Category Archives: Leadership

“How long does it take you to develop an eLearning course?” Part 2

Good Fast or Cheap--How Long to Dev eLearning

I know: last time, I didn’t answer the question, so here we are again.

In case you missed it, check out part one of this series!

First, let’s talk Project Management.

Accomplished project managers will have to excuse me for using a rather crude version of a concept that comes from this field. I live in the trenches as a learning professional, and my customers are typically internal. I may be accused of dummying this down a bit, and maybe that’s the only way I can use it. Please forgive.

I’m getting to the answer to the question; really I am. But first, let’s look at this graphic related to service design. Here is the project management triangle, a model about the constraints of project management, where each side represents a constraint. One side of the triangle cannot be changed without affecting the others. Scope, cost and schedule all affect the whole. It’s a useful model.

Proj Mgt Triangle







Project Management Triangle at Wikimedia Commons


Here’s the down-and-dirty model that I use, and it’s used frequently, today:

Euler Diagram

The project triangle as a “pick any two” Euler diagram at Wikimedia Commons


The model demonstrates that in any give project, you can have two, but never three—but you get to pick which two you prefer. If you want all three, keep dreaming. There really are no free lunches, no shortcuts to quality. Might some use this model to justify laziness or poor work quality? Sure, but that is a different issue. This model is really about managing the opposing forces of quality, speed and cost against each other.

Said a bit differently…

Good Fast Cheap

Good + Fast = Expensive. In this approach, the answer is always yes. We will drop everything, cancel all appointments, and getterdone! Just open your wallet. Yet this option is difficult, because deploying more resources on a project doesn’t necessarily lead to greater efficiency (See Brooks’ Law of software development). Often, it just takes what it takes!

Good + Cheap = Slow. We will do great work, in between all our other projects and while waiting for the elusive SME (Subject matter Expert) to find time to sit down with us, since he has other priorities. Just don’t ask us for hard-stop deadlines.

Fast + Cheap = Bad. It’s still true that you get what you pay for. We can tweak a PowerPoint deck and throw it into a software program and post it. But, don’t expect sound course development, learning objectives, or learning transfer. But the truth is, delivering a project where the result is low quality is rarely an option today.

Some say you can have all three; others say you can really only pick one. The best chance of getting all three? It’s a small, agile team with adequate resources and flexible timelines, provided the team has enough expertise to get the job done. Now, back to our question.

Clock large

How long does it take to produce an eLearning course? Here’s the answer…

It depends…on what you want most.

There are always trade-offs; the speed of business often doesn’t allow for as much time and resources to be dedicated to a project as we might like. We might not have enough dedicated staff. Timelines can be shorter than we’d like. So, you can pick two. Speed depends on what you pick as your focus.

Here are some other items that the answer to the question depends upon:

• How available and motivated are your SMEs, needed to provide content?
• What sort of budget is available for graphics, software, and time-on-task?
• What level of support is there for this project or program, from senior leadership?
• Do you have current, quality branding, logos, and colors available?
• Is there an overall instructional design and content development strategy already in place?
• Who is empowered to make decisions about this project, in a collaborative environment?
• Who is on the development team and is this team empowered, supported, and believed in?

Here, now, is the rest of the answer to the question…

1. Realize that beginning a new eLearning development program, internally, is a much bigger task than you may think. It needs staffing, budget, and a tool kit suitable for the task. Do not begin without careful consideration and consultation with a learning professional.

2. You can use a vendor rather than developing your courses internally, but custom course design is often billed by finished course minute. Know what you want, and what your budget is. Off-the-shelf course packages are available, often priced by head count—the number of people viewing a course. Over time, this can grow to be expensive, so be strategic in your decisions.

3. To do the job well internally, don’t rush to hire an instructional designer. Build your program. Hire a learning architect (a fairly new term for one that leads the learning function), a learning professional with broad and deep expertise to build a learning function that will accomplish your goals. In the end, this approach will be cheaper than attempting to do it without adequate resources, and you will avoid the resulting false starts.

4. Start here: find a person that you can trust to build it, trust him, and let him build the functionality you need. Support him. See number 3.

5. Structure matters. Structure can’t cause growth, but it can limit growth. The learning function needs to be structured well. See number 4.

6. Decide what you can commit to, and commit fully. You have to build a clear vision for your goals, and then staff to that vision. Resist trying to find shortcuts. See number 4.

Beginning an eLearning function in your organization and producing quality, effective courses is a journey that takes time. It needs to be done well the first time, or you the risk having false starts, poor quality, and the loss of credibility and enthusiasm resulting in greater risk of eventual failure. Much depends upon the types of content that you will develop as well as what dedicated, trained staff are deployed for the initiative. Many tools exist to manage time lines, budgets, toolkit deployment, development priorities, and so forth. But I maintain that it isn’t really about that. It’s about leadership, and that requires a person: a leader-practitioner that knows how to get the job done, that you can trust to own and manage the eLearning program–for the entire journey.

The answer to the question, how long does it take to produce an eLearning course?

It depends.

Empower Your Learning Leader!

LEARN AND LEAD iStock_000018956242Large

Dis-empowered employees are a significant issue today. Professionals with skills and passion too often are forced to patiently do their jobs as best they can without clear direction and without the ability to make a decision and execute on it. This is a leadership problem. Perhaps there is no one to execute leadership, no one will allow it, or layers of ineffective processes are in the way. In the case of learning leaders—those that lead the learning function in organizations, or at least are trying to—this situation is unnecessary, and costs untold dollars in lost productivity and lack of innovation. The end result is that the business is not supported as well as it ought to be.

Work environments are dis-empowering for many reasons, usually poor ones. Perhaps the person in the leadership role does not have the skills or passion to lead—this is a different issue than I am addressing here. Perhaps senior leadership is fearful or overly controlling—if so, it will limit the effectiveness of the learning function. Perhaps some people are in the wrong roles, where they cannot be effective—this is an issue that needs solving. Regardless, it is important for senior leadership to create an empowering environment in order to maximize their investment in the learning function, for the good of the entire organization.

Now, with the disclaimers aside, let’s talk about how to empower your learning leader, a person with the training, skills, and passion to lead the learning function in the organization. There are only three simple, basic steps to success.

How to Empower your Learning Leader

  1. Find the right leader, one you can trust. This is a person that is trained in the tools and processes of talent development, with the experience to lead; there is no substitute for this. If your learning leader lacks credibility, the learning function will suffer. This is also a person that respects the mission, vision, and values of the organization with high enough emotional intelligence not to alienate people. The learning leader must be able to create synergy and collaboration among the various functions of the business. If you don’t have this person, the rest of this article does not apply to your situation; enough said.
  1. Hand over the keys. Yes, you heard that right; hand them over! If you can’t do that, see #1. Otherwise, hand them over, and let the passion and innovation flow! Let this learning leader lead; have the rest of the learning function report up to him. Don’t handcuff this leader with layers of committees and cumbersome processes that reduce the agility of the learning function! Hand…them…over. This doesn’t mean that you cannot coach on business etiquette, people skills, understanding the business, or whatever—but the learning function needs more expertise than you have; otherwise, why did you hire a learning leader? You can’t coach him on the learning function, so you have to trust him. If you don’t, you will dis-empower the learning function and will wonder why no one seems to make any innovative decisions and why it seems that initiative and enthusiasm are gone, and you will want to do an engagement survey to find out what is happening. But the answers will be obvious to your learning leader. Hand…over…the…keys.
  1. Become okay with changes as the learning leader innovates. In any worthwhile endeavor, changes are needed—not once, but as an ongoing part of the process. Seeing changes happening does not necessarily mean that the wrong decisions were made initially. Perhaps those decisions were right for the business at an earlier time, but that time is past. Agility is more important! The ability to move with the speed of business and the standing permission to lead are more important than staying with past broken or outdated approaches to learning. See #2. Right decisions need to be made—from a solid learning and development perspective—to get to innovation. Unfreeze the current practices so that new ones can be developed, and allow it to happen, patiently supporting and guiding—without micromanaging.

Effectiveness and Efficiency: Get the Order Right!

A further note about the need for agility and change is needed, regarding the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. Much too often, senior leaders want to work on efficiency before effectiveness, which will always result in failure over the long term. What do I mean here?

Effectiveness, or doing the right things, is the starting point in any initiative. A learning leader understands this, and it often results in the need to abandon certain practices. Peter Drucker said long ago that you cannot only ADD things, or you will OVERWHELM the business; you must also subtract, or ABANDON things. A good learning leader has a strong sense of what will work, and what will not. He will want to abandon some things; let this happen! It’s senior leadership’s job to protect and empower, not to be an enabler of poor practices.

Do not force your learning leader to work on efficiency first—that is, improving the current practices. It is an exercise in insanity to keep attempting to perfect poor processes! This is like attempting to paint the interior walls of a house that has a faulty foundation; it might look prettier, but it won’t last. In a short-term situation, under the tyranny of the urgent, perhaps you will need to finish up with some current practices before retiring them, even though this may create extra work later; we all understand this, but this should be short-term only, and only when critical to the needs of the business. Resist the temptation to prop up poor practices to save face; in the end, everyone knows the truth and people will respect leadership more for owning the problems and supporting a new direction.

In the oil and gas industry, when a well is no longer producing, the phrase used is: “plug and abandon.” Plug the well, abandon it, and move on. Who knows when it is time to do this? The answer is: Your learning leader. Let…her…lead. There are no shortcuts, and no cookie cutter approaches. You cannot apply “best practices”—an over-used term today—to ineffective systems and come out of it with much that is sustainable. You must be doing the right things before attempting to do them better! Let the process of building something systemic and sustainable happen, and support it. If need be, push back deadlines—which are often artificially imposed—and allow time for better processes to be developed.

Empowering your learning leader is the first step to a better, more agile learning organization, but it is too often the step never taken. Find your learning leader, commit to him, support him, and let him lead. Hand over the keys, and expect more agility and change within the learning organization. In the end, it will help everyone to be more successful.

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Servant Leadership: What is it, Really?

Servant Leadership

The problem with keeping people under one’s thumb is that all you can get done at any one time is what you can fit under it.

Using the term “Servant Leadership” has become popular today. Unfortunately, it is being used by some that claim to practice it, but don’t. Too often, leaders have a blind spot in this regard. They have used the term so much that they assume they are modeling it when in fact they might not be.

Servant leadership is wrapped up not in theory, but in practice. That is, servant leadership is about how we treat people. Talk is cheap, as we have often heard. How do we know that our words and management practices match up, when we claim to be servant leaders?

First, a definition. Traditional leadership too often devolves into a concern for power and control, while a servant leader shares the power and seeks to not to control, but rather to empower people. The phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types…The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

In my blog, I will frequently highlight servant leadership concepts. For now, let’s focus on controlling leaders versus servant leaders. What is the difference?

Controllers always try to control, even in areas that are not their responsibility. They seek to convince others that they know things: that in fact, they know best. They have a drive to see their way implemented. If you have worked with such a controlling person, you know that if you plug one hole, such a person will try to come in through another hole to exert undue influence. If you plug all visible holes, these controllers will go underground to exert control “below the radar.” They rarely share credit, but are quick to share blame. Controllers rarely change.

Servant leaders, on the other hand, are quick to share credit but not blame. They will not “throw you under the bus.” Such leaders serve first, and lead second; they seek to demonstrate that they value the opinions of others and they act in accordance with that belief. They are willing to act as coach and supporter for others that implement solutions and are glad to see them receive appropriate credit. They heap praise, not blame.

Traditional leaders too often fear that less work will be done, or that it will not be done as well, if they are not controlling the process. On the other hand, servant leaders know that more gets done when people are valued, trusted, supported, and celebrated for their abilities and achievements. This does not mean that process is unimportant or that people should be left to do things inefficiently; rather, providing appropriate guidance and clear process–and then allowing for initiative, enthusiasm, and innovation–yields greater results.

One might object that being a controller versus a servant leader are not the only two options, and I would agree, except that I also believe traditional leaders tend toward greater control over time, resulting in a loss of initiative and innovation. How much more would get done if leaders provided the right processes and then empowered others to take ownership and initiative, rather than feeling the need to control the outcomes?

Again: The problem with keeping people under one’s thumb is that all you can get done at any one time is what you can fit under it.

Servant leadership: regardless of the rhetoric, we really do know it when we see it; and we also know when we see the absence of it, regardless of the rhetoric that we hear.