Lecturer speaking to a classroom.

How to Fail at Developing Training Courses and Products

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I’m reading the second edition of Marty Cagan’s Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love. In chapter six, Cagan describes what he believes are the root causes of failed product efforts. As I read the chapter, I could see parallels to bad training programs and courses. Let’s work through the list:

Ideas – Ideas can come from internal stakeholders or executives. Sometimes, ideas come from customers. Wherever ideas come from, there usually is not a strategic vision or mission that can help determine which ideas to implement. Even if there is a strategic vision/mission, many organizations lack a way to assess the best ideas to pursue.

“Biz Case” – But, let’s say there is a way to determine objectively the best ideas to pursue. The idea is suggested, and then the management wants to see a business case. The purpose of the business case is to determine how much the design will cost and how much money the idea will make. The problem is that it is too early to decide on the costs or revenues. Other than past performance from similar courses or programs, there is no data to justify the projections of the business case.

Roadmap – After an optimistic business case, marketing and sales hurry into listing features to attract customers. Cagan writes that in the Roadmap Phase there are two inconvenient truths. The first truth is that half of the ideas will not work. The second truth is that it takes several iterations for many of the features to work.

Requirements – The Roadmap features drive the requirements, and this is when the instructional design team is brought in. Design decisions that should have been made by the instructional design team at the beginning of the process are instead made halfway through the process when the major feature decisions and business requirements have been made.

Design, Build, and Test – Assumptions made in the business case and the Roadmap have come back to haunt the team. Customer feedback is giving mixed signals and the instructional design team is most likely fighting with the marketing team. I can tell you from experience that clashes between the marketing team and the instructional design team are brutal and counterproductive.

Deploy – Now is the time to deploy the training program and/or course(s). As a usual practice, the evaluations are added on at the last minute and without much thought. Typically, Kirkpatrick Levels One and Two which measure if the learner like the training and if the learner believed they had learned anything. If you are lucky, there may be an attempt at a Kirkpatrick Level Three which is often a survey of the learner’s supervisor to see if the learner’s behavior has changed.

SAM Model

The above is why I moved from the standard Instructional System Design (ISD) to the Successive Approximation Method (SAM). Like agile project management, SAM uses iterations to prototype the programs and courses. Each iteration is checked against customer demands and refined as the instructional design team gathers feedback. Having built courses using traditional ISD, I much prefer SAM. I believe that you will too once you have created a training program or course that meets the needs of your learners.