Monday, November 3, 2014

ID Use Standards: Collaborates and Partners

Standards are the measures that IDs use when determining whether they will sign-off on a learning solution they have created, or not – whether their name goes on the final product.

The competent instructional designer/developer (ID) collaborates and partners:

Whom do you include on your learning solution development team?  Subject/content experts?  Project sponsors?  A other IDs working on specific parts and pieces of the whole?  Perhaps more importantly, have you ever developed a learning solution that did NOT require some degree of collaboration and partnership?

At its most basic, collaboration is working together for a creative end product, while partnering is sharing risk.  In the business world, risk tends to be related to finances (on budget), which also translate to ‘on time’, within staffing and resourcing, and producing the desired end product (or better). 

Who on your teams share the risk of an instructional design and development project.   Consider what each of these players brings to your projects that helps manage the risks of that project:
  • Sponsoring manager or executive
  • Subject/content experts
  • Project lead, manager, or executive
  • Learning technologist
  • Graphic artist
  • Audio/videographer
  • Technical writer
  • Other instructional designers

Typically, what are the risks in a learning project?  For example, consider the impact of not being able to work with subject expert who can give you the time and materials you need.  Or, consider the times when the sponsor made decisions without understanding the impact, then required rework when the results were not acceptable.   Think about a time when the project had a specialist such as graphic artist, videographer, or technical writer was not included in the project, only to require much more time for a lower quality product.  Now, think of time when you worked with another ID who wasn’t quite holding up their end of the project.  What was the impact?  And, a time when the IDs were in tune with each other and going the extra mile together?  What was the impact of that?  Or, consider the management of the project.  Have you ever played both the instructional designer and the project manager roles, simultaneously?  Have you worked on large projects with a strong project manager?  Were the risks handled differently?  Risk is an essential element of learning solution development projects and the right team makes all the difference.

Look at the list of partners one more time.  Notice the number of partners that there for “creative” purposes – visuals, sound, animation, quality writing.  Collaboration, by the definition, is working together for a creative purpose.  We sometimes forget that instructional design and development are creative endeavors.   Check out Business Insider article, The Difference Between Creativity and Innovation, by Andrew (Drew) C. Marshall, and innovation consultant, of Principal of Primed Associates, an innovation consultancy.

“Creativity is about unleashing the potential of the mind to conceive new ideas. […] Innovation is about introducing change into relatively stable systems. It’s also concerned with the work required to make an idea viable.”

Instructional design is a premier example of creativity and innovation… or can be, when it is well done.   There is creativity in the design. Then more creativity is by all those partners added during development.  Then, if done right, the learning solution unleashes new potentials in the mind of the learner as well.  (A vote for learning as a creative act.)  Add in the innovations.  For learning to be effective, the learning solution itself is a change that is introduced in a relatively stable system, whether we consider that system the individual learner or the business.  Innovation is also the work required to make an idea viable.  Anyone who has worked on a learning solution that is addressing a unique challenge (e.g., tight timelines, limited resources, new and untested technologies, new methodologies, new theoretical basis) knows that much creativity is required for the problem identification and ideation of a solution, and that more creativity and innovation are required to make it real.   Yes, instructional design is a creative and innovative field and most learning solutions require creativity and innovation. 

The greater the degree of creativity and innovation involved, the more important the collaborations and partnerships become.  In systems (businesses) that are risk-adverse, the work of partnering may take over the work of collaborating.  That is, a key challenge of a high-risk project in a risk-adverse organization is that the partnership work takes over in an attempt to minimize the risks and preempts the creative-innovative work, which effectively stalls the project. 

The quality of an end-product learning solution is directly related to quality of collaborations and partnerships involved. 

Case Study:  

Once upon a time long, long ago (well, 15 years ago, anyway), a team of instructional designers was called in to create a learning solution for 5,000 industry-specific software installation project managers around the world.  Their company was installing a project management software to help bring down the cost of software installations.  The team was called in 60 days before ‘go live’ on the project management software (and the end of the calendar year) and 45 days before the first training course needed to occur.  The challenges of this project included a short timeline, new technology, a process definition that had not defined key actors current or future roles, and the fact that one could not bring in 5,000 people into headquarters in the last 15 days of the calendar year, when most employees had already scheduled their vacations.  In addition, the essential processes, steps, functions, actions (i.e., the course content) required of software users was not, yet, defined and would continue to change during the 6 months following ‘go live’ as new software modules were added.  

The learning solution design and development team brought the essential number of learners down to 500 who were key, and 150 high-profile project executives (PEs) that were essential and began brainstorming solutions that would work best for this group.  In the end, the solution created an electronic performance support (EPS or EPSS) that allowed subject experts to change process documentation and provided supporting information such as screen shots, video clips of key steps, diagrams, and a process workflow that matched the audience’s essential workflow from initiating a project to closing it.  Since these projects were multimillion-dollar projects, the project financial officers were key to project success; they tracked staffing hours, deliverables, invoiced clients and tracked payments.  They were the stability of a project that would run for several years.  Therefore, they were trained as coaches to the PEs and set up with a 2-hour webinar that would get their PEs started.  The solution set both creative and innovative in that nothing like that had been done in this company and the technologies involved were emerging.  

This was a high-risk project with many opportunities for failure.  Luckily, the organization involved was risk-tolerant and willing to provide partners who actively helped the team work through the issues.  The design and development team were experienced at creative-innovate designs and solutions under tight timelines. Together they made it happen.

This project was unique in so many ways.  However, many instructional design and development projects are just that – unique.  Collaborative creativity and innovation paired with strong partners working toward an essential goal are key hallmarks of almost all learning solutions. 

Definition of a Standard – Collaborates and Partners 

Consider the definition and performances listed for The Institute for Performance Improvement (TIfPI’s) standard, Collaborates and Partners.

Definition:  Works jointly with sponsors and other members of the solution development team to develop the solution.Performances that demonstrate this standard for a Solution Domain Badge: 
  • Addresses sponsor’s issues and needs by listening to requests for modifications, offering solutions to modification requests, and reporting progress.
  • Participates in the project team through: 
    1. Identification of project issues
    2. Meeting attendance
    3. Regular reporting
    4. Generating ideas to resolve issues, improve sustainability, and enhance learning solution.
  • Negotiates changes to solution involving other team members during development and solution testing.
  • Plans solution product tests that validate with the sponsor and intended audience that the right solution elements have been developed.
  • Executes product tests including reporting results of tests.
  • Works with content experts to identify content, relevant work processes and procedures, and appropriate feedback and assessment technique.

Note that any one solution may not require the use of all 6 performances listed.  Individuals applying for learning solution certifications with marks and badges will be asked to describe how he or she demonstrated at least 3:5 performances, one of which must be: identifies key partners and collaborators by role.

Can you see yourself doing these performances?  Can you see yourself doing at least 3 of these performances with every learning solution?  Can you see other IDs doing these performances, perhaps differently, but still doing them?  If so, you need to consider applying for a learning solutions development credential.  Get the IDCertification Handbook or just visit

Would you like to know about the study -- a practice analysis -- that TIfPI Practice Leaders did to generate and validate nine standards, including Collaborates and Partners?   Would you like a copy of the infographic with standards and learning solution certification types?  Download these doucuments.  

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