Saturday, April 17, 2010

Beyond Job Aids

Providing Access to Reference Information @ the Moment of Apply
In previous blogs we have discussed the three time phases of apply: the time before performance, the time during performance, and the time after performance ends.

The “time during performance” has been the primary focus of performance support focus for decades. Allison Rossett, in her book: Job Aids and Performance Support: Moving From Knowledge in the Classroom to Knowledge Everywhere, calls the solutions we build to support performers during this moment of time “sidekicks”

Rossett also introduces another time phase of apply—the need to plan prior to actually performing. She calls these kind of performer support solutions “Planners.”

The third time phase of Apply is a critical area for any organization interested in continuous performance improvement. In this phase, following the actual act of apply, performers conduct an assessment called a “quick check.”

But there are times when the moment of Apply doesn’t require a planner, sidekick, or quick-check. All that is needed to ensure effective performance is intuitive access to the right information at the moment of Apply.

In these instances, performers have the skills but the information required to complete the task has changed or was never internalized because it’s always changing, too vast, or infrequently needed. Whatever the reason, many times performance requires information that the performer lacks.

To illustrate further. Once upon a time, a long time ago, people actually knew everything they needed to know to do their work. Hard to comprehend in today’s work environment where people are continually being asked to learn at or above the speed of change and at a time when the information pool we’re all drinking from is growing at breakneck speed.

In 2003, Chevron's CIO reported that his company accumulated data at the rate of 2 terabytes – 17,592,000,000,000 bits – a day. According to research conducted by the International Data Corporation (IDC) the world created 161 exabytes of data in 2006, that’s "3 million times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written." in 2009, the size of the World's total Digital content was estimated at 500 billion gigabytes, or 500 exabytes. And it is predicted that this year we will generate more than 988 exabytes. [4][5][6] IDC also predicts that nearly 70% of 2010’s digital universe will be created by individuals and/or organizations (businesses of all sizes, agencies, governments, associations, etc.)

This same pace of information growth is occurring within the individual work requirements of people. Today, people can’t store in their internal knowledge-base all they need to know to do their work. It’s all too vast and fluid.

Clearly, in these times an organization’s PS strategy needs to include providing intuitive access to the right content in the right form. Here are some tactical suggestions for how you can go about this.

1. Identify critical content for which performers need access to at the moment of Apply.

2. Anticipate and provide for multiple access options to that content based upon job roles and work requirements. Search covers a multitude of weaknesses in a performance support strategy. The challenge of search is that it often yields too many hits. Searching through search results can be costly for organizations. Certainly narrowing accessible content by job role can help reduce the number of hits search delivers, there is another option that can prove effective. Here’s what you do:

Step 1: For every type of content (e.g., task, concept, business policy, etc.) identify all the access options. For example if the content type were recipes performers might want to access them by occasion, primary ingredient, preparation time, dietary requirement, course, etc.

Step 2: Narrow the access options to those that would be of highest use to your audiences and build those access options into your content management system.

3. Push for parametric search. Some search engine employ parametric search to narrow its search based upon parameters like job role, work group, type of information (e.g., task, concept, report), unique access option (e.g., if the type of information were “reports” options might be by date or by data source.) All these parameters are attached to the content as metadata tags and it takes very few of the parameters to drill into a specific instance of needed information.

4. Provide contextual access to content via workflow.

Many years ago, Robert Mager and Peter Pipe published a brilliant little book titled, “Analyzing Performance Problems, or Your Really Oughta Wanna”. In it they provided a decision tree for determining whether training is really required in the pursuit of solving a performance need. Their insight is that there may be other reasons why people aren’t performing outside of their skill set. This is still the reality today. In our pursuit of supporting effective performance we must have the wisdom to support people when knowing how to perform isn’t the issue. What performers need is specific information called for during that performance. For example, a performer may need specific product information or the information from a report needed to make a judgment that will influence performance decisions, etc..

The realities of performance also suggest that performers may need both, help in knowing how to perform and information to support that performance. Whatever the case may be, information access is a vital consideration in performer support.