Friday, September 12, 2008

Owning a Hammer Doesn't Make One a Carpenter

The training industry can become overly obsessed with learning tools. Both Conrad and I have been in this industry for over 50 years combined (no age jokes please - BUT we do miss the printing press! J) and have seen many a tool come and go. The danger of tools is that simply buying, owning, or designing with them does not guarantee a successful learning outcome. One doesn’t' need to look very far back in our history to see examples of this. I know in my journey I experienced this with my attempts at e-learning and LMS's.

An effective PS solution clearly needs a well designed tool or application upon which to build the solution, but it does not guarantee success, in fact it can get in the way. We've seen organization obsess on tools and their deployment to the degree that it blinded them to more important factors which should have been considered. The situation became one that having “the tool” was going to, in and of itself, outweigh and override any possibility of failure. The irony is that taking this approach ultimately guaranteed failure. One of my grandfather’s favorite sayings was “Just because someone owns a hammer, does not make them a carpenter”. There’s an art form to moving from a weekend handy-man to a professional cabinet builder. Buying the finest and most expensive tools in the world will not bridge that gap.

We need to look at PS in the same way. When we have walked organizations through the complete journey of successfully delivering a PS solution we often pivot on 5 key steps: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Measurement. The tools to build PS play a key role in the development phase, but kept separate from the other 4 stages just tools can cause the overall outcome to fall short.

Two stages which are typically overlooked are the two which bookend the process: analysis and measurement. We have found that the stages in the middle are much easier to execute and maintain if these two are given the right amount of attention. Analysis and Measurement walk hand in hand throughout the journey with each feeding off the other. Analysis paves the way while measurement prepares us for the next step. Typically this means continually repeat the 5 stages for the full lifecycle of the PS solution. This involves thinking well beyond the initial implementation and not seeing the lifecycle as linear or limited, but rather as cyclical and evolutionary.

Keeping one’s eye on these two critical stages, allowing them to work in harmony with each other, can make any PS tool that much better and effective. A weak tool taken through an effective and comprehensive PS lifecycle will usually out perform a “stronger” tool used in a silo or vacuum.

One area of caution – don’t OVER analyze or measure. These stages are meant to enable not paralyze. We’ve all heard of, or even participated in, the infamous “analysis paralysis” design process. Get in there and get your feet wet! There is fine line between being a responsible steward to these stages, and ineffectively letting them dominate to where they crush the process under their own weight.

Keeping tools in perspective and valuing the overall PS lifecycle can help guarantee a powerful and sustained PS solution!

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