Scenario example: Chainsaw training!

What’s the best way to teach people to cut down a tree? Probably the best way isn’t the approach recommended in this scenario. However, the scenario isn’t supposed to be realistic. I wrote it to make a point.

Try the scenario below. Do you agree with my point?

(The scenario is embedded in the blog post. If you’re reading this in email or a feed reader and don’t see a clickable interaction, go to the blog post to play it.)

Photo by Stewart Black cc. Scenario was developed in Twine.

Spoiler alert! Play the scenario before you read on.

If you’re familiar with action mapping, you probably saw what I was trying to do. The best ending to the scenario required you to do some (extremely quick) analysis of why it’s hard to cut down a tree without squashing your house or car.

The analysis asks, “What decisions do people have to make? Why are those decisions tricky? How can we help people practice making the decisions in a safe place?”

Then your design focused on helping people practice the tricky things that would directly support the goal of reduced property damage. You didn’t push information into their heads and then see if they could recognize it on a test.

Of course, it’s important for customers to know the obvious stuff, like how to hold the saw when you’re cutting into a tree. We’d certainly cover that in the videos. Unfortunately, it’s tempting to focus only on that obvious stuff. The result would be “How to Use a Chainsaw” and not what we really need, which is “How to Use a Chainsaw without Destroying Your House.”

I learned to cut down trees the way most people probably should: A more experienced person went into my woods with me. He helped me analyze each tree, set up the winch and rope, plan the cut, and adjust when things began to veer horribly out of control. But if that weren’t possible, I’d look for training that let me practice the decisions in a safe place.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

More scenario examples

I’ve set up a scenario design headquarters on my site. In that section, you’ll find more scenario examples, along with a research summary, a link to all scenario posts, and some tips on using Twine, the free editor I used to create the scenario in this post.

Related posts

For more on letting people learn from their mistakes, you might check out these posts:

Write a strong goal: Sell it to Scrooge

A pile of Euro coinsWhen a client says, “My team needs training,” they might not realize it yet, but they have a bigger goal in mind. That goal is the real reason the project has to happen.

Unfortunately, it’s common to develop training with the wrong type of goal. Below are some typical goals. They all have a big blind spot. What are they missing?

  • Salespeople will know all the product features.
  • Managers will handle difficult conversations better.
  • Everyone will use the new software.
  • People will be aware of the dangers of the internet.
  • Leaders will help people adjust to big changes.

If you had $40,000 and someone asked you to spend that money on any of the above goals, what would you say?

Here’s what I’d say: “What will I get in return?”

A business goal is the “What’s in it for me?” for the organization. It justifies the existence of the project in business terms. None of the goals above clearly shows what’s in it for the organization.

Let’s see how it works with the first goal, “Salespeople will know all the product features.”

Sell it to Scrooge

Imagine that I’m a C-level type in a widget company and I’m sitting behind a tidy pile of $40,000.

A training person, let’s call him Bob, comes to me and says, “Give me that $40k, and in return, salespeople will know all the product features.”

“What, can’t they read the product brochure?” I say, wrapping my arms around the money.

“Well, yes, but they’re not selling our widgets as well as they could,” Bob says. “Our mystery shoppers say that the salespeople just sell the micro widget. They ignore the mega and mongo widgets even when they’re the best widgets for the customer. We have a reputation as cheap widget-pushers.”

“So tell them to sell more mega and mongo widgets,” I say.

“But we don’t want them to sell the mega or mongo if it’s the wrong widget for the customer,” Bob says. “That goes against our mission and will hurt our brand.”

“You want this money,” I say, “so you can help salespeople identify the best widget for the customer?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Bob says. “I guess just knowing the features isn’t enough. They have to develop the skills to identify the customer’s needs and then match the features to those needs.”

“And then what will happen?” I say. “How will I get my $40k back?”

“Sales of mega and mongo widgets will go up,” Bob says. “Since we make more profit from those than from the micro widgets, we’ll make more money.”

“And…?” I say in my most annoying tone, still gripping the money.

“And our reputation will improve, helping our brand,” Bob says. “Overall sales could go up and we could gain market share, because we’ll become the widget company that really listens. Everyone else just pushes widgets.”

“All right,” I say, reluctantly peeling $20k off the pile. “Here’s some money. Let’s see if you can show a 5% increase in mega and mongo widget sales by fourth quarter. If so, we’ll use the rest of the money to expand what you’re doing and see if we can gain market share.”

What changed during the conversation?

Bob’s goal started as this:

  • Salespeople will know all the product features

It ended as this:

  • Mega and mongo widget sales will increase 5% by Q4 as salespeople identify the best widget for each customer

Bob now has a way to measure the success of his project, at least in the short term, and it’s a measure that benefits the business as a whole. His new goal justifies the expense of the project.

Bob’s new goal also shows everyone involved in the project that he’s serious and is going to measure results. It shows that “training people” like Bob play vital roles in the success of the organization.

Imagine the training that results

A good business goal helps you sell your project to Scrooges like me, but it also has a profound effect on the type of training you develop.

Bob’s original goal was “Salespeople will know all the product features.” What would have happened if I were out of the office and someone gave Bob all the money without challenging his goal? What kind of training would he create?

Bob’s revised goal aims to increase sales of specific products by having salespeople identify the best widget for each customer. How did the new goal change Bob’s approach to his design?

See what happens next

I’ve continued the story on a separate page to keep this post short.

If this seems like something out of a book, that’s because it is. I’m writing a book on action mapping, and it should be available in the next couple of months. I’ll be sure to announce it in the blog.

Scenario design course starts soon

My four-week, online scenario design class starts on April 21. I’ve added a second session scheduled for the Americas because the first is nearly full. Find out more.

Photo: aditza121 via Compfight cc

How to kick off a project and avoid an info dump

Course factory workerDo you feel like you’re an assembly line worker in a course factory, expected to crank out training on demand?

Break free of the assembly line with a strong kickoff meeting that puts you in charge of the design. Here are some ideas on how to start a project in a way that will avoid an information dump and win the happy obedience of your stakeholders.

We’ll go into detail and practice these techniques (and more!) in the workshop I’m giving in London on June 6.

What’s the first step?

The next time someone drops a pile of PowerPoints in your in box and requests “a course,” respond with a request for a meeting “to make sure I understand what you need.” Two hours is usually enough.

Who should be included in the meeting?

The minimum participants are you (the designer), the person who asked for the training (the “client”), and one or preferably two subject matter experts (SMEs) who are familiar with how the job is currently done.

Depending on the situation, you might also want to include someone who recently learned to do what’s about to be trained and any stakeholder who could veto the project.

What’s the format?

I recommend you use action mapping, so a whiteboard or a laptop with mind-mapping software and a projector will be helpful. I’ve done these meetings remotely, with a shared screen on a webinar platform, but in person I’d prefer a whiteboard and sticky notes.

What’s the goal for the meeting?

Your secret goal for the meeting is to confirm that training really should be part of the solution, and if so, to avoid creating an information dump.

The reason you give to the participants is something like, “To design the most effective training, I need to understand the problem really well.” Put yourself in the role of the eager yet ignorant outsider and don’t directly challenge the client’s assumption that a course is the solution.

How do I start the meeting?

Give a very quick overview of the process, maybe saying something like the following.

  • We’ll use a quick process that helps me understand in detail what you need people to do, so I can design relevant and challenging activities.
  • We’ll start by stating a measurable goal so we’ll know when the training has worked.
  • Then we’ll specify what exactly people need to do to reach that goal and why they’re not doing it, so we can find the best way to change their behavior.
  • The result will be interesting, relevant training that will clearly contribute to the organization’s goals [if possible, add or suggest “and make us look good”].

It might be best not to mention the content at all beyond saying that you’ve reviewed what you’ve been given and need to understand the situation better before you can start designing the “course.”

Then what?

With all the meeting participants, follow the first steps of action mapping, which have been expanded a bit in the last year.

  • Identify a goal that captures in a measurable way why the training is important to the organization (“Improve employee retention 15% by Q2 of next year,” not “Respect diversity”).
  • Expand the goal to identify the audience and give a general idea of what they’ll be doing (“Employee retention will improve 15% by Q2 of next year as mid-level managers follow the new policy on diversity”).
  • Identify specifically and concretely each action that members of the audience need to take to reach the goal (e.g., “Avoid assigning minority employees only to minority clients,” not “Be color-blind”).
  • Prioritize the actions — identify the most egregious problems.
  • Use the flowchart to identify why each important action isn’t always performed correctly, and gently resist stakeholders’ attempts to blame everything on a lack of knowledge.

Be sure to go through the flowchart

Last year I added a flowchart that can dramatically change how stakeholders view the problem and its solution. The more specifically you apply the flowchart, the better your results.

For example, don’t say, “So why do you think managers aren’t respecting diversity?” Instead, focus on each individual action, for example, “Why aren’t managers disciplining people for making offensive jokes?”

If stakeholders blame a problem solely on a lack of knowledge, gently push back. For example: “Okay, you’re saying managers just don’t know that they should discipline people for making offensive jokes. I’m wondering if there’s something more complex here, like maybe the managers know they’re supposed to discipline people but aren’t comfortable providing the discipline. Do you think that might be happening?”

The stakeholders will likely agree and might propose ways to solve that problem. If they don’t come up with their own solutions, you might suggest one, again posing it as a question: “Do you think it could help to give them some sample wording to use for typical situations and let them practice?”

Let the stakeholders see the best solution for themselves

Questions are far more persuasive than advice. Keep asking questions until the client or SME sees for themselves that an info-dumping “course” isn’t the best solution. Let them see how job aids or a change in tools could solve the problem without training, and let them notice on their own that a lot of the content they provided isn’t necessary.

You’re saying we can do all this in just two hours?!

You can get a very good head start in just two hours. I can usually get through setting the goal, identifying the most problematic actions, and identifying why those actions aren’t being performed correctly.

You may need to work a bit after the meeting with a SME to finish analyzing the problem. However, brainstorming activities and identifying which content to include aren’t part of the kickoff –they’re your job.

You might want to include a SME later when brainstorming activities, but make sure to keep tight control so the activities are realistic and challenging and the content is as minimal as it can get.

How can I justify the time required?

If you get resistance to the idea of a two-hour meeting, point out that it will likely result in much more concise, efficient training.

For example, a course that the client expected would require four hours for the 1,200 learners to complete might be reduced to some powerful job aids and one hour of very targeted activities. This saves three hours x 1,200 learners or 3,600 hours, thanks to the two hours invested in the kickoff meeting.

Practice with this scenario!

Try this branching scenario to practice running an action mapping kickoff. Can you win the client while avoiding an information dump?

London workshop on June 6

Join me and Norman Lamont in London on June 6 for the one-day, hands-on workshop “Training design for business results.” You’ll get in-depth practice applying these skills and many more to one of your projects. Learn more about the workshop.

Three simple but powerful ways to get love from your leaders

Business leaders love their L&D departments! Well, maybe 20 percent of them do.

“Survey after survey has repeatedly shown that the proportion of business leaders who are satisfied with their learning function’s performance is around 20 percent,” write the authors of a recent article in The European Business Review.

I love you! You're so relevant!“Last year, a survey found that more than half of managers believe that employee performance would not change if their company’s learning function were eliminated,” Shlomo Ben-Hur and Nik Kinley tell us in the article. “If corporate learning is to retain what remains of its credibility, something needs to change and it needs to change fast.”

But what, exactly, should change? Here are some of the authors’ suggestions:

  • Focus on behavior change, not learning
  • Act like a performance consultant, not a manufacturer of training
  • Rigorously evaluate how your projects improve performance

What might this look like in practice? Here are some ideas.

1. Start with a measurable end in mind

Before you design any training, set an observable, measurable goal that describes a specific improvement in business performance that your project will help create. Not “People will be aware of the dangers of computer viruses” but “Intrusions by malware in our systems will decrease 60% by Q4.”

This is the first and most important step of action mapping but is also the step most likely to be skipped. Often the client doesn’t want to commit to anything measurable or can’t clearly describe the performance problem, yet they expect us to forge ahead and crank out training.

My suggestion: Disobey! Swear allegiance to the L&D manifesto. Squeeze a measurable performance goal out of your client to protect your learners from useless training and your job from irrelevancy.

A quick way to get at a goal is to ask the client, “What are you measuring now? What numbers tell you that there’s a problem?” And if they insist that they just want “awareness,” here are some ways to respond.

2. Make sure training is actually the right solution

Walk your client through this flowchart to make sure that you identify the best solution for each aspect of the problem. If you throw training at a problem that can’t be solved through training, you’ll look impressively busy, but the measures that matter won’t change.

3. Use an evaluation method that tells you how to improve

Knowledge assessments and satisfaction surveys don’t show whether your project improved the performance of the business, and they don’t tell you how to do it better next time. Instead, take a look at Robert Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method. Tom Gram clearly summarizes it for us.

Unlike a flat survey, Brinkerhoff’s method digs deeply into specific cases, examining both learners who succeeded in improving their performance and those who didn’t. As a result, you get a much more detailed picture of what works and what doesn’t, giving you the information you need to create real, visible results. For details, see Brinkerhoff’s book, The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What’s Working and What’s Not.

Thanks to Steve Rayson at Kineo for discussing the article and bringing it onto my radar.

Photo: Victor1558

Australian workshops shaping up

Here’s a reminder that I’ll be in Australia in late November 2013. Keep an eye on the workshop calendar to find out what’s been confirmed, and if you’d like to schedule your own workshop, let me know.

Can we use training to motivate?

In my previous post, I showed a flowchart that could help you find the best solution to a performance problem. Thanks to your comments and questions, I’ve improved the chart to make clear two of my opinions:

  • Training is rarely the solution for low motivation
  • When training could help, it’s best to let learners become motivated through experience (decision-making scenarios) rather than preaching at them (presentations)

First, you might want to download the revamped flowchart. Here’s how the motivation bit looks now:

Motivation section of the action mapping flowchart

I’ve added a new loop that sends you back to the main analysis node because low motivation is usually a side effect, not a core problem. It’s often caused by one of the other three problems in the chart.

  • Environment: High pressure, a poorly managed organizational change, user-hostile software, heavy-handed management … these can all lead to low motivation. Training is unlikely to help, unless you can train away the environmental problem, such as by improving managers’ skills.
  • Knowledge: If the employees who do the data-entry drudgery for the TPS reports don’t know the painful results of their screwups, they’ll be less motivated to avoid errors. For example, we could show them that a rejected TPS record can mean that a client doesn’t get the check she needs to buy medication. If this is included in the results of a branching scenario that we’re also using to practice entering TPS records, then I’d be willing to call it training. However, if it’s just a finger-wagging exhortation divorced from any application, it’s not training in my book.
  • Skills: If I don’t have the skill to quickly and painlessly parametize widgets, I will dislike having to parametize widgets. Give me training!

When low motivation can’t be blamed on anything else

I’ve heard several reports of “lazy” workers. “They just don’t want to do it,” the client says. “They don’t care.” [Read more…]

Is training really the answer? Ask the flowchart.

Here’s a flowchart that will help you identify the best solution to a performance problem, whether it’s a job aid, a workflow improvement, training, or something else. It’s based on action mapping, my streamlined approach to instructional design.

First, download the flowchart. Then consider watching the following 8-minute video, which walks you through a short discussion with a client, showing you how some quick questions can save you days of unnecessary training development.

Blurry? Click the little gear and choose HD. Not allowed to watch YouTube? Here’s the video on Vimeo.

What happens after the video?

So far, thanks to our questions, the client has identified ways to:

  • Make important reference information always up to date and available at the point of need
  • Make the rules for flagging easy to scan and apply at the point of need

These are permanent workflow improvements that avoid the need for training. At this point, the only training we’re going to develop is a very compact activity on identifying last names. It could probably be posted on the intranet with a link sent to everyone through email.

If we hadn’t used the flowchart and had simply obeyed our client’s request for training, we’d spend a lot more time developing something a lot less useful. We’d probably create an online course that starts with “Welcome to the course on completing TPS records.” We’d list objectives like, “At the completion of this course, you will be able to enter the correct XR code…” We’d probably “motivate” the learners by talking about the importance of completing the record properly and describing the costs of having our records rejected.

Then we’d tell people what they already know — that they have to log in to the annoying server to see the XR codes. We’d probably walk them through it “to make sure everyone knows how” and lecture them on the importance of using the updated sheet.

To “teach” the rules for flagging records, we’d probably display a chart of rules, give some examples, and then quiz the learners on whether they can remember the information that they saw five seconds ago and which they will forget by tomorrow if not later today. Finally, we’d include a little activity to help them practice identifying last names.

Within a month, we’d discover that people are still printing out the XR code sheet and failing to flag records properly.

Instead, just by asking some questions, we’ve helped the client identify permanent improvements, and we’ve freed up enough time to do a good job on the little name activity. The time that we don’t spend on creating unnecessary training becomes time we can invest on designing much higher quality activities.

What do you think? What did I miss?

What to do if they just want “awareness”

“We just need everyone to be aware of the policy,” your client says. “I’ve sent you the 97 slides that we use in the face-to-face training. Could you have it ready by next Monday?”

Which of the following should you do next?

      a) Clear your schedule and open your PowerPoint converter software.
      b) Ask the client some questions.

If you want to avoid cranking out yet another information dump, you’ll ask questions. The questions will be designed to:

  1. Uncover the client’s business goal — discover how the project will measurably change the organization’s performance.
  2. Identify what people need to do on the job with their “awareness” and why they aren’t doing it.

The answers to these questions will help you design realistic, challenging activities that help learners apply the policy and improve the organization’s performance.

1. Uncover the goal

To find out how your project will improve the organization’s performance, try asking questions like these:

  • How do you know that people aren’t already aware of the policy?
  • How is that lack of awareness affecting the performance or earnings of the organization?
  • What are you currently measuring that could be affected by awareness of the policy? (sales, lawsuits, etc.)
  • How will that measure improve when everyone is aware of the policy?

For example, a client might say that they want to increase awareness of the information security policy. To the above questions, they might answer:

  • “We know people aren’t aware of the policy because we’ve had some leaks of confidential information about clients and employees.”
  • “I guess this affects our earnings as a business — it’s expensive when someone sues us, and sales could go down if customers decide they can’t trust us.”
  • “I think the information security people can tell us how many leaks they’ve seen in the last year.”
  • “When everyone is aware of the policy, we should have fewer leaks.”

[Read more…]

How action mapping can change your design process

Happy action mapping users say that the model helps them create lively elearning. But would it fit into your design workflow?

Action mapping makes stakeholders work together to analyze the performance problem, commit to the same measurable goal, and agree to focus on activities rather than information. This can be a big change to the typical course development workflow.

Without action mapping:

  1. The client says, “I need a course.”
  2. You say, “Okay.”
  3. The client gives you a pile of content, the phone number of a subject matter expert (SME), and a deadline.
  4. You create a detailed storyboard or script, getting information as necessary from the SME. The structure of the information determines the structure of the course.
  5. The client and SME approve the script and you go into production.
  6. The course is made available and your job is done.

action mapping for instructional designUsing action mapping:

  1. The client says, “I need a course.”
  2. You say, “Great. Let’s get together to make sure we all understand what you want the course to accomplish.”
  3. You schedule a two-hour meeting in a space with a whiteboard or in a virtual meeting room where you can share a mind-mapping screen. You include the client, at least one subject matter expert, and possibly others from the table below.
  4. In that meeting, you identify your business goal and how you’ll measure success. You also identify the behaviors needed to reach that goal.
  5. As a group, you analyze why the behaviors aren’t happening, confirm that training will actually solve the problem, and identify how the training will be supported by managers, workplace changes, and other improvements.
  6. After the meeting, you work with the SME and possibly others to brainstorm and prototype practice activities for each behavior needed to reach the goal. Ideally, you test the prototypes on learners.
  7. You get approval for the prototypes from the client.
  8. You work with the SME and possibly others to identify the minimum information necessary to complete each activity and decide how it should be provided.
  9. You create a storyboard or script. The content has already been identified in the action map; you’re just filling in the details and arranging the material. The activities determine the organization of the course.
  10. The client and SME approve the script and you go into production.
  11. Once the material is being used by learners, you or the client begins measuring its impact, and you revise it as necessary.

The above list makes it look like action mapping takes longer, and it will take longer if you’re not doing much analysis now. However, the rest of the process can actually go more quickly than conventional course design. You save time by:

  • Not creating a course when it isn’t necessary or won’t help
  • Addressing only the specific behaviors that need to change
  • Excluding unnecessary information
  • Taking advantage of easily updated job aids
  • Designing activities that test multiple areas of knowledge at once
  • Creating tightly focused materials that don’t waste learners’ time

Who should be included?

The table below lists the four steps of action mapping and identifies who you might consider including at each step. The first two steps can often be covered in one two-hour meeting, if the client and SME are familiar with the learners and the performance problem.

One of the goals in action mapping is to identify what information needs to be memorized (put in the course) and what can be referenced on the job (put in job aids). Often, existing job aids are created and “owned” by someone in a different department. That person might be your SME, or they might be someone else. They need to be included in some of your planning to make sure the job aid can be used as you want, to approve any changes to it, and to offer their ideas about incorporating it into practice activities.

Step Client SME Job aid
Learner Graphics/Flash
1: Set goal Yes Yes Maybe No No
2: Identify behaviors & why they’re not happening Yes Yes Maybe No No
3: Brainstorm practice activities Approve prototypes Help brainstorm or at least approve prototypes Help brainstorm or at least approve use of job aid Provide ideas, feedback on prototypes Help create prototypes
4: Identify necessary info No Yes Approve use of job aid or changes to it Maybe, as tester No

Technical training: What do they need to DO?

Here’s a common question:

All employees have to know how to use our software. Why isn’t that a good enough goal for instructional design? Why should I go through action mapping?

My answer: If you don’t identify what people actually do with the software and design your training around that, you could create an information dump that helps no one and can’t justify its own existence.

Identify what they need to do, not what they need to know

People use software to do things. If you know what those things are, you can design easily updated job aids or online help for the most common tasks. Then your elearning, if it’s necessary at all, can use realistic scenarios to give learners a safe place to practice using the job aids.

Photo: (c) iStockPhoto

The big mistake in elearning

Here’s a short presentation that includes:

  • The one powerful change that will make our elearning a lot more effective
  • A quick demo of action mapping
  • A fun example of the type of information that should go in job aids
  • How to get people to stop telling you, “Turn this information into a course”

To see a bigger version on YouTube, click the movie when it’s playing. Can’t access YouTube? Here’s a Vimeo version.

To practice steering your client away from an information dump, you might try this challenge. [Read more…]

Scenario design online course

Learn more