Monday, July 28, 2008

Either it matters or it doesn't

Wendy and I often express similar frustrations in respect of the development of learning resources. One of our shared frustrations is the lack of engagement of stakeholders and SMEs. There is often the perception on the part of the client that they should be able to say "We want an elearning about health and safety in the workplace" and we will go away for a few days, only to return with an all-singing, all-dancing piece of elearning that covers exactly what they wanted to cover and includes all sorts of sexy graphics and clever interactions.

I was thinking about that (again) today as I was describing to my boss what drew me to this job in the first place.

In my previous job, we had engaged an international organisation to develop a new core system for us. With hindsight, I realise that great care was taken to ensure that the system would facilitate the business processes, which I don't think I appreciated at the time as the right order for cart and horse. Based on a thorough business analysis, a series of use cases was drawn up. The development company then allocated to us three analysts, who each took a team of us to a wonderfully creative space full of beanbags, movable whiteboards, toys, stressballs, etc. to flesh out the requirements behind each use case. As I sat there, having the time of my life, I watched the analyst at work, capturing the creative output of my group on the whiteboard. She would then turn it over to the techies who would write the code and make it happen. And I said to myself, "That's the job I want. I want to do what she's doing, only in respect of learning solutions rather than IT solutions."

In a way, I have that job. A large part of my job is spent in analysis and consultation. Capturing people's creativity and turning it into something workable. But at the same time, I still long for that job. I long for that creative space, where mobile phones are switched off, the 'do not disturb' sign is hung out and everyone is working together towards a common goal that is going make a huge difference to the business.

When we were busy with the analysis phase of the software development project, the business allowed us anyone we wanted. They were spending a LOT of money on this, and they wanted it done right. So the groups who sat in those creative spaces included directors, senior fee-earners, junior fee-earners, admin staff, back-office staff. All levels, all salary bands.

The same applied when it came to the UAT stage, which I led. I could ask for help from whomever I wanted. I could have on my UAT team whoever I chose from within the business. I had one person solely dedicated to writing test cases. We developed a sophisticated capture document and escalation process for faults. I had 3 weeks and practically unlimited personnel. During the course of that period, even the person Wendy would call the Main Muck dropped in to see how things were going. To stick with Wendy's terminology, several of the Associate Mucks were on my test team. As it turned out, the UAT did its job, because it identified a fundamental fault in the system which resulted in the whole thing being shelved... but that's not the point.

The point is the investment of human resources into the project. The senior personnel were not simply paying lip service to the importance of this undertaking to the business going forward. They were putting their money where their mouths were by committing fee-earning staff to a function that took them away from their fee-earning activities for as long as they were needed. They meant it when they said that the implementation of a sub-standard system would result in the failure of the business, and they were prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that this didn't happen.

So when they say the same things of the management development programme they have asked me to develop, but getting access to SMEs and stakeholders is like pulling teeth, well then I have a hard time believing them. When words and actions are mismatched, the true message is in the actions.

Wouldn't you say?


Wendy said...

Wow! You worked in an area with beanbags and toys?!?!?!? Soooo jealous!

And I firmly agree that the Analysis phase is the one that often gets short shrift. Just because someone wants to do it doesn't mean actually doing it is a good idea in the long term. And spending the resources up front to figure that out saves lots of time/money/heartache on the back end.

Ultimately, in anything, its actions rather than words that communicate importance.

Anonymous said...

@wendy "You worked in an area with beanbags and toys?!?!?!?"

Sure did! Hence my regular use of the phrase 'beanbag time'. I might even have coined the phrase for all know ;o) It was all time favourite way to work on a project and the fact that it failed has not changed that.

Wendy said...

Karyn - funny, I wouldn't call that a "failed project." To me - a failed project is one that gets through all of the steps, including implementation, and no one uses it / it doesn't work. In my mind - not making it through the analysis phase is a success. Someone caught the problem before it REALLY started costing money.

Anonymous said...

@wendy You make a good point, but the organisation I worked for saw it as a failed project. They had already spent a LOT of money when the whole thing went south and they spent at least two years in litigation with the suppliers trying to get their money back, while having to continue using their old system which simply could not cope with the demands being placed on it. It had been designed for a less sophisticated age and added to so many times that it was creaking and groaning. I have no idea whether they succeeded in their quest - I was long gone by then!

Anonymous said...

thanks for such a good post...
btw i'm a researcher working on "eLearning 2.0 powered by web 2.0". Would you like to contribute?

Anonymous said...

Not sure about that last comment - my system warns me the URL may be bogus, so I haven't accessed it. The comment may have been generated by a spam bot. Please be aware of this if you try to access the link yourself.