Designing learning at the speed of change
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” We remember this scene from the movies, and in the past have treated our instructional design the same way. We tell our clients or stakeholders, “Don’t look at what we’re doing. Wait until it’s built until you look.” But agile instructional design is different. It’s about telling our stakeholders, “Come join me behind the curtain and work with me to create something great.”
Wanting to work incrementally, iteratively, and collaboratively is all well and good, but at some point you have to manage the work and timeline.
Agile does not mean there isn’t any planning, but rather that planning is different. Instead of creating one plan at the beginning and using your time and energy trying to hold everyone to that plan (which never works), we spend our time identifying what work is a value-add and what can be worked on based on priorities and availability.
How you manage that work is flexible and can be done using several different methods. Two that we’ve chosen to use at BLP include Kanban and Scrum.
It can feel overwhelming to get started with Agile, especially when we start talking about terms like Kanban and Scrum. To help you get started, we’ve provided a few questions and suggestions for you to get a conversation started with your organization and team.
Leaving Addie for SAM Michael Allen’s book is really helpful as you think about conducting design workshops and sending deliverables to stakeholders. http://amzn.com/1562867113
Agile Manifesto The principles and practices of agile development. www.agilemanifesto.org
Kanban Learn more about this lean management system. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban
Using ADDIE methodology gives learning designers a framework we can use to manage the process of creating a learning solution and ensures that we complete the critical tasks to create something that’s instructionally sound.
What it doesn’t do is help us manage the realities of our daily work lives where content shifts like sand, procedures are updated frequently, and leaders change direction.
Creating a linear plan at the beginning of a project with fixed milestones and timelines is usually an exercise in futility. The beginning of the project is the time when we know the least amount of information about it. So, rather than working our way through ADDIE, we’re going to complete all of the same instructional design steps, but do it incrementally, iteratively, and collaboratively.
Agile learning design allows you to:
Kanban is a methodology to control the amount of work that the team is working on at any given time. It was created at Toyota to help maintain a consistent amount of work that a team can handle at any given time.
In Kanban, the team pulls work onto their plates. The team also has set work in progress (WIP) limits that tell the team and the people they work with how much work they can do at any given time. When done correctly, the team can keep the pace of their work in progress limits indefinitely.
This might seem like the easiest step, but it’s really the hardest. Changing the way we communicate both internally and with stakeholders requires us to develop new habits that can be hard to implement.
Talk about these questions with your team:
To get buy-in for agile, having answers to these questions is critical.
Transitioning to agile is going to take time. At BLP, it’s taken us about a year of research, discussion, piloting, and experimenting before we were ready to take the plunge as an organization. As you work through your goals and begin working more collaboratively, also consider implementing these practical ideas.
Agile instructional design focuses just as much on communication as it does process, if not more. Without strong communication within a development team and with a client or stakeholder, agile just doesn’t work.
Agile comes to us from the software development world, and one of the principles is individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
In the past we at BLP have sent our clients a small set of key deliverables for an eLearning course:
Each of these deliverables were usually long and time-consuming to review.
Using an incremental approach, we now focus on sending clients features to react to rather than an entire course. While we still have set deliverables, we’re much more likely to send a screen shot or a piece of something for interim reaction than before.
We also share with our stakeholders rough drawings, prototypes, and mockups. We don’t worry about making everything polished before they see it. As long as we set expectations well, this allows them to 1) focus on the functionality, not the graphics and 2) provide early feedback that helps us make valuable changes.
Getting that early feedback is one of the biggest benefits of the agile process. It helps us confirm that our design decisions meet the needs of the learner and organization. It also uncovers faulty logic early in the process.
Because we are providing clients with small pieces early, they can see the course or app or game evolve over time and become closer and closer to “right.
This is especially important as we develop things that are new to both us and the clients. Creating mobile apps, games, and higher-level learner interactions requires more iteration than if we’re doing just more of the same.
BLP has been using the Kanban approach for our client projects. Because each project team has multiple clients and projects going on at any given time, using a Scrum type method where we try to plan out a two week period is not workable.
Kanban works really well for our project teams because it allows us to pull work into our workstream, especially when existing projects hit snags or delays.
Below is an example of a physical Kanban board our team used. Having a visual representation of what’s going on helps the team stay focused and know exactly what everyone is doing when.
(insert pic of kanban board)
Our agile team has worked hard to become more collaborative and ensure that everyone has a voice. In the past, the individuals on the team would throw things over the fence to each other and often it would result in miscommunication and frustration.
We’ve created some guidelines for the team to help us ensure that we’re communicating well:
It’s been a change in behavior and taken time, but now individuals catch themselves when they communicate in ways that aren’t efficient or involve everyone. (Insert IM from MAtt)
Collaborating with stakeholders means involving them in the idea creation and decision making processes. While most people like that idea in theory, it requires a different way of working. To help your stakeholders, be sure to: