Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Project Leadership

I've touched before on the difference between leadership and management; but here's a thought for you - if in the workplace there's too much management and not enough leadership (yes I believe this is often the case), why do we employ a gazillion project managers around the world and almost no project leaders?  I like to keep things simple (for my own benefit mostly), but I see the biggest differentiator between leadership and management in the focus.  The focus of leadership is on a vision or end-goal above all else, whereas management gets far more into the details of 'how' - actually perhaps it's a question state; leadership asks 'where are we going to?' whilst management retorts 'how are we getting there?'.  So given those two questions, which is more important for a project, the end-state or the process you took to get there?

The assumption I think we often make is that the lead for the project will come from internal resource whilst we'll use a specialist PM to manage the job.  That's great but actually managing the functions may be the easier of the two and actually maintaining a focus and drive on the end state and getting everyone to reach that state could be something that you need a real expert to help with.

The reason I even contemplate such a question is that my role has changed in Kineo slowly over time, I've gone from a consultant, to a manager and now (I hope at least) a leader.  I've gone from managing the details, to managing the projects and to acting as more of a project internal 'sponsor' - or what I like to call the project leader.  The great thing is that being a project leader is much more fun than being a project manager - it allows you to focus on the really big things like actually getting working solutions across the line and empowering other people in the team to take on the management of the things they need to do to contribute to those goals.

We've seen a monumental shift in recent months and years from traditional style projects to a far more agile and lean approach - reporting by exception and simplifying handovers.  In some ways project leadership takes that to the next step - focusing on achieving what needs to be achieved and empowering others to contribute towards that.

So next time you're thinking of implementing a technologies project or a change piece into your organisation, maybe the question shouldn't be who will I get to be the PM but who will lead this piece of work?  If you've got the right leader in place things have a tendency to work out well.

Time to take ownership. Then give it up.

A while back I blogged it's all about ownership.  I stand by that and say yes, own your system etc.  But today I want to go a little deeper about taking ownership beyond objects.  At Kineo we've just come off our recent leadership group day and one of our group shared a Linked-In special on what it means to be a great leader.  All the usual motivational stuff about what great leaders do and don't do (though anything that claims great leaders 'always' or 'never' forgets that great leaders are also human beings first and foremost and those extremes lie beyond the realms of mortal man), there was even the wisdom about taking ownership (although put far more eloquently and with less regard for the word count than I would put it).  It's true if you want to address any issues, problems or embrace change you must first own it.

I've kind of split this up into owning and giving up.  The ownership bit is probably easier to understand.  If you're an alcoholic and you can't admit that then you'll never move past being an alcoholic.  Whatever your addiction may be, the first stage towards moving away from it is to recognise what it is and own it.  In fact I think it's fair to say that you're unlikely to solve any issue that you perceive as being someone elses.  Not long ago I was discussing a client with one of the consultants in our team and we agreed that their major issue was that they never took ownership of their own system.  They distanced themselves in such a way that whenever anything went wrong with it, they could lay the blame elsewhere.  It allowed them free reign to complain about the way it performed, the way it was setup and even the content on it - even though they'd effectively signed off and been involved in every decision along the way.  The problem was simply not theirs. 

The hardest thing is often to own something you don't want, but that's the only way you can truly make change for the better.  If you're not happy with something about your personality you can choose to ignore it and home it goes away.  It probably won't, but you can try to just put the blame elsewhere or just have it as 'one of those things'.  Say I'm reward driven in personality (damn it, not one of those things in the great leaders list) - and largely I have been throughout most of my life.  If I choose to ignore that as part of me all I will continue to do is seek the reward and become despondent when I don't get it.  Alternatively I can try to first take ownership of that little character flaw and from there I can see what I can do about it.  For me reward was something that I thought chasing could bring me closer to, but actually all it does is lead you to behaviours you don't want and that brings about just the opposite of reward and recognition (and gives you something to blame incidentally).  For me to move from that frame of mind I had to break some of the habits I had, but that was firstly about knowing they were my habits, my responses and I was the one perpetuating that part of myself.

Okay, so I own that recognition seeking part of my character now... does that mean it's gone?  Partially yes, because just like my post in the quantum theory actually being aware (or observing something) has an affect, but the key point is to make change you must first own.  I can't change things with my house unless I own it (just try in your rental if you don't believe me).  You can't change your character without taking it and realising it's yours and you can't change your learning system if you don't accept it as yours.  Once the systems are yours you then have the power to do something about them.

If you're an L&D Manager and the LMS sits in your area but is unloved, this is the time you go to the boss and say 'it's mine!'.  It's often that simple.  No-one wants to own something that isn't any good, but it can't change without ownership so it gets stuck in a circular reference like a bad database.  Seriously go and ask for the unloved beast and make it yours.  Now, all you have to do is to invest time and energy (and sometimes a tear or too) to improve it.  It will get better I promise and if you then choose to replace it that's easier too, because it's a lot easier to replace something you own than replacing something you don't.

So that's it, part 1 done - own it.

Part 2 is crazy right?  Give it up.  You've just taken huge steps to own it whether it's a system or a problem and now you want me to give it up?  Sort of.  Let's go back to that addictive personality.  I'm not an alcoholic (honest) and I'm not trying to trivialise the issues of alcoholism, but I know that you can only kick the habit that you own to start with, but that actually the long term solution lies in more than just you.  What I really mean by give it up is realise that owning a problem comes first, then it needs you to break it down and share it out.  If the first stage for recovering alcoholics is owning the problem, the second is getting help.  That's really what giving it up means.

For your LMS if it's not working own it first.  Then go get help and start sharing the system.  Give some people control and realise that you can't do it all on your own.  Maybe instead of give it up I should have said 'get help', but again it comes down to ownership and THE biggest word in leadership that really makes a difference in people's lives: Empowerment.  If, as the L&D Manager, I take ownership of the crummy LMS (not Totara obviously!), then I use the advisors or co-ordinator to address issues but I hold the ownership to myself then they won't truly be able to affect the change.  I need to take the ownership that was all mine and share it out amongst those who I want to actually help me affect change.  Don't bristle when they take ownership of what was yours, remember that's a good thing because to really cause change you must own.  In fact this reminds me of an early early blog of mine on this was about loving and letting go of your LMS...

So here's my simple process for succeeding; take ownership and then give it up - just make sure that you give it up to the right people and you give it up because you want to improve it not because you can't be bothered!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Phased Approach for Learning Technologies

It’s human nature for us to want to leap right in it seems, we often get super urgent requests to stand up an LMS for someone in days or weeks rather than months or longer.  Whilst the pressure can really force people to get together and get things working almost instantly it puts a much higher risk on the project and also makes the whole process more stressful for all the parties involved.  The alternative often seems to be as large and unwieldy as the rapid appears to be stressful.  There is another way.

It’s not rocket science (fortunately for me; the recent work on quantum mechanics and theory of relativity have left me mentally exhausted!).  If you have a difficult task to do the best way to approach it is to break it into smaller tasks that seem that much more achievable.  The same theory applies here, we’ve got ten thousand users to get up on a system that we want talking to numerous other systems (some yet to be deployed), we’ve got warring factions, some budgetary restraints and past records to import from our terrible old system, 5 Excel spreadsheets and some ‘paper’, we also have to migrate these 50 courses we think and maybe we need to customise the system to do x, y and z although we want an out-the-box solution too.  Sigh… welcome to my world.

Given this type of complex solution we need to start by breaking it right down.  Firstly, do you really want us to set timeframes and set costs day one?  If so, you can expect your partner to err on the side of caution - that means that they’re going to go with a higher price tag than you may have thought of.  It’s the only way they can do it without accepting enormous business risk and even then we’ve been burnt on these types of projects as they tend to drift rather than focus on the deliverables and milestones that make us more comfortable.

There’s a simple first stage that’s a must - and this is what we try to advise our customers as the best way ahead.  Don’t go with give me a price for everything (even though I’m not sure what that is) straight away.  Let’s start by a scoping or initiation phase.  In this phase I want to look in detail at what you’re asking for - if you want to do this properly it costs but it’s more than worth it in the long run.  I’m always happy to give early price indications, it’s not about us trying to hide what things cost, it’s about trying to accurately work out the time and efforts involved to meet your needs.  We’d also be looking to work out the roles and the sort of configuration work we’re going to need to do for you to get your solution where you need it to be.  We would have this as part of a solution anyway, the advantage of phasing this and starting out is that your commitment is only to that first phase.  The problem some organisations have is that they realise there’s a risk they could pay for phase 1 and then not want or be able to afford for further stages - that means they’ve invested in something that hasn’t been able to get them a solution.  Let’s spin this around though.  Had you been given a price of say $50,000 for an LMS implementation and started in a similar vein before finding out that there were some ‘issues’ that would mean you would need to either solve things internally that couldn’t be solved (like a data access or security issue that you hadn’t scoped out) or you had to pay a lot of money to the vendor for a different type solution.  Then you’re caught in a contract that probably won’t allow you to go backwards and suddenly that $50,000 project is a $150,000 project that you can’t really get out of but don’t have budget for. You end up with a solution which doesn’t meet the organisational needs and has potentially massive flaws because the scoping has turned up things that the vendor couldn’t have known.  Compare that with a $10k scoping exercise that found the same issues.  From an informed position you could embark on a longer scale project or change direction or hold at that stage while you progressed another solution.  The worst case scenario it would be $10k with little out, but likely you’re in a much more informed state however you move ahead.

Out of the deliverables for phase 1 we’ll get some form of accuracy around the rest of the phases.  I’m involved in a project now that will likely have three or four similar scoping phases along the way it’s that big, but by making each of the steps scope the next it’s far more achievable overall.  The other thing I really like about a phased approach is that we can still make a big project ‘pact’.  What I mean by that is that we can set deadlines and expectations within a phase to keep the process moving along and avoid project drift.  It always seems easier to meet those smaller milestones than one big one.  The hardest milestone of all is ‘Go Live’ - but even this doesn’t need to be one.  If you’re running a staged approach or pilot you may have several mini-Go Lives along the way and again that’s far easier to control.

Of course you may have a need for small and rapid implementation - in those cases here’s the price and away we go!  Yes, but the danger with these is that what may appear small is really just a dressing for a much bigger project.  Again, if you want to run a pilot as a project, keep it at that phase rather than letting it morph into a huge beast along the way.  Keep it small, keep it simple and achievable and the chances of success are much higher.

The final beauty of a phased approach is that it’s ‘saveable’.  What I mean by that is that each phase once delivered is effectively a save point in the game, you don’t have to keep going back to the beginning or reliving old preconceptions over and over again as you progress - it’s a series of non-return valves if you like.  You don’t have to ignore learnings or redo things unnecessarily, but make decisions from the vantage point of having already completed certain parts and have the ticks and learnings ‘saved’ for those parts.

I could probably go on and tell you about our approach or argue over the best from here, but I really don’t want.  The ‘how to’ is of less importance to me than the concept of breaking it down, removing unknowns and working in achievable size targets.  Hopefully you’ll agree!  If not, be sure to let me know as I’m always keen to work out better ways of doing things :)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Theory of Relativity in 5 steps for e-Learning

As if suggesting in my last post that quantum theory wasn't too much, this time we're pushing for the theory of relativity and the way it affects learning.  Relativity in layman's terms is the theory that as you go fast (no, not sports car fast, think millions of metres per second fast) things change.  The things that change are the basic 'rules' that we live our lives by - like 'time' being a constant.  Essentially at speeds approaching the speed of light (something like 150 million miles per hour) time ceases to be a constant and becomes relative.  That means that if you're traveling fast your time is actually going slower than someone else who may be observing you.  For example if two twins were separated at birth and one was put in a superfast spaceship to travel for say 40 years, in 40 years time the twin going fast would be younger - perhaps only 20 years old...  Relativity has been known to bend the brains of smarter men than me so for the sake of simplicity all you need to know is that 'time is relative'.

An easy way to look at relativity is through an analogy - think about when you've been engaged in an activity that was really fun - maybe when you were a kid playing a game.  You've literally lost track of time and found that it has gone quickly and you're in trouble for being late.  Again you have two observers, the angry parent and the childs.  From the child's perspective time has flown by but from the parent's it has been going the same as normal and the irresponsible child has just stayed out longer than they were supposed to.  Maybe it's easier to think of a time when you've been somewhere you didn't want to be... ever noticed how long it seems to take when you're waiting for something in a queue or you're at the dentist?

Of course the theory of relativity as Einstein spelled it out was all about going fast rather than our analogies, but it's the analogies that we're more interested in when talking e-learning; after all if your learners really go through the learning at speeds approaching that of light then you've either got faster internet than I've ever seen (hey, I live in New Zealand) or you've created nano-learning (mmm... another concept I may try and coin later!).  Relativity in learning technology theory is really about making the learnin.. well, relative!  It's the use of analogies and perspective to make your e-learning enjoyable so that the learner becomes engrossed in what they're doing to the extent that 'time flies'.  After all who wants the virtual experience of being at the dentist for their learning (okay, there's a caveat on that for e-learning material on dentistry, but you get my gist).

The model for relativity in e-learning is simple; you make the stuff relevant and enjoyable so that learners spend time and enjoy the experience; so here's my simple steps to doing that:

  1. As always know your audience so you can make something that's truly relative to them.  If this is for your work colleagues then you should have a pretty good perspective of where they're from and what 'stuff' they're likely to find interesting.  Don't be afraid to challenge and create different environments but always remember your audience.
  2. Allow learners to control their learning.  One of the big problems with being stuck in a queue is there's only one way to go and you can see it's going to be long and boring.  Think of a stack of OHPs or an enormous Powerpoint presentation or speaker's notes.  Relativity is about getting the learner so involved that they forget time, not so desperate to get through that they wished time went faster (that has the opposite effect).  That means a greater amount of pull learning where the learner decides what they need rather than force feeding them to watch all 30 minutes of video or read 100 pages that they already know.
  3. Use scenarios; make them relevant engaging, challenging and thought provoking.  I like to use metaphors and run with them - great for e-learning too where you can put someone through a different set of circumstances but keep the thread running.  Half the battle for great scenarios is making them suitably challenging.  If they're obviously just multi-choice with obvious answers then the scenario won't grab anyone and you've missed a great opportunity.
  4. Let your learners do 'stuff'.  For reference clicking on the right arrow or the 'next' button is probably not what most people consider to be interactive.  There are learners who will be happy to engross themselves in reading long texts, but they are in the minority and most of us have a relatively short attention span when it comes to reading text.
  5. A double step - mix it up (variety is the spice of e-learning) but keep it running.  What I mean here is give the learner plenty of angles and activities to do and challenge them, but try and keep within the same learning experience so that it feels like you're in the same experience.  It can be incredibly frustrating for learners to have a fragmented or choppy learning experience and you'll lose the chance to get them fully engrossed or immersed in the activity.
So if you really want your learners to get more from their e-learning, relativity is an important theory.  The more effort you put into the learning experience from the perspective of the learner the more they will get out of it and the less they will worry about the time they spend there.

And if all else fails you can try collecting your feedback at speeds nearing that of light... and for those of you wanting some E=mc I'll leave with you the fact that if your learning isn't relative then it won't matter and you will have wasted your energy...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Quantum e-Learning

So there’s a new buzz word I heard… okay, maybe I made it up, but I could have heard it and I think it’s a useful way of looking things in the e-learning world… ‘quantum e-learning’.  So some of you may not be aware that once upon a time I was actually a physics teacher so you could be forgiven for thinking I was going to get deep into quantum theory (relax, I probably can’t even remember much of it these days), but no the term quantum means (in layman’s terms at least) really really small - like sub-atomic particle small.  The reason why quantum theory and quantum physics is important is because at quantum levels we find that much of classical theory (Newtonian type rules) don’t quite work and we have to deal with a huge amount of uncertainty and probability rather than certainty.  What’s more is the role of the observer and if you take one thing out of quantum theory take this - by observing things you change them.  Have you heard of Schrodinger’s Cat?  The story goes that the hypothetical cat is locked in a sealed box with a radioactive substance that may or may not kill it dependent on unpredictable events or uncertainty.  The only way to know the fate of the cat is to open the box and then the uncertain ceases to be and you know if the cat is dead or alive… the point is not then but when does the cat die (or not)?  The quantum theory suggests that the observer has an actual effect on the outcome (unless you subscribe to 'Many-Worlds' theory which gets even more mind-bending).

Okay, that wasn’t as simple as what I wanted it to be but hopefully you’re still with me (or way ahead if you’ve done this before).  The point of this for me is actually quite simple.  Observation has an effect on outcome.  So what I’m coining as Quantum e-Learning is to try and put the recent trend towards analytics in just about everything (from sports to music and business) into a learning perspective.  We all know the value in learning in some form of assessment of knowledge and application; but what if we go further and start to analyse learning above and beyond simple assessments.  What if we start to measure more and observe more of what goes on?  Will we actually have an effect on what is learnt simply by looking at it more?  Can we determine the rate of learning simply by observing it?  Quantum theory says we can.

So how dow we apply analytics to learning and how do we know what effect we have as an observer?  There are plenty of analytics tools out there from companies like the ever-present Google to Piwik - they do much of a muchness and use embedded codes in your websites to track users activities within your site.  You can certainly do this within your LMS (most LMSs will allow you to embed a little java script token to track away) so that you can see what pages are being looked at, how long they are being looked at and what the length of time is spent on it.  Of course you could do this without an LMS just by having your material on some form of web-server, but since the majority of formal learning is held on LMSs it seems like a good starting point.  What would be great would be using those analytics tools with more and more different types of learning.  Sure you can track and watch SCORM objects (just like you can with most LMSs again!), but how long is someone looking through the forums, the background resources, which forums attract more hits and is there a pattern.  Do users surfing with Chrome spend longer or shorter than those with Firefox (you know Explorer users take longer as they wait for pages to load!)?  Observation and analysis to this degree could lead you to some quantum leaps in your learning.  What if you’re finding that a small part of your course you thought was insignificant is actually achieving far longer access times than traditional ‘resources’ and activities.  What if certain videos are being played over and over by the same users - is it because it’s good or hard to understand or optional but interesting?  By observing some elements of the ‘course’ as a whole can we actually attract learners to areas that otherwise they may not have had interest in?

Let’s take this beyond the formal slice of learning though, if we recognise that learning is pervasive then we understand that the formal learning environment only accounts for the small slice of pie.  Where does the larger slice sit and how do we access and observe what goes on there?  Truth is we can’t capture all of that, but we can certainly make some inroads into it by opening up what we give access too and applying the same principles in those areas.  I’m all for freeing up Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogger and networking tools in your corporate spaces as you may have read in another blog or two of mine - let’s give our learners the social tools that they should have access to; do we then try to apply some analytics to those too?  I’m not talking big brother here, quite the opposite - it’s not about controlling what goes on or correcting behaviour but about observing and learning about learning.  Because if quantum theory teaches us one thing it’s that there’s a lot of uncertainty and the very principles of pervasive learning is that the largest piece of pie occurs in a way that we can’t truly predict - learning itself is not only pervasive; it’s quantum.

If quantum e-learning asks more questions than it gives answers to, that’s okay too - quantum mechanics is pretty much the same (sure was for me at least). I know my analogy may be a little too hokey for some of you, but I’ll leave you with this to ponder over; quantum e-learning suggests you won’t really know the effect of your e-learning unless you open the box and look - just be aware that by opening the box you are actually having an effect on the effectiveness of the learning.