The Talent Blockchain

I read a recent Inc. Magazine article on a company using blockchain technology to create a individual’s knowledge score.  This knowledge score will be a verifiable way for individuals to communicate their experience and expertise.  The article talks about the application of this blockchain application for the disruption of employee training.  The company is launching in 2018 and is starting not with employee training but instead with product reviewers.  This makes a lot of sense.  Advertisers and brands are a much faster path to cash for a new company.

While employee training  is not where the company is starting, it did get me thinking about the application and implications for the employee Learning & Development industry.  I have written previously about my thoughts the move to learner-centricity, not solely in the area of solution development but also in the area of learning records. The application of a blockchain based solution in L&D has the chance to make this a reality. If you are not familiar with blockchain technology there is no shortage of primers and tutorials available.  You can start here and go as far down the rabbit hole as far as you wish. For the purposes of this post all you need to know is that blockchain technology allows for the the creation of an independent and trusted ledger of entries. In this case a ledger of individual skills and performance.

New technology, like any change, requires a strong case for adoption. I believe that there are three tail winds currently blowing that will help accelerate the acceptance of a blockchain solution.

  • Gig economy – A growing portion of the workforce is re-evaluating its relationship with employment.  As the workplace becomes more project or gig focused and less employment based learning solutions will require a new dimensions of value. Portability not of the solution but of the credential associated with successful completion of the learning will be essential.  Learners will be less likely to seek out learning experiences that do not allow them to get credit for that learning that can be taken with them to the next gig.  
  • Learner-centricity – This trend is already underway in the learning solution arena.  Technology that allows for enhanced assessment and dynamic pathing for learners based on performance has made learning more focused for individuals. This trend will also extend to learning records and work experiences.  Rather than have a series of silos or islands like former employers, LMS systems, online academies, universities holding parts of an individual’s history the individual will hold a single, portable, verifiable record.  This blockchain verified curriculum vitae (BVCV) could serve as a companion to one’s LinkedIn.  LinkedIn acting as the marketing brochure and the BVCV as the ingredients list.
  • Micro-certifications – As employers continue to show increasing favor for “what can you do?” over “what have you done?” a verifiable record of smaller units of learning will be necessary. Learning solutions will increasingly be deconstructed into components to allow learners to better target desired skills which are favorable in the marketplace. Capturing the volume of these micro skills will require something other than a certificate for the wall.

How could a BVCV work?


Lifelong Learners (L3) would participate in learning opportunities provided by the multitude of sources now available. Companies, universities, independents and others would then enter the newly acquired skills data to the blockchain record. The learner would use their, always updated BVCV to present their value to potential employers. Employers would be able to seek out hyper specific skills sets as well be able to trust the professional record of potential candidates. Employers would contribute performance data, not unlike the ratings and feedback provided on the various freelance sites or the endorsements on LinkedIn or back channel rating sites like The Funded or RateMyProfessor and Glassdoor. All of this becomes part of the living BVCV record.

In addition to the value of the transparency and trustworthiness offered to employers the BVCV also also motivates L3 ‘s. The onus of upskilling individuals moves from corporations to the individuals themselves in the gig economy. Because the path between upskilling and monetization is clearer learners are better able to see how an investment in upskilling themselves makes sense. Helping L3’s see what skills are in highest demand in a marketplace could also assist on this front.

So what is stopping us?

  • Understanding and acceptance – Blockchain is new to many. Many only know it through the bitcoin or other cryptocurrency application. L&D, recruiters, employers and learners must gain an understanding of the technology and its underlying security. It is only with this understanding will the required stakeholders adopt this as the path forward.
  • Agreement on standards – While currency transactions are simple and identical in format, learning events are not. Standards will need to be defined and agreed by both suppliers and employers in order for the BVCV to deliver its highest value. The L&D industry can point to multiple examples of where they have been able to create a standard (SCORM, Tin Can, etc.) but the required inclusion of employers and recruiters into this process will complicate the process. Without buy-in from the parties that allow learners to monetize their skills the BVCV simply becomes another CV not The CV.
  • Historical versus future – The great mass of skills and experience acquisition activity has already happened for many individuals. This is not to say that more will not occur but capturing the historical value creation is often a stumbling block to adoption. Any learner will want credit for what has been done not just what they do moving forward. The conversion of a learner’s current record to the BVCV is essential. Without this conversion the approach is less appealing to the a large portion of the workforce.

Personally, I think a blockchain solution is a win-win-win. Learning solution providers benefit from increased demand from motivated lifelong learners looking to increase their value in the talent marketplace. Employers and recruiters benefit by having a single trusted source for candidate evaluation and targeting. And L3s benefit from having a simple, portable, trusted means of capturing and monetizing the value they can deliver to an employer. The early adopters will likely be industries that already require CLE’s followed by compliance training across industries. We know why the blockchain is coming we just don’t yet know how or when.

  Note: I have no connection to or any blockchain companies.  I am simply a fan 🙂


WTF Is Reid Hoffman Doing?

In a world of lifelong learners and a gig economy isn’t it time for a person-centric learning management system? As a lot of us continue to re-examine our relationships with our employers, it seems like a natural extension. As I watch Facebook eat the internet, I am struck about the lack of similar moves by LinkedIn. While I am still trying to wrap my brain about a reversion to the AOL portal days, the lack of movement by LinkedIn surprises me. They are perfectly positioned to be the professional hub and have not moved on it.

When Microsoft bought LinkedIn It was clear that the intentions were to use LinkedIn as a tool for improving the value of Microsoft existing platforms (fail) and with Apple’s enterprise strategy coming into view it will be interesting to watch. For the younger ones in the crowd remember that Microsoft has had issues with bundling before. Then I thought the acquisition of Lynda was a hopeful sign of things to come. Finally we would have a place where people could have their personal learning management system (LMS) to store all their own learning history in one place. No longer siloed by company, the fact that I took a sales course in one place would be visible to other employers. But instead, no. I can share my blog posts or my slides from a presentation but not my learning history.

It is just my opinion, and I have made bad bets before. I went on record years ago stating that Salesforce could rule the LMS industry. I remain a Benioff fan but I think that opportunity is long gone. You can see the rationale for my old bet on Salesforce here. Companies spend millions on employee portals and their LMS and yet YouTube remains the top training tool. The opportunity is there.

In a world of lifelong learners and one where Reid Hoffman is on your board (and Facebook’s) why hasn’t LinkedIn stepped up?


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

My Purpose


Artist J. Howard Miller – buy here

Focus: Upskilling The World’s Workforce.

Mission: Building World-Class Learning Engines

We have a problem. Our current workforce is in desperate need of upskilling and the old ways aren’t working. A fundamental shift in the way we think about workforce development is needed.  

We have unused capacity.  Among the unemployed, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) is 1.8 million and accounted for 25.9 percent of the unemployed. Do you what you can learn in 27 weeks?!?!? The number of involuntary part-time workers, who want to work full-time but can’t find a full-time job, is 5.3 million. That is 7.1 million workers who want to work and have some time on their hands. And yet we have have unmet needs. The number of job openings is 6.2 million.

The workforce is also changing how it looks at work.  One key area is their changing attitudes towards retirement. Many Baby Boomers have delayed it due to economic reasons.  Others have found it necessary to un-retire. Generations from X to Millennial continue to re-evaluate their relationship with work.  This has created gap years, freelancing and other workforce dynamics not seen before. These workforce changes create challenges for institutions built for linear upward skill development.

Magnifying this problem is that the pace of change continues to grow. In Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Thomas Friedman describes a world being continuously reshaped by technology, globalization, and climate change. As his subtitle notes, this is an “age of accelerations,” and all of us need to keep up or get left behind. Being replaced by a robot is one thing but moving into a better job and letting a robot take your spot is another thing entirely.

While innovation will need to happen in all aspects of education I believe the greatest innovations will come from those portions of the “lifelong learning” spectrum with the greatest incentives. That’s the economist in me speaking.  I think that the large enterprises and the corporate learning and development functions that support them are where the action will be in the near term. Simply improving the L&D functions of Fortune’s Global 500 touches over 67 million people.  Helping these L&D organizations innovate will allow them to better prepare the employees they serve for this accelerating world.

While improvements have been made in the last couple of decades, there continue to be challenges within the corporate L&D functions of large enterprises.  The connection to the business, necessary to provide learning that moves the needle on core company objectives, remains inconsistent.  The structure and processes used by L&D are often more a hinderance than a help.  Limited use of data in what is now a data-rich domain is also a challenge. In his book Friedman quotes AT&T chief strategy officer John Donovan on the company’s new pledge to its workforce: “You can be a lifetime employee if you are ready to be a lifelong learner.” My goal is to ensure that the learning offered by AT&T and other like them is the most effective and efficient it can be.

Innovation can come from all directions. I along with Ed Trolley have launched Running Training Like A Business v.2 to explore the potential applications of techniques used in other domains to the provision of corporate learning.  We have started with techniques used by early-stage, fast growing companies.  What can be learned from these industry disruptors regarding their approach to delivering value? Having spent the last 20 years with a foot in both L&D and startups this was a natural launching pad.

While RTLABv2 will be focused on actionable tools, techniques and concepts this blog will be my workshop.  This is where I will go down rabbit holes only to come up empty handed. This is where interesting ideas with no obvious home will be archived. This is where I will deliver the transparency that rapid innovation requires. Working together we have reshaped the  workforce before. We can do it…again.

All job statistics taken from the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2017 Report.


High Leverage Skills

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

We are always looking for disproportionate returns. Think about the world of investments where the holy grail is to find the magical place where returns are greater than risk. What about how we think about skill development when it’s done in the pursuit of improved performance?

Much of what we do is a combination of multiple skills.  Just as it takes 17-26 muscles to smile think about how many skills are required in order to develop a business strategy, talk to customers or give a sales pitch. If we are in search of disproportionate returns we need to look at skills carefully.  By understanding the contributing skills we can better understand and breakdown performance drivers. As we deconstruct key skill bundles, sales pitching for example we begin to see common contributing skill bundles.  These bundles are simpler than the higher order skill but often still contain contributing skills.  These skills feel “generic” in nature since they are without the context of application. They are analogous to muscles in the body in that like your bicep, they can be exercised, strengthened and in doing so improve any number of applications in which they are used.

The other characteristic of these simpler skill bundles is that they can act as limiters for all the higher order skill bundles that are built on them. Like a computer connected to the internet via a dial-up modem.  No matter how you upgrade the processor, memory or other elements of the computer as long as the “connection” skill remains unimproved the overall performance for task that require that skill will remain limited.

So if you are looking for disproportionate returns from your learning, look for high leverage skills.  Often improving a high leverage skill only a little drives high cumulative gains because that skill is foundational to so many activities.

The Performance Learning Stack

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

I find frameworks helpful. Particularly when looking at complex systems they can help to identify interdependencies and “chunking” information has been shown to help the brain handle more. I love analogies because they force us to think differently about things and grasp new ideas faster. As I started my exploration of multiple domains for learning hacks I found myself awash in information and in need of some structure. At the same time my role as lab rat with neuro-enhancers re-introduced me to the concept of “a stack”.

Why a stack?

The concept of a stack exists in many domains. It is a combination of elements that makes the whole. In the cases of nutrition and neuro-enhancers it is a combination of drugs that delivers a larger benefit than any one element individually. In the technology domain the stack refers to all the layers required to deliver, and limits the delivery of, a solution. This goes from data center through to user interface with networking, operating system and application in between.

One of the challenges I think todays enterprise learning industry faces is our focus on local optimization rather than system optimization. This is understandable as system changes require greater control so it will always be easier to advocate and deliver improved e-learning rather than an improved learning culture in organizations. However I worry that we have lost the forest for the trees and that we are missing the opportunities to drive game-changing innovation by focusing our energies on incremental improvements.

The reality is that any improvement to the learning stack can produce enhanced performance. The stack also allows us to better understand the relationships between elements. Which ones are limiters to the ones that follow in the same way that a dial-up network limits all applications on your computer? Which ones can increase existing learning in the same way an additional vitamin makes another more effective? When was the last time your skills training included a module on unlearning existing habits before trying to overwrite them with a new approach?

I have found this stack a helpful way to “bucket” the hacks from science, Eastern thought, sports psychology, learning theory etc.  With each of these elements there is also a need for tools to be developed and data to track the performance of the stack. I am very certain this stack will evolve as we as an industry continue to explore. I look forward to others’ thoughts and feedback.


A Decent Proposal

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

Image via Wikipedia


“Customers don’t care about your product.  They care about their problem.”

– every successful entrepreneur I have met

My proposed framework, an adaptation of Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, is anchored by the value proposition.  It is also where I see the many of today’s training organizations fall down.  The inability to define themselves in terms of the value they provide to customers is more than just window dressing.  A value proposition is not simply a catchy slogan but it defined where an organization invests its limited resources to drive maximum value.  A classic example of this was Xerox’s late nineties re-branding from “copier company” to “document company”.  This single word change set off a slew of product innovations that has kept the company relevant for the past decade.

Enhanced performance enabled by learning

My proposed value proposition is carefully worded as well. “Enhanced performance” describes the solution to the problem faced by training’s customers.  Companies don’t need courses, coaching or any of the other products manufactured by training departments.  They need the results these can produce when done right.  Focus on the benefit. It’s the only thing the customer cares about.

“Enabled” reflects the changing role of the training department from the arbiter of the “right way” to one which facilitates, curates and architects knowledge transfer.  Words like “delivering” and “providing” suggest a centralized approach and neglects the importance of the learner’s emerging role as contributor and informal learning.

This value proposition also acts a test.  If an activity doesn’t fall into it is should be out. I understand that performance has many drivers but the push by some towards a generalist approach has left many of the drivers sub-optimized.  “By learning” ensures that the focus is on optimizing the knowledge component of performance.

Now What?

So that is my suggestion for the new training organization’s value proposition.  I like the sound of checking companies for PEL (performance enhancing learning). And I like the role of enabler as it feel more collaborative.  Now comes the fun part, what startups call minimum viable product.  The next step is to build a straw man example so that customers can react to it.  This may take a minute.

What are your thoughts?

I Have Been Framed

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

As I stated in my previous post, I feel the Business Model Canvas developed by Alexander Osterwalder is good place for today’s training organizations to start as they rethink their role and structure. Before I propose the hack let’s get a quick grounding in the tool as it exists for startups.

Business Model Canvas: Quick Primer

With apologies to Osterwalder, who wrote an entire book (which I highly recommend) on this model,  let me quickly break it down for the purpose of the discussion here.  The business model canvas is broken into 9 buckets that can be thought of as 3 bundles anchored by the central value proposition.

Bundle 1: Organization (key resources, activities and partners)

These buckets describe the inputs required to deliver the value proposition

Bundle 2: Customer (relationship, channels and segment)

These buckets describe the who, how and what of the market you are looking to serve.

Bundle 3: Money (cost structure and revenue streams)

These buckets describe the investment and return for the organization.

By starting with a draft value proposition a startup can quickly test it with customers and determine the best way to deliver it.  This allows them to rapidly build a set of assumptions in each bucket that can be tested, refined, validated or changed as the value proposition is honed with customers.  It is this process of customer development, assumption testing and iteration that I feel is a perfect fit for today’s training organizations.  Obviously, this canvas is geared towards external facing startups not internal departments so some modification is needed.

Training Organization Canvas: Hack 1

The first thing we need to do is to recognize that Bundle 3 (money) is a function of the larger organization.  For cost structure it is important to recognize the total costs of learning (TCoL) that the larger enterprise is investing in order to deliver on the value proposition.  Frequently organizations look only at the direct line items related to training (payroll, travel, third-party spend) and fail to capture the investment made in the form of SME time, time away from job, and others.  In one organization I assessed we found that while their training staff to employee ratio reflected an efficient organization the company was investing more than the entire training department’s payroll in SME time alone.

The revenue streams bucket is the aggregation of the all the business results produced by the “products” shipped in support of the value proposition.  I have heard many complain that this metric is “too hard” or “guess work”.  To the former I say “yes it is”, which is exactly why it is worthwhile.  To the latter I would suggest that just as the shift of advertising from traditional to newer media has made this once faith-based activity increasing metrics-driven so will learning.  Data has an increasing role is many aspects of the new training organization and may offer some of the biggest breakthroughs in the coming years.

Training Organization Canvas: Hack 2

Bundle 2 (customer) is an area in much need of an innovative approach.  Today’s training functions are quick to tell you which employee groups they are serving but frequently do not understand why specific groups are not using them.  By forcing the discussion of what type of relationship customer’s want and using an engaging customer development process training can inform its value proposition, optimize its channels and products to drive improved business results for the whole company.  When thinking about the customers of learning one has to remember that in the case of internal learning the customers (participants, managers, executives) pay with their attention and engagement not cash but otherwise the analogy remains.

Training Organization Canvas: Hack 3

Bundle 3 (organization) requires little hacking and brings us back to the Epic Debate question that set this all off.  These buckets force us to build the learning department to meet the requirements defined by the value proposition and the customer bundle.  These buckets ask us to think in term of what needs to be done not how it will be done or who will do it (ie. instructional design is an activity not a role).  It challenges us to ask what new activities, like curation or social media facilitation, not currently encompassed by the training group need to be included based on what our customers will pay for.

The key partners bucket also asks us to re-evaluate what we do in-house versus outsourcing.  When the way in which you accomplish key activities is rapidly changing companies often push the burden of that change on partners rather than taking it on.  This allows companies to more smoothly ride the innovation curve.  A global technology company I consulted with had a goal of turning over a percentage of its engineers every year.  This allowed them to bring in knowledge of current programming technologies.  Use of partners is a much better long-term approach IMHO.

So What’s Next?

All of these bundles represent areas ripe for disruption of today’s model.  Innovation in any one of them could lead to significant improvement. I am eager to dive deeper into each but as I stated at the beginning, these buckets are all anchored to the value proposition so that is where we need to go next.

As always, your comments, suggestions, feedback are eagerly awaited.

Evolution of a Framework

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

“Traditional training departments will shrink.”  

This statement wandered across twitter last week as a result of Jane Hart’s, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologie, tweet regarding the resolution as part of the EPIC debate series.  Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog) will not be surprised to find that I wholeheartedly agree with this notion.  But I believe that the rather than focusing on what is a long overdue realignment of resources away from the traditional, the more interesting question is where those resources will go.

Keeping Score

I have built my share of corporate learning.  But a majority of my time while I was at Forum, and since, has been spent building better training departments. I conducted assessments of the training departments serving global companies in technology, finance and other industries. We looked not solely at what the department was delivering (product) but also the people and processes that built that product (factory).  Our approach at Forum was described in the book “Running Training Like a Business” and was anchored to a framework called the Dynamic Business Scorecard (DBS).

The DBS was developed by Bill Fonvielle (@wfonviel).  Bill was one of the many big brains at Forum.  Bill saw that while the whole world was enamored with the work of Norton and Kaplan on the balanced business scorecard that metrics were best when the dependencies, and implications could be made more visible.  The DBS made diagnosis and communication a more straightforward affair.  People knew how they impacted the overall results and when something went wrong, root cause was easier to determine.

Over the past decade I have been working to build more organizations.  Not just training ones but all types; new lines of business for larger companies, fresh starts for troubled companies and early stage startups.  It is from this last group that I think the framework for building tomorrows learning organizations will come.

Have You Tried This?

I have written in previous posts about the lean methodology for the development of learning solutions.  The approach is an adaptation of the agile software development process that advocates rapid releases and a quick iterative feedback cycle.  The foundational assumption for this approach is that the solution is unknown.  While I feel strongly that this is true when considering the development of learning I also believe it is true for the organizations that do the development today.

I recently wrote a letter to a friend of mine suggesting that leaders in learning were going to be characterized as the experimenters.  Those organizations that try, fail and try some more.  Those that acknowledge, that in this period of rapid change, the best way to serve their company is to embrace a process of rapid releases and a quick iterative feedback cycle.  Not just for the learning but for the learning organization itself.  For this reason, I believe the framework by which we view learning organizations must support this as well.

What Do Customers Know?

The second criteria for a new framework is the need to force training organizations to engage with their customers and make clear to all the assumptions that they are running under. Successful startups quickly realize that the best source for determining a product’s features, uses and value are customers not an internal development team.  By observing, testing and rapidly incorporation companies are able to align their product with the market.  In startup land this is called product/market fit and is the holy grail.  Only once this has been found can a company confidently put its resource towards scaling and seizing the opportunity.

Age Appropriate

The final criteria I propose for a new framework is that it must be consistent with the stage of the organizations it intends to serve.  Despite a long legacy I believe that corporate learning must put itself into startup mode.  When industries stall on the innovation and value creation fronts they are ripe, not for evolution but rather, for disruption.  The training departments serving many of today’s organizations have evolved little over the last decade.  The tools used may have changed but the core activities, assumptions and frameworks have barely budged.

A recent study commissioned by NIIT to revisit the concepts of the decade old book, “Running Training Like a Business”, showed little movement on the core ideas.  Specifically it reported that only 21% of companies survey were “customer driven” and only 29% “measured their success by the success of their customers.  With results like this how can we not say that traditional departments will shrink in the coming years.

Here Comes the Hack

I am not a fan of re-inventing the wheel.  So as a starting point, I will describe over the next few post how I think the Business Model Canvas, developed by Alexander Osterwalder, can be adapted to be a new framework for thinking about a company’s learning organization.

I have been using this canvas in my work with startups for years now.  The canvas is widely accepted by early stage companies as the framework for experimenting their way to product/market fit. To me, the canvas seems to me to be the perfect frame for igniting the important discussions with training’s customers at a time when the unknowns outweigh the knowns.

What are your thoughts on the criteria, and do you think that the time has come for disruption?


Here Comes Lean Learning Part 2

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

The Lean Learning Philosophy

So that we have some more to discuss let’s propose some guiding principles for adopting a lean learning approach.  The tools for executing a lean approach to learning will continue to change at a rapid pace but, if valid, the underlying principles should not.  These principles, in some cases, challenge long held beliefs of the industry but are core to successful implementation.

#1 Learning is no longer solely the domain of the training department

Learning professionals must accept that they are the accelerant and marketers for behavior change not the keepers of the brain.  Learners, like customers in every industry, have become “prosumers” both taking in and creating learning content.  Unless training is willing to accept the validity of learner created content, it will never be able to move with the speed necessary to keep up.  This is not to say that on meta issues like structure and technique the pros don’t have a leg up.  It is only to say that the contribution of the salesperson, on closing a sale, may deliver as much value (I think more) as the approach taught in the sales program.

#2 Training organizations are intermediaries

Unlike I.T., (my least favorite analogy for the learning industry) training departments don’t actually make anything.  They source, structure, market and manage the product.  In my post (New Analogies Apply Within) I called training professionals “marketers” selling “Gatorade for corporate athletes”.

Lean learning calls for a laser-focus on what is needed.  With the Internet, someone who wants to learn about anything is only a click away from a video, blog, or Yahoo group.  Lean learning is about creating a compelling product (from any and all sources) and “selling” it to the learners that need it.

#3 You don’t know what you don’t know…and that’s O.K.

The purpose of the lean approach is to acknowledge that the right solution is likely not found in the training department’s offices or even in the learner assessment study report.  The solution is what works in the field.  Full stop.  Companies are moving so fast that, even if you could design an assessment and select the right sample, you would still be missing the mark on timing.  And, since training often delivers to the lowest common denominator, you incur relevance, credibility and time costs for learners who may be above that line.

Lean approaches this by allowing the learners to co-create the solution through their feedback and actions.  Not sure which part of the sales process is creating disappointing results?  The answer is found in the fact that the most used tool rolled out in your MVL is on the topic of qualifying buyers.  Not sure where customer satisfaction is falling apart?  Look at the long discussion of setting expectations on the discussion board.  In any number of ways learner feedback will help to shape the most impactful learning.  Combined with hard metrics, (see#4) a lean approach helps an organization to prioritize and grade performance support efforts.

#4 Business metrics are essential, learner metrics are observable

By treating the learner like a marketplace, you can readily observe their levels of satisfaction with the product (did they use it? did they forward it? did they contribute to it?).  As we discussed above, their actions will provide important feedback to the development of the learning product.

But, the essential measures of lean learning are the business metrics that the learning product is targeted at.  Whether it is strategy implementation or increased performance in some business activity, these metrics are the dashboard in much the same way that customer conversions are for start-up businesses.  The phrase “bought in” is frequently used when strategies or new approaches are rolled out for good reason. It is fine to attend a class, visit a wiki or watch a video but it is not until the learner puts that new knowledge to work have they actually “bought it”.

#5 Perfect is the enemy of “good enough”

Instructional designers, like the software developers of yesterday, are often guilty of what I term “the long build and the grand reveal”.  After defining the specifications of the solution, they go away for a while (sometimes a long while).  Only to return when the learning solution is perfect and ready for pilot.  Returning to the value of a lean approach, this is an extended “time to value”.  This is also a lost opportunity to learn from early adopters and to get more iterations of the product completed.  Lean learning requires the learning professionals and the organization to be comfortable with this iterative “good enough” approach.

Final Thought

Lean learning is a concept that seems right on, for right now.  The pace of business is not slowing down anytime soon and learning professionals’ ability to build solutions off of “knowns” is not likely to increase.  It is time to stop trying to force an approach that was built for another time to work in this new environment.  Instead, it is time for innovation and new approaches, lean or otherwise.  If we can’t learn something new, then how can we expect to help anyone else do it.


Here Comes Lean Learning

This post originally appeared on the Learning Hacks blog

Lean Learning Anyone?

I have worked in the training industry several times since I left it a decade ago for the worlds of venture capital and private equity.  But, not since 2001, have I had the opportunity to spend significant time taking a deep look at it.  And coming back to it with fresh eyes and the experience of 10 years of business building has caused me to question the pace of change in the industry.

Many of the same industry players exist, as do many of the thought leaders and industry organizations. As a result, the means and techniques used to produce learning have also remained relatively constant.  While the tools, delivery channels, and underlying theories have improved, the instructional design methodology has not moved far from its linear approach.

needs analysis => design => develop =>pilot => implement

This standard production approach, with its emphasis on needs analysis and careful progression through each step no longer fits with the pace of business.

Training Gets Lean

Steve Blank is the leading proponent of the Lean Start-up methodology.  As a former entrepreneur, and now professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford, Blank saw the traditional software development process for start-ups as misdirected.  Development’s linear process, build it and then go find a customer, led to excessive spend with an unknown result.

The development of learning events follows much the same process as software with program piloting substituting for beta testing.  The resulting problems occur in training is much the same way the do in software development.  Companies are spending a great deal on training programs that are misdirected and ineffective.  And, by the time they realize it they often feel like they have committed to many resources to change course.

I am not suggesting that the lean training approach described below is right for all training, just as lean is not right for all start-ups.  But I do believe that in many situations a lean approach is better suited to today’s business challenges.

Into the Unknown

Blank recognized that the traditional linear process was designed based on “knowns”.  These “knowns”, known problem and known solution specifications, are requirements for the traditional approach.  If either of these is not known, or more likely wrongly known, the product won’t be of value to customers. Blank’s lean approach offers companies a better way when one or both of these items is unknown.

Traditional instructional design methodology has similar requirements.  Know your learner, and know the capability gaps or, just as with software, the customer will not find value in the solution.  This places a huge requirement on upfront needs assessment, translation of business objectives to learning objectives and learner definition.  Getting to the known takes time and it is time that most businesses no longer have.  So rather than enforce a requirement on the business to satisfy a methodology why not find a methodology that meets a business environment of speed and unknowns.

What Is Lean?

Blank’s lean methodology is just such a methodology and its adaptation to learning presents an interesting case for a new method of driving performance fast.  The biggest change in Blank’s lean approach is the blending of the needs assessment/specification stage with the development stage.  Rather than assuming “knowns”, Blank’s approach embraces unknowns.  By using a hypothesis of the customer and the solution, a company releases what Blank calls a “minimum viable product” (MVP). This is the smallest possible example of the value of the full solution. The company then uses this kernel of its solution to attract early adopters who in turn, through their behaviors and feedback, teach the company what additional features and functions are most valuable for the company to build.

Iterate through this cycle as fast as you can and the result is a solution with market validation that is ready to scale and a group of evangelists for the product to help it find more customers fast.  Companies often have to “pivot”, according to Blank, based on customer learnings and often find their ultimate solution in a place they had not originally thought of.

Lean Learning: What’s the Value?

In my search for a clear value proposition for lean learning’s approach, I found what I often find; someone smarter had already solved this problem in another area.  In the recently released book “Strategic Speed: Mobilize people, accelerate execution”, Authors Davis, Frechette and Boswell describe successful strategy roll-outs as having faster time to value and more value over time.  Perfect!

For the lean learning approach the same is true.  Through the use of the MVP or in this case “minimal valued learning” (MVL) the organization can almost immediately begin to reap the benefits of improved performance.  The value of this improved performance can rapidly grow through end-user feedback and proper metrics.  By including end-user content and validation this learning resource also remains ”evergreen” reducing the maintenance costs and extending the shelf-life of the learning.  This drives increased value over time.

What do you think?

I wrote this post to take advantage of another technology phenomenon, crowd sourcing.  This idea is not fully baked, nor is it perfect.  It is the seed of idea that I feel strong enough about to share.  Over the next few weeks I will be working to further develop this idea through feedback that I have already received from the unlucky few folks that I have already made to suffer through my ramblings on this subject.  What you find appealing and well-thought out in the above is likely the result of these kind souls’ feedback.  What you find wanting is all mine.