Monday, March 1, 2010

Why Focus on Workflow Process?

Pursuing Competency Beyond Mastery
When you add performance support to the mix, the pursuit of skill mastery changes. There are levels of mastery with performance support. Mastery obviously includes complete internalization of an independent skill. With this highest level of mastery a performer has the ability to complete a task automatically. This capacity is securely encoded into long-term memory and can be executed without conscience thought – it just happens when it needs to happen. On the other end of the mastery spectrum is the ability to efficiently complete a task using a job aid without any direct training on a specific skill. The successful use of the job aid is made possible by a generalizable understanding of how to use it.

Competency embraces mastery at all its levels. But competence is only fully achieved when performers have integrated what they have mastered into actionable skill sets within the context of their personal workflow. This generally requires integration with other existing skill sets within the performer and also with other people via collaboration.

These integrated skill sets must be internalized at the appropriate level so they can be successfully executed as needed with a justifiable amount of effort. What is more, competency always carries with it sufficient conceptual understanding to facilitate proper judgment and the capacity to adapt, on-the-fly, to the unique challenges that occur in the workflow.

Here's an example:  Suppose you completed a course titled “Mastering Spreadsheets.” The course was facilitated by a remarkable instructor who taught you all the details for using your organization’s spreadsheet software. During the class you practiced and mastered 10 fundamental skills associated with that software. Suppose, also, that your day-to-day work doesn’t require you to use that software but you do need to use it as part of periodic ongoing project work with others in your organization. In this work, you receive digital spreadsheets from several team members and you do the following:
  1. Consolidate those spreadsheets
  2. Add specific data, gathered from several other applications to the now combined set of spreadsheets
  3. Perform a number of calculations
  4. Make judgments based upon those calculations
  5. Enter those judgments into another application along with specific data points
  6. Forward the revised spreadsheets onto other members of your work team
  7. Monitor the completion of your team members calculations
  8. Reconcile any discrepancies in their conclusions via a virtual meeting
Question—to what degree do you think the “Mastering Spreadsheets” class would have prepared you to be competent in performing this specific workflow process? High chance it wouldn’t have unless the course had anticipated this workflow process and provided you practice completing it and then left you with a performance support tool to help you at your moments of “Apply.”

We once were asked to help a multi-national company design and implement an enterprise training solution for an ERP reengineering effort. The project involved completely changing the way they managed their financials. Every associated workflow process was redesigned to involve people on the front-line of the business who had never engaged in the organization’s financials before.

We opted to train on business processes. We linked business and non-business tasks with workflows and job-roles. We developed a web-based performance support system that provided access to specific task instructions via role-based online workflow diagrams. We used the online system as the primary training resource in every class. Our objective, to train everyone to use the online performance support system to help them “do their job.”

The result? The go-live day was a non-event. We had put extra support personnel at the help desk but by the end of the first week we sent the extra help back to their work areas because they weren’t needed. The company had completed changed how several thousand people performed their jobs without a hiccup. Why? Because work-flow process was the backbone of the training effort coupled with a web-based performance support “broker” that supported those processes.

Workflow process is the primary means for ensuring that performance is purposefully and effectively directed. It should be the backbone for all training and performance support efforts and most certainly is the key for any organization interested in pursuing competency beyond the mastery of independent skills.

1 comment:

  1. Myron Hepner (University of Michigan)May 11, 2010 at 6:45 AM

    This is great, and applicable to some training we are developing for an Enterprise Portfolio Management process - it's tool and process training and we've been working on our instructional design. Leading with the process and training on the tool to "do the job" makes alot of sense!