PATHWAYS — Volume 12, Number 2 – September, 2000

Focus: Good, Fast, and Cheap -- Is It Possible?

Those of you who have followed Pathways articles for a time are aware that about once a year FLI convenes a group of FLInet™ affiliates[1] to brainstorm and report back on issues of current interest and importance.  This year we addressed the frequent desire of FLI clients to have the products we develop delivered faster, cheaper, and better.  This three-element client expectation is not new …it has always been with us.[2]

It is easy to become complacent, believing that the way we do things now is the best we can do in meeting these sometimes conflicting client demands.  In this year's session I challenged the group to consider the possibility of alternative approaches to FLI's development/delivery methods and practices.  I further challenged them to consider how the emerging technologies might affect their responses.

Prior to the group session, I asked participants to organize their thoughts regarding the following, related sub-issues:

        Are client expectations realistic and achievable?  When and under what circumstances?

        Have we created our own problem?  To what extent should we both meet and exceed client expectations?

        Can our delivery process be compressed?  Is the process really necessary?  Can we eliminate some steps?

        Is Internet delivery an optimum solution to the good/fast/cheap demand?  How does web-based delivery affect that expectation?

As you might imagine, other related issues emerged during the session.

In the At Issue section Van O. Wright, FLI’s Director of Product Quality Control, Emeritus — now retired —  documents some of the key thoughts, findings, and recommendations from the session. 

I want to thank the group members for participating and sharing their experience and wisdom with you and with FLI.

John C. Wills
President/CEO

 

 

AT ISSUE: Rapid Development of Performance Support Components

The March 1999 issue of Pathways addressed the competitive demands being placed on FLI's client project managers:

        Develop and deliver competitive products and services …

        to meet increasing client expectations …

        with limited or reduced budgets and human resources …

        while accommodating increased product/service complexity.

As one might expect, these pressures upon FLI's clients translate into increased demands on FLI.

In the Focus section, John Wills briefly describes a session held at FLI in early July to address the issue, How can FLI hold down development costs, continue to deliver high-quality performance support components, and still meet the demand for ever shorter development cycles?  Here I have consolidated and summarized the key findings from our session with the hope that the ideas we developed will be of value to FLI's clients.

Process

A quick word about process.  The general process was to use small sub-groups to brainstorm, then report back to the full group to reach consensus and future direction.

1.     Initially we identified factors that constrain the good/fast/cheap goal.

2.     Then, we put a more positive spin on the issues by looking for potential opportunities among what at first appeared to be constraints. 

3.     Next we selected the four opportunity areas that appeared to offer the most potential for rapid development and/or better use of emerging technologies.

4.     Finally, four groups prepared and presented reports to the full group on the selected opportunity areas.

What are the Key Factors That Affect Rapid Development and Delivery?

The following list summarizes the factors we identified that most affect our ability to meet client "good, fast, cheap" expectations.

        Lack of clear, mutual understanding of client/consultant roles and responsibilities* [3]

        Understanding of and client agreement about their real need(s), early in the development cycle

        Availability and accessibility of subject matter knowledge and expertise

        Varied perceptions of what constitutes "better quality"

        Our own ability to maintain professional skills and knowledge in a world of rapid technological change*

        Growing client expectations for FLI to provide subject matter expertise as well as development/delivery expertise

        Increasingly short "time windows" between need identification and delivery date

        Questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of the development process FLI uses to develop performance development components*

        Need to understand and accommodate new, differing learning styles, especially among younger, media savvy employees *

Ideas for Increasing Efficiency

During discussion, we found that some of the apparent constraints listed above could actually be used to stimulate solutions.  For example, a client with short-fuse delivery requirements is actually more likely to work in a team relationship, to commit resources, to agree on mutual roles and responsibilities, and the like.  Here are some other opportunity areas the group identified.

        Make better use of existing FLI and client knowledge management resources.

        Define client and FLI roles and responsibilities as early as possible in the development cycle.  Hold both parties responsible for their roles and responsibilities.

        Develop and re-use replicable solutions instead of re-inventing solutions project by project.

        Develop better partnership relationships with clients so that:

        FLI provides structure, organization, and activities.

        Clients provide expertise and delivery.

        Pool FLI and non-FLI resources and commit an appropriate resource mix as early as is possible in the development cycle.

A Detailed Look at Four Opportunity Areas

Four sub-groups reported back to the full group on their recommendations regarding these four questions:

1.     How can we better address the issue of client/consultant roles and responsibilities?

2.     How can we accommodate new learning styles?

3.     How do the emerging technologies impact rapid development and delivery?

4.     Can our development process be streamlined?

How can FLI better address the issue of client/consultant roles and responsibilities?

This sub-group was of the firm opinion that accelerated development is seldom possible without a higher-than-normal measure of client involvement and cooperation.  Here are their process recommendations:

        Define the scope of the project and stick to it; work with the client sponsor to avoid "scope creep."

        Clearly define mutual roles and responsibilities.

        Get commitment to the schedule early in the development process and reach agreement regarding the ramifications and consequences of schedule slippage.

        Establish mutually agreed upon check points, do the checks, and obtain formal authorization to proceed.

        Identify key client influencers, decision makers, and sponsor early in the project.

        Maintain open lines of communication.

        Throughout development and delivery, use project management tools to forecast and track progress.

The sub-group emphasized that, while these ideas are not new, failure to adhere to them, on either the client's or FLI’s part, almost invariably results in frustration or schedule slippage.

How can we accommodate new learning styles?

Traditionally, the instructional design process has entailed careful, orderly, and linear structuring of content and processes to ensure successful learning experiences.  This was critical to the success of classroom instruction.  Two factors have emerged to change this methodology somewhat:  1) self-paced, self-directed learning, and 2) new information-seeking habits made possible by web-based search engines.  Self-directed learning styles are evident and increasing, particularly among younger employees.  These learners often want to be assigned a learning objective, then be left alone to accomplish the objective … not be held back by the dynamics of group instruction.  For some instructional designers, this can be a challenging paradigm shift. 

The sub-group recommended the following general path for instructional designers to prepare themselves to accommodate the new learning style:

        Learn what it is about

        Observe the new learners in action.

        Review existing research data; experience the new learning style by using non-linear means such as Internet searches to carry out parts of the research.

        Consider all learning modes -- text, image, sound, motion, tactile.

        Experiment with the creation of non-linear components.

        Think in terms of content "granules" rather than highly structured modules.

        Support clients who want to accommodate the new learning styles.

        Educate the client.

        Encapsulate lessons learned.

How do the emerging technologies impact rapid development and delivery?

This sub-group reported that it is critical for performance technologists to remain abreast of the new technologies. Some clients want to become early adopters of new technologies; others are unaware of opportunities the new technologies provide.

Instructional designers needn't necessarily be able to program in HTML, XML, or Java, but they must know capabilities, since that is an important component of their consultant role. Technology selection is part and parcel of designing a complete solution for a client.

The sub-group stressed the need to bring technologists in early in the development cycle when a new technology (for the client) is being considered.  New technologies force a new level of effort in managing client expectations and directing the change process.

Can FLI's development process be streamlined?

The sub-group agreed that in many instances, the development process can be streamlined.  However, they were unanimous in the belief that a carefully researched and time-tested methodology should not be scrapped.  In some situations the development process can be compressed in depth, but never in scope.  For example, if a needs analysis for a target training group was carried out six months ago for another project, it is probably not necessary to repeat a trainee profile study for a similar project for the same group.  It would only be necessary to study any recent changes in the work/learning environment.

Another way of reducing development time is to reach consensus with the client regarding must-haves versus nice-to-haves.  And, the client may have to be more flexible regarding how the must-haves are to be achieved.

Finally, the sub-group recommended better, more conscious use of knowledge management.  In a large project, for example, templates developed for early modules can often be used in later modules.

 

It will continue to be a challenge for any of us to meet all of our clients’ expectations.  However, we hope you find some of these ideas, created with the help of our FLInet™ affiliates, valuable to you in your own endeavors.

Van O. Wright, Ph.D.

 

Quotation

It is easy to become complacent, believing that the way we do things now is the best we can do …

 

 

 



[1] FLInet™, FLI's Professional Affiliates Network comprises over 150 seasoned professionals, independent business people who contract with FLI to deliver consulting and development services to FLI's clients.

[2] An often heard riposte to this expectation is, "We can deliver your product good, fast, or cheap.  Choose any two of the three!"

[3] Asterisked items are those selected by the group for further discussion and development.