Friday, 7 January 2011

Working smarter - a personal success experience

A good wizard should
never be underestimated
There's a lot of talk today about the role of L&D departments in companies today. First there is the discussion about how to make L&D become an integral part of the business. Then there is also the discussion about what the L&D department should deliver. Traditionally learning within companies is delivered in a formal way either as face-2-face trainings or as e-learning activities. These activities are pushed from the top of the organisation down to the people in the organisation regardless of what the people on the other end really wants and needs.

Working Smarter
The Internet Time Alliance uses the term - Working Smarter - to challenge these traditional ways of looking at work and learning. When I first read about this term I thought: "Of course, this is just common sense". But when I started evaluating how I and my colleagues were working I realized that even though I thought of Working smarter as something completely obvious and common sense I didn't really work according to it. I realized that I often take part in creating traditional learning without really thinking about it and challenge its effectiveness. Therefore I decided to look back at all the learning initiatives I have been involved in during my time in the learning field, to see if I could find some examples where I actually did something completely different that worked. I found a couple of them and I would now like to share one with you to show that it is possible to move Learning into the very heart of the business and by thinking differently (actually just use ones common sense) basically remove all the need for training.
The Assignment
A couple of years ago I was working for a company who produced software for smartphones. It was a fantastic company to work at in many ways, it was young, fast growing, technology driven and nothing seemed impossible. I was hired to create a manual for a software they had designed themselves to be able to test their applications on different phones. The company had grown very rapidly and the control they had over how users worked in this application was now long gone with so many new people joining the company. So the decision was taken that they needed a manual. I got the assignment to write this manual and immediately challenged if it really was a manual they needed, I thought some face-2-face training and then add the element of performance support with a context sensitive help in the application would do the trick. I had to fight quite hard for this, but finally got an OK, but before leaving the room my manager said:
- Just don't forget Mattias, you are working with engineers here, and engineers love their manuals. So you better give them that as well. Good luck.

Getting Closer to the Business
So I decided to start with the help texts and if I managed to write them in a smart way I could just create a pdf of them and call that the manual and then go ahead and implement the texts in the Help-system. 
The first thing I had to do was of course to talk to the experts of this application. I started interviewing them about the application, asking them tons of questions and at one time when I came back for the tenth time that morning one of them said to me:
- Why don't you take your stuff and move in here instead, that desk is empty. That way you don't have to run back and forth between your desk and ours.

So I did, I took my stuff and moved into this room where all the magic happened. And that was the first major thing that proved to be a success in this case. Because since I now sat in the same room as these guys I not only worked with them, I joined them for coffee breaks, lunches and After Work activities. I simply became a part of the development team, something that would have been simply unthinkable just a few weeks back.

The User Perspective
Being an integral part of the business turned out to be the most important thing to really make things happen. As I was writing my texts for the Help function I realised that some of the tasks the users were to perform were extremely complex simply because the tool wasn't logical in its design. This type of tool often is developed step by step, function by function and somewhere along the line, the red thread was lost. During one of our morning SCRUM meetings I popped the question: 
- Does it really have to be this complicated? How about creating a wizard to assist the users?
And off we went. In three days we created a wizard that guided the user through the most common and complicated tasks. All of a sudden I realised why it's called a wizard, because with just a wave with the magic wand we had cut the need for training down to ZERO. Well at least almost, we still had to train some of the real expert users but for the average user there was no need for any training what so ever.

Conclusion
So what do I want to say with this post? Well first of all that by moving yourself closer to the action will make you more influential. You will also get a much better grip on what's going on and where the challenges are that you really have to deal with. I would also like to stress that working in the field of Learning means that you often have a different angle when you look at things. Instead of having systems, routines, or whatever it might be in focus you have the people working in focus. And by having this different focus can spawn some fantastic ideas.

Time to Share
Now I would love to hear some of your stories on successes. What did you do? how did you do it? and what can we learn from it?

Thanks for taking the time,
Mattias

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