Tough topic learning projects – Being a N00b

It’s nice when a learning project comes in and you have plenty of expertise with the topics at hand. For more corporately agnostic topics many organizations will hire that expertise in a learning practitioner. Things move along quicker, you have a wider breadth of experience to balance the content against and you sound more intelligent speaking with SMEs.

Unfortunately, if you aren’t in a role where you live in a certain program or catalog and know you are likely to have foreknowledge of project content, you just never know what you are going to get.

Personally, for me this is half the fun of the job! I love that feeling in the initial discussions where the client builds you a picture of their world and you get to be a part of it. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been involved in a myriad of projects and built an interesting collage of topics. In my brain is a mix of network administration, financial sales, radiology and orthopaedic tools, unreleased smartphones, leadership programs, corporate objective setting, martial arts and web design. Whew!

A strong learning team will have a good workflow in place to deal with all projects regardless of topics.

When the rubber hits the road however, it can be daunting to face a completely foreign knowledge area. One of my favourite projects over the years was the orthopaedic tools project. It was probably one of my most successful outputs and arguably the one that was the steepest learning curve for me. I was not an integration specialist, was new to the world of medical imaging altogether, and knew nothing of orthopaedics. I definitely felt like a newbie (n00b).

Process aside, there were a few keys that turned that project, and me, from n00b to performing.

Going into the jungle? Find a guide. Using coffee as an open bribe, start making friends. Someone who knows and can introduce you to others, knows the terminology, or has history, you can very quickly hit the ground running.  This person can also be a great co-facilitator for a session with very knowledgeable learners.

Get in the learner’s trenches. If you don’t know your learner, how can you possibly build something that will help them? The world of the learner, regardless of team, shifts just like yours. What was the approach, alignments, tools or resources one day, can be very different the next. If you can’t paint a clear picture of who they are and what they do every day, you are going to miss something.

Teach yourself first. The bigger the learning team, it seems the less individual learning practitioners think they need to know about project as a whole. Once you have an army of SMEs, Consultants, IDesigners, IDevelopers and so on, it can become unclear who knows the final collateral best. Make it you. Always know the content + 50% more. (start reading) You will be credible, able to be more involved in SME discussions, and have great discussions with your client.

Be there. If you support IDs and they can’t get content? Be there, find it. If you are an ID and a facilitator has a rough session, Be there, give them an evening of one to one on the content. A learner group hits a major hiccup in a webinar, Be there, solve the problem, rerun the session and offer the next as gratis. The more you are involved, the better the project result. Guaranteed.

It’s not always easy. When you start to pile up many projects with brand new knowledge areas, it can be tough to be as involved in each separately. Know your limits and when to draw the line. No matter how good you are, there is a threshold you can easily cross where outputs cease to be great.

For me, this is what the job is all about. Finding something new and intriguing to dig your teeth into and seeing it through.


Learner surveys: Dusty storage boxes to massive impact in 1 day

Smile sheets, satisfaction surveys, Kirkpatrick Level 1s. Most training teams have these in place. Why?

Because we should gather learner feedback, it’s industry standard, part of the process/adult learning model/evaluation methodology, etc… All good reasons.

Not too long ago, I posted an entry called “How to measure success: Part 1 – Reaction“. In that post I talked about some of the pitfalls and challenges with level 1 surveys. I wanted to go abit more in-depth in an extremely impactful and easy solution. The Net Promoter Score.

If you aren’t familiar with NPS, this primer I put together to walk a team through the methodology is a useful kickoff to how NPS works.

The NPS methodology allows you to target the hardest part of feedback gathering. The “what now?”.

Many companies diligently ask the right questions and have followed good process to deploy and gather the feedback. Now what? In many cases that energy wound down as feedback piled up and other priorities came to the fore. Surveys would come in, get labeled nicely and stored.

The single most important survey objective should be the actionables put in place BASED on the feedback. For a fiscal plan to include a key goal focused on this, the payoff is huge, for an almost negligible cost. Using a Net Promoter Score (NPS) methodology for Level 1 surveys is a very effective way of driving great scoreboard metrics and very useful feedback!

NPS can help you deal with the main obstacles that pop up for Reaction Surveys:

  1. Annoyance factor increases proportionate to the number of questions. Fewer questions is ALWAYS better and will increase the response rate.

    I spoke with a large company analyst who saw 6 to 8000 surveys go out to every support customer engaged, and a decent response for a typical 10 question remote survey would sit around 10 -15%. This increased drastically the fewer questions asked.Now take into account that to get decent trending data for learner feedback, you would need say 15 to 20 solid responses to make good decisions on changes to a course. You would need to send out 150 to 200 10 question surveys.

    Because an NPS survey is designed to be Short and Sweet, it drives response rate up. Learners are less annoyed at a survey that takes them less than a minute and draws from the the information that is key in their mind; What they loved or hated.

  2. Getting data you can use. I rate the LMS as a “3”.

    What are you going to do with a 3? I mentioned in another post about slapping around a bunch of IDs, demanding they make the design a 4! Traditional survey’s don’t allow for this, they are metric based, not feedback based. Asking “Why did you Rate it X” will drive the learner to tell you exactly what you want to know and provide useful trending data to empower the design or support teams to action.

  1. Metrics are King. 30 minute discussion to the executive team or 3 second scoreboard?

    The reaction survey has an important secondary objective; Demonstrate your success and growth. If you have a 15 question survey, how are you detailing trends in an understandable fashion for the organization.

    Because NPS provides a clear metric you can graph from session to session, you can instantly set objectives, benchmarks and comparison models with different audiences. This data doesn’t show that learning has occurred (you still need a good level 2 model for that!), but this is what will convince executive management that you are impacting the audience positively and they are eager to come back for more.

Managing feedback from this type of survey is relatively easy. If you use a tool like Surveymonkey, the output gathered as CSV will allows you to make use of an excel formula to quickly tabulate the NPS result (total Promoter% – total Detractor% = NPS). Some online tools like Surveygizmo have steps you can use to autoreport the NPS result of your questions (here!).

As the data will be short and impactful, triaging the results is fast and easy. One person of my team was holding NPS triage sessions daily during a multi-day program, reviewing the results with the facilitator and actioning the feedback for the next days session. (way to go Lynda!)

The result? A upward tracking graph of NPS results to show leaders, satisfied learners and better equipped facilitators/instructional designers.

What more can you ask for?

Drowning in learning projects… What do we do?

I’ve been thinking lately about a problem many of my peers are facing;  Drowning in too many formal learning projects.

I’ve grown quite abit over the years in regards to methodology, tools and concepts. The are many coping mechanisms organizations can choose to apply.  Rapid design philosophies, project management tools and organizational structure are basic and you are crazy to not research and apply them.  Doing things how you are, however, you really need to ask yourself one vital question:  “How will I cope with double the number of these projects?”

The answer is inevitable.  You won’t.

I’ve always been drawn to technology.  I love the innovative spirit inherent in it.  It’s fun when you can use the medium in the message too.  Creating learning for an organization’s products carries a sense of urgency, a wide range of topics and is just cool.  But pool that with all other new hire programs, leadership programs and procedural training and you sink into deep water.

The first thing a learning practitioner NEEDS to truly accept is there likely won’t be a lull.  For a successful company, there is rarely the mythical “breather”. There is a good reason for this, and it’s no accident.  There are innumerable articles on the GDP growth %, population growth, new businesses and economic competition.  You can refer to comments by Ray Kurzweil or look at articles around Moore’s Law.  We are growing, our products are growing, exponential innovation is seething around you.  Welcome to the 21st century.

If you hold to the sales pitch you made when justifying the need for a corporate learning department to the executive leadership, you committed to support that growth, those new employees and the product’s customers and do it economically.  Oh crap?

In reality, you are genetically in good shape.  We’re doing amazing things as a species because we are adaptable and inventive.  This has to be fostered in the learning processes and solutions as well.  Being mired in “the way we do things” creates behaviours that not only do not support that natural growth of our products and economy but are doomed to failure.  How can any of these organization, living in the world mentioned above compete?

I think it’s important for organizations to start to think lighter.  Rather than build based on tradition or comfort level,  take a good hard look at whether an ILT or eLearning is really required? Informal approaches like collaborative communities, virtual roundtables and moderated text or audio discussion forums can hit the mark just as well if not better, and take half the time to create.

For several years there have been active discussions around how employees today learn 90% of what they need on the job from informal sources.  Yet most organizations still allocate the great majority of training budgets to formal eLearning and ILTs.  Therefore segregating the learning teams to focus on the arguably least impactful elements of an employees growth.

There are several reasons organizations do this, all good battlefronts for you to fight on:

  • Evaluation – Adult learning education programs drill in the need to evaluate learners.   I myself leverage and find comfort in the Kirkpatrick model.  But evaluating informal material can be a challenge.  You might need to instead lean on performance shifts and trends rather than individual resource impact.  This can be tough to explain and sell to an executive team but is a worthwhile exercise to explore together.
  • Revenue – Some organizations sell their learning products.  Formal learning is an easier “package” than the informal.  Why not provide a formal/informal package that has both that easy to price ILT, but has templates  for customers to self manage wikis, blogs or discussion forums.  Or add a professional service to moderate it for them (a value add with expert advice FAQs?)  This can be both revenue generating and sellable.
  • Infrastructure – No tools to support informal learning?  Today, there are so many tools available free or at minimal cost.  Options that allow for a range of hardware, can be cloud based, integrated with enterprise or standalone and have a variety of security options.  Assess and plan your need and start digging.

With informal approaches time is spent on the knowledge areas and the engagement, not creating a ton of expensive, slow to produce “stuff”. You can still apply adult learning principles but its so much less overhead.

For example:
Consider having trainers do a webcast via tablet or smartphone rather than an ILT.  Make them agile, product experts rather than chain them to a room. You can then record and post it to your LMS and have an ID organize the discussion into a blog that is logically formatted, searchable and learners can comment on.

Creating an interactive structure, knowledge rich and engaging content that has the right technical depth doesn’t have to mean deployment of a formal package.  Instead linking together content with a logical structure (wikipedia?) can enhance or replace formal material to support an organizations growth with quick, accurate and impactful projects.

Projects that you will be able to manage easier and still be able to breath.

How to be a F***ing Good Learning Leader

Someone recently told me “You’re a f***king good leader”.

Not good. F***kinggood.

At that moment I realized, that was single greatest compliment I had ever had in my professional career.
And it was now my ultimate goal to hear it again.

No matter how conservative you are, and how you might want to shy away from the language, if you are leader, you dream of hearing the exact same feedback from your team.

And I’m going to tell you how to get it.

Since we crawled out of the muck, human beings needed 4 things.  To breed, to eat, to have shelter, to feel safe.
That’s it boys and girls.  Your four objectives as a learning leader.  If ever you don’t hear great feedback from the team, you’ve missed one.

First, you don’t need to be a classically trained manager to be a great learning leader.  Of course, you are foolish to disregards proven tools, techniques and education.  A leader in any field should seek to grow and become more competent.  But having these does not mean you are great.  It means you are equipped. (and that’s good!)  The greatest leaders of our time were not great because they were trained to be so.  They were great because they were passionate, clever, empathetic, forward thinking AND they had tools to get the job done.

So onto the meat and potatoes.  How to be a F***king good learning leader.

Every species on earth has an global instinct to grow.  Individually, we vary, and that’s ok, but as a community, we need to bring new life into our society.  Through birth, adoption or companionship, we are built to recognize traits and features of others that we seek to bring into our lives and expands.  This is your first task as a leader.  Bring new life into your team.

First thing you need to do is recognize the traits the community HAS and the traits they NEED.  Do they have a firm understanding of instructional design or are quite junior?  Are they strong or weak when it comes to engaging client groups and managing that relationship?  Are they agile and quick thinkers or mired in tradition?

Figure out what you have and what you need and build a strong recruitment approach around it.  Remember also that you are bringing life into your community.  Involve them.  Nobody will know better about a cultural fit than those who live it more than you do.  My favourite approach.  Come up with a set of questions for you and a set for the team around the traits you seek.  Post phone interview, have two interview from the team first for an hour, then you after for the second hour.  Meet after and debrief.

There are only two rules in recruiting for a learning team:

  1. Hire the talent you need
  2. Never, ever, ever break rule number 1

If you aren’t sure, don’t.  The best way of being sure, ask yourself if it was your company, and you paid this person from your savings account, would you.  The answer is always suddenly clearer.


The community leader’s job in leading is to ensure they know where water is, where food is, make sure people have things to do to contribute towards these things.  As a learning leader, don’t ever forget to feed your team.

I’m not talking about salary, benefits etc.  That doesn’t feed anyone.  Learning practitioners need to eat creativity, passion, new methodology, interesting approaches, what other companies are doing, what’s going on in the industry, what are new tools…..  They need to be coached on what you know.  You also need to learn from them what you don’t, and coach the next down the line. If budget is an issue, get guest speakers, learn a new tool, pass around a few tablets or mLearning tool serials, have them teach each other something every month (at least!).  Make it a team objective.

Most education book publishers will send education teams books for free.  I had to start stacking books beside my desk I got so many after I emailed them for some.  Most growing learning tool developers are happy to pilot with companies or provide access to beta software.  I come across TONS of stuff every day. Be resourceful.

When is that last time you fed your team?

This is so much more to a community than houses.  People need culture, companionship, social engagement and trust.  They need to LOVE what they do.  The leader’s job is to mediate, encourage and facilitate. They are the team’s compass. Without a leader that is trusted, communities degrade and they don’t know which direction is North.

This is in my experience the toughest of the four elements, and the one that will ultimately make or break the group.  There are few things I found made the world of difference.

Be there.  I sent out a pulse survey to my team for feedback on me, and that was a number one element that came back.  This one is SO basic, SO easy and SO often screwed up.  Every other initiative you have this one needs to be your primary.  Team meetings, one on ones, be at you desk.  Be visible, be available.  Start delegating, say no to the erroneous, see to your community.

Break Silos.  Provide the team with opportunity and procedure for them to support each other.  Instigate a peer review process, an agile project management tool where they share tasks, a weekly lunch discussion.  Anything where they start sharing their business.  The more of this you do, the more they will start to lean on it without your pushing.  The BEST learning solutions I’ve EVER seen came from brainstorming with a team who totally trusted each other’s experiences and feedback.  That doesn’t come cheap or right out of the gate.

Have fun. It completely amazes me how much I’ve enjoyed the company of other leaders at peer sessions or off-sites with their spouses and children, yet they are totally different in the office.  Be yourself for god’s sake.  Don’t be afraid to turn up the volume with a silly joke or interesting treat.  Psychologically people respond to food and humour.  I love it, and its natural but it’s also strategic.  Fun disarms, laughter relaxes and comfortable people work more creatively.

In the animal kingdom, the leader is the biggest, the strongest and the best fighter.  They also are able to lead the group away from danger and protect them from predators.  The danger can be from within or without.  These same traits that make a strong leader can also destroy them.  Aggression needs to be tempered with intelligence and vision.

A Learning leader is the first line the team should want to go to for advice on challenges with other teams.  Great equals compassion, interest and shutting your pie hole while they speak.  Great also means tempered response, shrewd questioning and understanding before response.  Your team needs a voice for their concerns, but that voice also represents what the team is all about.  You will likely find you need to coach within, while challenging those without.

I once heard “The leader is a team’s meat shield”.  You can even get a mug with a picture of a steak in the shape of a medieval shield on it. Get one.

You are the team’s portal to upper leadership. You are there to ask questions about direction and focus.  You need to understand objectives that you are to take to your team.   Professionally challenge actions and activities that will hurt the performance of the team and derail what they have built. And in the end, if they are required actions, your job as a corporate leader is to lead them through adversity and challenges and get them back on track.

And that’s F***king good.

Digging deeper: Audience Learning Profiles and PLEs

You are building, whether intentional or not, a theme of how your learners will seek out and absorb information.  There is an evolving culture and environment for learning outside the scope of any one program. The fact of the matter is, everyone already has a way of accessing information that is easiest for them both within and outside of the workplace.  Why force them to learn a new way when you can possibly leverage what the already know?

This became abundantly clear in an exercise I participated in some time ago.  We asked a pilot group in a computer lab to search for information on random general topics using any tool at their disposal.  Topics ranged from the definition of an acronym or word to finding a recipe.  The turnaround for everyone, as you would expect, was exceedingly fast.  Seconds in most cases.

We then asked the same group to use only corporately available tools to find internal information.  Again topics ranged from definitions to project outlines and templates to benefit information.  Turnaround was very slow.  Many weren’t sure where to start, everyone took different routes and many were unable to complete the exercise at all.

Albeit not a fair exercise in many workplaces, especially smaller organizations where most information might not be readily accessible, a conclusion could still be drawn around how much thought was put into the design of information access as a whole at the corporation.

There wasn’t any.

If you follow any model where you seek to intermix formal learning with informal learning, you a going to quickly create an abundance of collateral for learners to leverage.  You might be looking at leveraging wikis, job aids, blogs, dashboards and white paper repositories for your teams to use.  But was there thought as a whole into the overall design of information access and what makes sense for each team?

Rarely does a learning practitioner have the opportunity to steer the way a company sets up it’s information systems and how the collage of tools and workflow for an employee interact.  You can however learn how to ensure your solutions “fit” in that environment.

In observing a potential learner for a day, you will observe for example:

  • Tools they gravitate to for answers to questions (phone, google, intranet, mobile, LMS)
  • The way they optimize their workflow (two monitors for toolA and toolB)
  • Linear and non-linear tasking (they start logging a ticket before hanging up)
  • How the team interacts with each other (messenger, face to face, SMS)

A map can be made that reflects that individuals Personal Learnng Environment (PLE). Pool this with other team members’ PLEs and that overlay will provide you with trends you can take into your next solution (TLE?). For company wide deployments, pooling all team will provide a theme of how the company prefers to learn (CLE?).

Follow this map! Create your solutions that fit within this paradigm. Deploy a solution with an mLearning follow up refresher for leaders that lean towards that are always in 1:1 meetings. Reconsider the deployment of a new wiki when access to current tools are a struggle. If access to the LMS is a challenge while reps are on the phone due to screen real estate, add deep links that open new modules directly on their support portal.

PLEs are a fantastic audience profile tool and, if kept current, are of immense value in keeping your finger on your company’s learning paradigm.

Breaking the rules in Learning Design


In the grand melee of client feedback, this is the one comment that always cuts me to the quick.

The problem with it is it targets a single element that for the learner, drowned out any other value.  It makes hours of instructional design and SME reviews wasted.  It’s also one of the elements that drives me towards any innovative, creative or unusual solutions.  The term boring can really influence me to break the rules.

Unfortunately, content in itself can’t always be really interesting and carry the learner.  What’s interesting to some might not attract others by message alone.  With the availability of multimedia, colour, voice talent and a wide variety of eLearning, mLearning and Instructor led media, we can certainly impact the learner and keep them engaged.

I really believe in the power of brainstorming and wild ideas.  There is no better tool available to an Instructional Designer than their peers in a trusting environment.  I like to encourage anyone working with me to think up alternatives, try new things and use some lateral thinking.  Many interesting ideas can either add value to a more traditional solution, or replace it altogether.

Some great examples:
  • Duck Hunt QnA – Have a group of experts available for support teams to come over and ask direct questions.  Works for any topic and really allows for quick turnaround of solutions in an informal setting. (Works at conferences booths or in classrooms)
  • Training Sandbox – Setup product X stations all over a training room or conference room and allow trainees to wander and play.   You can direct the play by providing workflow/dataflow brochures that cover top 5 walkthroughs they can try (and take away).  Add extra value by peppering the crowd with bold-shirted experts (use you facilitation team!) who can do show and tell, QnA.  This is a nice addition at the end of a formal training session.
  • Skype Guest Star – Have an expert in the industry call into a live instructor led session from the field via Skype.  This is the easiest to set up, and often overlooked.  This can really drive your participants to be encouraged and motivated (especially new hires) when they see people working on site at a cool company/organization. (record it and post on your LMS)
  • Wiki Parking Lots – Don’t use the corner of the whiteboard, have a student post to a wiki or blog immediately (use a smartphone via email!).  Provide the wiki/blog address to the SMEs and the rest of the facilitation team.  You’ll not only have great answers very soon, you’ll have a growing repository of QnA you can export for the class on the last day.
Find a mashup of technology or media that will fit a need.  There are new things every day that are as of yet, pretty untapped opportunities (Can you say front/rear facing iphone cameras?)  Many of these reduce cost (client updated collateral?) and increase adoption and usage (social networking/media and learner involvement?).

How are you going to break a rule?

Project managing your learning projects with AGILE

For the first 7 or 8 years of my career, most learning projects were either (in the first few years) delivery of content someone else created or in the later few years, a vertical within some sort of product development cycle. In the latter case, there was usually some sort of project management methodology applied (small or grandiose) that I worked within alongside other services and teams like documentation, sales, development, etc.

It wasn’t until the latter half of my career, when I started broadening my scope, that my learning development projects were unfettered from other processes within an organization. Then I tackled competency programs like leadership, sales or customer support for example where the inception of the program stemmed from a current state issue or future state vision.

The value I took away from working within a properly project managed project focused mainly on the quality of output and structure for milestones and deadlines. When working towards a common end, it was important that all teams pass their gates and dependencies to ensure the deadlines were hit and that any due diligence (FDA, ISO, etc) tasks were done. I loved the structure of the roundtables where updates were made, discussion around obstacles were had and everyone was on the same page. The role of the project manager was so important and ultimately, could result in the success or failure of the project overall.

But what about those competency programs. Many organizations use tools like MS project or time/task trackers to drive these. Many more organizations rely on the discipline of the individual learning practitioners to apply their own varied PM skills to organize the other project participants and stakeholders and drive towards the goal.

One tool I was introduced to and came to really love was SCRUM. SCRUM is an AGILE project management methodology who’s intent in a nutshell is to drive quality and milestone hitting. It works in an AGILE way rather than a more waterfall based PM approach where it allows for scope to change throughout a project. Learning projects are notorious for being forced to shift and change. There are always stakeholders who demand additions or the organizations shift structure that you hadn’t anticipated on. SCRUM not only is able to cope with this, but thrives on it. For a learning project, it was adapted very little and was very easy to implement.

The project manager for a SCRUM project is called a Scrum Master. This person performs all SCRUM functions and helps facilitate the project for the team. I found for moderate sized projects this was about 15-20% effort tops for the resource once they had the steps down, so you could (and should) rotate the responsibility to people on the team (no need to hire a PM). That said, and to avoid getting rocks thrown at my house, some of the best Scrum Masters I’ve worked with were more traditional PMs but it’s not required. A very good Scrum Master I worked with was coached for a few months and facilitated a very large project alone, managing 4-500 hours of effort every 4 weeks. (Way to go Stephanie!)

Basically, SCRUM works in four steps:

The scope phase of a SCRUM project entails capturing all the details of what needs to be done for the project. I love using Mindjet MindManager for this, It allowed for me to let a group of stakeholders or SMEs go pretty wild in the brainstorming phase. We’d capture the output of the needs assessment, and organize via dragging the items into themes. In SCRUM, you would used “User Stories” that capture the intended result of experience for the software user. For a learning project it was a super fantastic way to start discussing learning objective and intended behaviour change. Personally, I would gather both stories and learning topics into logical buckets. Don’t worry about duplicates or wild ideas yet, let it flow.

Once all items are captured and organized into pretty firm scope. The team will size each “bucket” or scope item relative to each other. Practically, I start with the first and rate it out of 5 (MindManager allows you to do this easily). When I get to the next item, I ask the team if it’s smaller, same or bigger than the last. The project team and SMEs often have me go back and forth between items until they are happy with the result.

Lastly is to prioritize. Each item is rated numerically in regards to what we have to do first. This is most important if you plan on releasing modules or courses before the whole program is ready. It can be a really nice way to show results quickly. SCRUM also understands that priority can change too.

Once this is all done, you have created a “Product Backlog”. I liked to review it periodically with the team to calibrate any changes in priority, scope items or sizing. (monthly, bi-monthly or whatever). It should be handed to a Product Owner. This is a stakeholder on the team who can make some decisions. Mainly, if scope has been added/subtracted to a project, and determine priority changes to Product Backlog Items. Product Managers, Architects and or audience specialists can make great Product Owners.

In SCRUM each project is divided into smaller milestones called Sprints. This is typically from 1 to 4 weeks. At the start of each Sprint is a “Sprint Planning” session.
Sprint planning takes a couple hours tops at the start of a project and should get faster.

The outputs of this meeting are:

  1. How long is the Sprint in weeks?
  2. Each resource on the project (developers, IDs, SMEs) deciding how much time they will dedicate to the project (I like % per 40 hour work week)
  3. Based on the number of hours available, the Product Owner will decide which scope items (goals) to work on (Typically these are “courses or modules”)
  4. Each resource will provide all the tasks they need to do over the sprint (I like to get pretty granular, basically anything they need to do on the project in 8 hours or less blocks. (create graphic(s). create storyboards, gather content, etc). If a task takes longer than 8 hours, break it up into type, topic, etc. Trust me the effort is worth it to think about this for the first project for each role. After that, I tweaked and re-used tasks for successive sprints and projects so the time for this step was minimal.
  5. Lastly, define done for the Sprint. This could be a course reviewed and deployed to the LMS, this could be skeleton outlined and ready to add content, whatever. Take the time and think about it.

When ready to go, the Scrum Master should have a nice spreadsheet of goals, tasks/effort for everyone (including him or herself) for each goal.

Next is to just get started. Each sprint needs to have “Standups”. These are really short project meetings (10 to 15 minutes) where everyone on the project team gets together (virtually works well) and gives a status update. Personally, I liked twice or three times a week first thing in the AM. It’s not a discussion forum and should really be brisk.

The three questions the Scrum Master should ask are:

  • “Since last time we met, what did you complete?”
  • “what are you working on next?”
  • “Any challenges or obstacles?”

The whole team is responsible to always attend and participate, and everyone is responsible to help clear anyone else’s obstacles. This can be from helping with a task, finding a SME, to fixing a computer problem. The team has to work together.

At the end of each sprint, the team get together again for a “Demo”. This is simply a chance for the team to share the result of their labours. I would show a course, demo an eLearning module, walk through a storyboard, whatever. Each goal is presented. It should be short and sweet and is NOT intended as an opportunity for major feedback (it’s not a review). It should keep people motivated, ontrack and the juices flowing. It’s also very important the client is there if possible. Show them how you are proceeding and that the team is focused.

The “Retrospective” task is a chance for the team to have a lessons learned for the previous Sprint. As a timesaver, I often would have the Demo and Retrospective in the same meeting. (The client might not be appropriate to attend, depending on the project). The idea is that each sprint should get better. It’s not about the content or the scope items, so stay away from quality discussions, those shouldexist within tasks that ensure collateral review and feedback are occurring. This meeting is about the flow of the project and SCRUM activities. I recommend the Scrum Master send out an email to all team members before and ask they come prepared with any of the following:

  1. What went well (What we’ll keep doing)
  2. What did not go well (What we’ll stop doing)
  3. What are we going to do differently next time

Go around the table (or virtually), and gather the feedback. Put action items in place immediately. (for example, one of my “What did not go well”s: “I found the Sprint Planning took way too long, people should think about their typical tasks before and bring them rather than brainstorm in the Planning session.” This retrospective item turned our Sprint Planning sessions from 2-3 hours long to 30-45 minutes!!)

That’s it, then you do the next Sprint Planning session for Sprint 2 and continue through the steps until the project is complete. “Project completion” will vary based on a specific date targeted or scope completion and the same rules apply for SCRUM as any project management methodology in regards to the basic elements of Time, Resources and Scope (Where modifying one will impact the others).

This methodology can be done with very small teams, and is very nice for any project that will take more than a month. It will definitely keep the team focused and can capture tasks/participants from outside the learning team (invite your SMEs or for projects requiring technical integration, your IT resources!).

SCRUM is easy, can drive quality and milestones, has tons of online resources and really fosters a team environment.

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