzzle, if it has a right solution, use ADDIE. If it’s a mystery, use one of the more flexible approaches, Agile or SAM.
Whichever one you choose, make sure to get the right people, time to focus on the project, don’t lock yourself in, set governance, and focus on performance.
Send a Status Report, Be a Hero
Send a status report every week at the same time, and you’ll be a hero. The biggest fail in any project is often communication. Lou used the example of a company that called for a “mandatory happy hour” after work one week. She thought it was great—happy hour! Others went nuts with worry—were they going to be laid off? Was the internal structure of the company going to be changed?
Turns out that it was happy hour, nothing more. But the lack of communication let everyone imagine the worst. Keep the lines of communication open—send a weekly status report.
Thoughts on Gamification
Lou defines gamification with an emphasis on the competitive aspects (badges, ranking). (For a different approach, one that posits learning games as safe places to take chances and fail, see Karl Kapp’s excellent work.) If gamification is about competition, then you need to think about what you’re hoping to achieve. Memorizing sales information? Sure. Training employees how to lead in a cooperative environment? Probably not the right approach.
Dr. Kevin Gumienny is the MicroAssist Elearning Team Lead.