Saturday, August 30, 2008

Playing with New Toys

I know I've been pretty quiet recently - outside of really short posts.
I've been playing with and evaluating lots of new development toys.

I've also been upgrading many of my day-to-day applications (notably Office and Firefox), which has required significant amounts of mental energy.

I've been taking Dr. Karrer's advice and using the new applications to develop materials. To me, this is the best way to evaluate any particular tool. And, hopefully, I'll have the thing final enough so that when the evaluation license runs out, I can still use it.

Gives me an excuse to take another look at some old materials anyway.....

You all should be seeing another flood of posts on this topic over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Applying Lessons Learned - Fantasy Football

Season 2 of Fantasy Football and the draft is underway.

Now that I've done this once, I have decided to better prepare my Fantasy Football draft research so that I don't come in 9th place this year. Thankfully, my league only has 8 teams - so I will automatically improve!

Still - no excuse. I've decided to apply some lessons learned in an attempt to obliterate the competition improve my standing from last year.

First order of business - organizing the research.

Here I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone.
1) Familiarize myself with Excel 2007.
2) Develop a tool that I can quickly use during the 90 seconds I have to make a decision.

Look Mom! An Excel spreadsheet!!!!


(I can hear Fantasy Football vets sniggering now....)

Now I can filter and sort (once I find the commands...stupid #%@$^@& upgrade....user-friendly my ^#%@&#*).


Second order of business - draft folks.

We don't know what order we pick in the draft until 30 minutes beforehand. As it was last year - I was right in the middle of the order. The bonus - more time to think / contemplate / change one's mind / do a little "research" while waiting for the others to make their decisions.

The excel spreadsheet did help somewhat. My thoughts were significantly more organized as I picked my starters and I was able to quickly find folks and glance at my notes before selecting. Of course, I couldn't help the niggling feeling that I was missing something in my research - but I get that feeling whenever I am at the "action" stage of a project.

The big weakness in the approach - I didn't do deep enough research on the Wide Receivers and the Running Backs. When I was ready to fill my bench, I had no clue who to take.

Third order of business - make sure I have people actually playing starting that week.

I've got some big gaps during week 4 and week 10. Lesson learned - you still need to keep an eye on bye weeks, no matter how cool the person is that is sitting in front of you waiting to be drafted.

Let's see if I can improve on last year.

Hope you are healthy Peyton Manning!

The IE Stranglehold

Mark Oehlert asks why IE has such a stranglehold on organizations.

It's turning into quite a conversation.

Make sure you read both the post and all of the comments. They run from newest to oldest.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Science is a Party!



Why sometimes reading blogs outside of education can be valuable.

Found by the nice ladies of The Beauty Brains.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Update - Supporting New Managers

Back in March 2007, in response to that month's Big Question, I told a story about one of my favorite bosses - Rick Yeatman - and the things he did that made him a great manager.

I received an e-mail from him today thanking me for the post.

Apparently, a friend of his had found this blog, read the post and notified him.
He found my work e-mail and dropped me a line.

He's happily working at the Savannah College of Art and Design - where he doesn't have to fight with the football team for money.

Such is the power of Web 2.0 technologies.

And Rick - you don't have to thank me for a thing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Unknown Teachers

Sometimes, you don't realize you have run into a teacher until they are gone from your life.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Mr. Tabling's funeral. His eldest son was my roommate during my stay in Baltimore. During that time, the Tablings adopted me as one of their own.

I was always impressed by Mr. Tabling's boundless optimism, his sense of adventure, his willingness to explore, and his ingenuity. No matter what happened - losing his retirement, his wife's ill health and death - he managed to sail through (at least in public) unruffled.

No money to travel? He set up an arrangement with Hunt Valley Motors to serve as a "tour guide." Free travel, minimum work.

When his wife died, he made it a point to spend more time with his sons and his grandchildren. For a time, he moved down to Florida to stay with his youngest son. The change in scenery did him good. The last time I saw him (over a year ago), he was excitedly sharing his stylish new look (a tan, Hawaiian shirts and spiffy new glasses) and stories about dancing with lady-friends. He still missed his wife, but he made it a point to continue living.

I think those are the lessons I took from him - keep exploring, keep trying new things, and a little optimism doesn't hurt either.

One of the last of the WWII vets - he was buried in Parkville Cemetery on one of the most beautiful August days in memory with military honors.

Rest in peace Mr. Tabling, and thank you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Disjointed Thoughts

Still having processing problems. So I'm going to dump some of the dross out there in an attempt to clear the clutter from my head.
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What happened to the Sensitive Project.

We've decided to focus on the one element that is almost user-ready (the timekeeping function) and take care of the one group where the manager has taken the time to get the system configured correctly. I'm creating some very general materials as a supplement. We'll then wait to see who steps up to the plate next. Not what the head of the planning group wants, but how we are going to move forward until someone gives us a better idea.

The SME they had assigned to me saw the exact same problems I did - no coaxing.
I don't know how (the planning head) expects to have you train people on a system with no managerial support.

I know exactly how that expectation happened - it's easy to make "training" do the hard work of "implementing" because it is the most visible step.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

My headset microphone died and I need to get a new mic.
Thankfully, I Came, I Saw, I Learned has a couple of articles on finding microphones for Captivate.

The Original Article on the Best Microphones for Captivate
Reader Feedback on the above article

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Doug Holton on the EduTech Wiki. Something I hope to dig around in over the next week or so.

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Janet's absolutely right, we don't talk enough about how instructional designers perform project management.

BTW - my project management is done by online calendar. Easiest way for me to see due dates, task lists for the day and what may be eating into my time.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Things Worth Reading

Currently, I have a mess of half-formed ideas, a couple of ugly projects, and more than a little activity in my personal life. I suspect when this phase finishes, I will have another batch of blog posts.

In the meantime, I found these in my Google Reader:

From Cognitive Edge - a discussion on working together and sharing information across "silos".

The mistake a lot of people make is to assume that people want a lot of messy experiential data synthesized into best practice documents and doctrine. As previously mentioned the Iraq war showed the power of fragmented, experience based blogging without synthesis to communicate knowledge literally in the field under fire. People spend hours on the internet, reading blogs and surfing in part because the material is fragmented, unstructured and encourages serendipitous discovery.
- Dave Snowden


No wonder people like my blog. It's about as messy and experiential as one gets while still being under the guise of "professional."

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From The Rapid eLearning Blog - the 3 essential questions every learner wants answered.

- Make the course relevant to the learner.
- Help the learner understand how they’ll use the information.
- Create a way for the learner to prove they understand it. The closer you can get to how they would apply the information in the real world, the better the learning experience.

Quiz questions are fine, but the reality is that we rarely have to make multiple choice decisions outside of elearning courses and the occasional Cosmopolitan survey. Ideally we design a way to measure the learners understanding that is more than selecting correct answers. - Tom Kuhlmann


And if you don't expect them to USE it, don't try to develop a course around it!!!!

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Some of the issues we run into as educators as we redefine our professional identity is also felt in other fields.

At the moment, DIY Crafters tend to clamor for "theory". Theory is sexy. There are some insanely smart and savvy people in the craft community, and many seem to be waiting for the next Foucault or Baudrillard to create a unification theory of craft to move everyone forward. Theory has its place, but I would counter that Craft needs to embrace Art History as never before. Craft history tends to exist in a "decorative arts" ghetto that I think will look increasingly irrelevant in ten or fifteen years. When Craft artists broaden their knowledge of the past (which is only natural), their work becomes deeper, weaving itself into the continuum of craft history. - Garth Johnson, Extreme Craft


BTW - due to the Soft Porn Latch rug, the link is not entirely safe for work.

Though Garth tackles this from the Arts and Crafts perspective, I think it applies to us as well. Theory does have its place, but, in my mind, determining what REALLY works with all of the information we have at our disposal (both contemporary and historical) will be critical.

We talk a lot about assessment. The how-tos, whys and wherefores.

What are we actually going to do with the results?

Friday, August 08, 2008

My Name is Wendy, and I am a Civ Rev Addict

I finally got my grimy mitts on Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution.

This purchase is a direct result of his presentation at Innovations in eLearning.

Time I could have spent doing useful things (writing, blogging, navel-gazing) has instead been spent with the Xbox controller in hand focused on world domination.

What I love most about this....I can really see what Sid Meier was talking about in his discussion of the game. Most importantly "One More Turn."

Each time I made a decision, I had to think about what I wanted to accomplish.
- Violent takeover of all cities?
- Cultural domination? (Our culture is so great, you want to BE us!)
- Economic domination? (I can buy you out!)
- Technological domination? (I have toys you don't. Nyah!)

I got so excited about the decision-making process, I would put off doing things as long as possible. Things like using the bathroom, getting a beverage, making dinner....

The Firaxis folks also programmed Civilization Revolution so that your choice of culture determines how easy or hard it is to accomplish certain objectives. For example, it was easier for me to win via cultural domination as an Aztec than it was for me to win via economic domination. Thinking about what I know about the Aztecs, that made perfect sense.

I also learned a lot about what parts of the gameplay excite people.

For the SO, it was warfare.

For me - it was making peace with all of the surrounding communities and getting them to join us.

Of course, this difference in strategies caused some interesting discussions and, in more than one instance, caused the one not playing the game to leave the room when the other was playing.

I can't watch you play! You keep wanting to make peace with people! That's no fun.

Yeah - but I have more money, a sophisticated society, and cooler toys. So Nyah!

Man....as soon as I figure out multi-player, we'll see who is superior......

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Recommendations Needed on a Sensitive Project

The Planning Group (not their real name) is trying to implement a project management tool for all of the IT folks around campus.

There is a lot of really sticky politics around this particular project and I need some feedback.

The situation as I see it.

- The planning group wants us to take over the training of the new tool.

- We have been asking the planning group to help us with our biggest project.

- The planning group won't take on our biggest project unless we train everyone on the new tool.

- The tool is currently configured so that it is useful to the planning group, but no one else.

- The tool does not eliminate the use of other tools. It's an add-on, not a replacement or an improvement to any process the proposed end-users (all IT folks) participate in.

- The other planning group that is supposed to be the secondary administrators refuse to use the tool. That refusal goes from the other planning group's associate muck on down. As a result, there is a lot of useful information that is not in the tool.

- General consensus around the rest of IT world is that it is none of the planning group's business regarding how they spend their time.

- The planning group has, thus far, not been able to communicate why this tool would be useful to anyone other than the planning group.

Our group is one of the planned end-users. We see how powerful it could potentially be. IF they configured it for our needs. As the system stands right now, however, we can't even begin to explain how it will help us with our work or why we would even use it.

I'm a pretty lousy salesperson on a good day. And a lousy liar. I've trained on too many trash systems to willingly put myself in that position again.

One round of training was performed about 5 months ago in an attempt to "implement" the new tool. The lack of enforcement mechanisms and the inability to communicate why the new tool will help the end user (please see above) meant that people wasted a couple hours of their time.

Those people included me and the rest of our team.

The director nailed the problem on the head when she said:

They consider training the implementation.

This is a group that, in my mind, should know better. From what I can tell, they aren't putting the implementation of this tool through their standard project management processes. Maybe because it is their baby...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but training is PART OF the implementation. Not the implementation itself.

Training ideally occurs after the application has been configured so that it is useful for the end user, processes for administration and use have been determined, and enforcement mechanisms have been put in place. (Stop sniggering...I'm talking IDEAL world here).

I've been working on the instructional design for this "training" for a few days now and have been racking my brain to figure out recommendations for the planning group.

I'm basing the options for the recommendations on what is in front of me right now.

Option 1 - Divide the folks that need to be trained into groups. Treat each group as an implementation. Train them on all parts of the tool.

+ Determine what information the end users need to be able to get out of the system.

+ Configure the system with ALL of their projects (not just the ones touched by the planning group).

+ Figure out which reporting items would be most useful to that group. We can then train on how to personalize the accounts with this information.

+ Help each group create custom support materials.

+ Make sure there is an immediate post-implementation support plan.

+ Once all groups are implemented and using the tool, come up with a generic training for new users. Use the custom support materials as part of a knowledge library for future reference.

Option 2 - Create one general training. Focus on the timesheet piece of the tool and ignore everything else.

+ Since the main idea behind this tool is to figure out how much of each human resource is available, this is a quick way to get that information.

+ If the reporting is limited to Projects and General, finishing up the configuration for the general good should be pretty fast. Particularly since many groups have already given feedback regarding what needs to be in the tool.

+ Create a process for the end-user to put in new projects/tasks to track their time against. Right now, non-Planning Group projects are under "General Operations." That's not granular enough for the majority of the end-users.

+ Make sure the enforcement mechanism is in place.

+ Treat the "training" as a workshop for developing the initial timesheet in LIVE so they don't have to start from scratch when they get back to the desk.

+ Emphasize the benefits TO THE END-USER of this tool. (Very important since, as it stands, this is an add-on task.)

+ Later on, do option #1 for each of the groups.

Any other ideas? Recommendations? Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Positive Implementation Lesson

Last Friday, we managed to get the problem project out the door.

18 hours early.

The formal go-live came and went with little fanfare.

The first weekend was reasonably quiet. 4000 new users. 40 help desk calls. Only 2 calls having to do with the system not working correctly. The other 38 were of the "how do I" variety or concerned other systems interfaced with the new application. All reasonably small problems.

The Director posited that the uneventfulness of the implementation was a result of the very painful meetings.

I noticed that the last 2 weeks before the go-live people stopped arguing about whose responsibility it was to do something and just did it. People were even volunteering to do stuff (rather than being volunteered), often prefacing their offer with "I can't believe I'm saying this..."

I'd like to think that fear of failure caused the sudden increase in accountability. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised if the Main Muck had a couple of "Come-to-Jesus" meetings either.

If nothing else, the painful meetings may have made all of the individual parties scared to death that the whole thing was going to fall apart.

I don't think, however, that the meetings were the reason for the success of the project.

I think the success of the project was the result of implementing a system that actually WORKED the way it was supposed to.

If you are going to implement something
- Implement something that solves a real problem.
- That provides tangible benefits to the end user
- And, ideally, is reasonably straightforward to use.

The decision-making for what tool to use to solve a problem was the key here. The University implemented a tool that solved 3 very real problems (a very old, outdated mail system, lack of storage space for the end-user, the need to retire some servers). Furthermore, the system implemented is a commercial version of some freeware web tools that many members of the community already use and like. (And no, I am not going to share the name of the project.)

The resulting agony was more a result of having to interface the new tool with systems that did not work so well, establishing minor process changes to incorporate the strengths of the new tool and how best to communicate those changes.

All things implementation projects have to address whether a tool works or not.

But when a tool works, you can spend more time on those items that help ROI and insure continued use rather than on getting the *$*#*@*%@$$ tool working.

And it makes my job much, much easier.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Sometimes, the subject makes no sense.

Did I ever tell you I love intelligent comments by non-anonymous people?

RE: Wendy's Rant

My guess is that the course authors did not understand the subject. So the only thing they could do was repeat the jargon. - Mark Frank


I think that's part of it. I have a sneaky suspicion that writers of the training and/or of the baseline certification material are not native English speakers. Or if they are, writing is not their strong suit.

The other part of it may be the subject matter itself.

The only reason why I think this is because my manager has been certified in this beast (that shall not be named) and ran into some of the same issues in the instructor-led training and the materials she was provided. By her account, the instructor was really really good (as in, able to explain stuff good, not just entertaining good). And that instructor admitted a lot of the material made no sense.

This is never a good sign.

The point behind the certification I've been slogging through is to standardize an IT service delivery process. They hope to get all certified practitioners of said process to use a common set of tools and vocabulary.

Of course this vocabulary consists of LOTS of Acronyms. And, if you follow the steps of the first phase exactly (if you can figure out what these steps actually ARE), you will wind up with 4 or 5 seemingly unrelated deliverables with which you might be able to make a decision.

The point here is that this training neglected some key things (in my mind):

- A consistent context for the material. The training provided lots of examples, but the only thread holding them together was that they were IT projects. It would have been nice to see how the tools/vocabulary would be used across one example from start to finish.

- A reason for the importance the tools. This would have been provided by the context above.

- Focus. I think this is the fault of the actual certification. The certification divides the steps of building a service-oriented business into 5 phases. The problem lies when your business analysis processes are ready for phase 2, but your financial processes are in early stage 1. And all of it happens in parallel. I probably don't have this right, but it struck me that they were trying to crunch a series of unrelated tasks into the same model and timeline.

Of course, some things are designed to exclude. This particular certification has an 80% failure rate. Those who succeed are "special." And the screwy vocabulary and vague processes help maintain that level of exclusivity.

Interesting marketing strategy for something that is ostensibly supposed to help IT organizations.....