Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gathering Input

As I mentioned in my last post, I am revamping the new user training program for our big enterprise system.

I've been thinking about this for awhile.

It may be better to come at the problem with a clean slate.

I want 2 pieces of information from the stakeholders:

- What do they want the end-users to DO?
- What type of training support do they want/expect?

Sid (Remember her? She's my soft-skills counterpart.)helped me clarify the above questions.

So my next step is to ask those questions of the IT Enterprise folks and the Steering Committee folks.

Sid also recommended that I outline the options for the training support and list the pros and cons of each. I find myself a little torn by that recommendation. On the one hand, it will give the respondees some direction. But on the other, I'm afraid of shutting off other ideas.

Anything else you all think I should ask them?
Other ideas on how best to approach this?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Planning Planning Planning

So February is shaping up to be a crazy work month.
I guess this is the payment for the very relaxed January.

The most important thing on the books is the beginning of the needs assessment for our really mondo big Enterprise upgrade.

I'm going to do the needs assessment differently this time.

Old Way: Wendy takes the input from her classes/phone calls/overheard snippets of conversation and redesigns the course.

The old way worked when I was also the subject matter expert and operated in a smaller environment.

It won't fly this time.

First - because I am not the subject matter expert for this application. I train on it, yes. But I don't use it outside of the actual training.

Second - my environment is much much larger. The people impacted by this product has increased from a few hundred people to a few thousand people.

Third - the application itself does multiple things. Course registration, student accounts, HR, alumni tracking. This is our system of record. Each module does very different things. They don't link in as organized a way as, say, an electronic medical record. A key record can either be a person/entity or a course (and there may be one other type of "record" as well that I have not encountered yet).

The Project Manager for this upgrade was just assigned last week. The kickoff isn't scheduled until late March. But I knew I needed to get started much sooner. I'm not only rethinking the training - I am rethinking my entire development process. Starting with the Needs Assessment.

The last upgrade of this system, by all accounts, was considered successful. I called the PM to get his opinion and advice on how to proceed. Particularly since I didn't just want to design the Upgrade training, I also wanted to redesign the entire training / support structure for the product.

So why am I redesigning the training and support structure?

1) Just showing how to navigate the product provided absolutely no context. I already added some practice exercises incorporating 3 of the most common workflows I've been asked about this year.

2) The original course was designed with the assumption that there would be significant resources at the department level. Between employee turnover and a misunderstanding of roles, it became clear to me that those resources don't exists for most departments.

I needed to bring in stakeholders and subject matter experts fast. And I need to do it in a way that is a) organized and b) politically acceptable.

The PM's advice:

- Go to the Internal IT Enterprise meetings. The administrators, analysts and technical experts on the system gather every 2 weeks. They are the ones who get the bulk of the calls and, from experience, will have an idea of what needs to be communicated. These are also the people who will help me pull the initial metrics from the system to help me see whether what I am doing works.

- Go to the Enterprise Steering Committee meetings. This will allow me to hear some of the business issues and perceived training opportunities among the end-users out in the field. It will also give me a clearer understanding of what service the end-users expect the IT side to offer.

- Work with the Internal IT Enterprise folks to put together the training outline. Once the IT Enterprise folks bless the outline - present the outline to the Enterprise Steering Committee. The big advantage I see to this is that there will be more people to defend the plan.

- Once we get the Steering Committee's blessing, present it to the larger Enterprise Advisory Board. This is the final decision-making body. By this point, I hope to have some business-side / end-user defenders of the plan.

This will be significantly more time consuming than my normal needs assessment process. I'm thinking MONTHS longer.

I'm hopeful this will result in a more useful training and support operation in the long run.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Year of the Network

I've been thinking about Janet's post - Five Ways I hope NOT to screw up 2009.

In the shower
On the couch
At the grocery store

Wracking my brain to come up with 5 things I wish I didn't f*** up. 5 things I wish I did "better."

For the first time... the first year... I can comfortably say that I am really happy with how I handled things this year. Wouldn't change a thing about the past and wouldn't call anything I did a mistake. Thought about problem situations. Nope, wouldn't have handled them much differently either.

Actually - I find myself rather pleased with my progress:
- Didn't freak about shrinking deadlines

- Made a more concerted effort to involve stakeholders early in the process

- Provided drafts early during each project - which dramatically cut my development time and allowed the stakeholders to SEE what I am talking about.

- Caught any sticky political / project problems early and worked with my bosses to find constructive solutions (rather than freaking and whining).

- Got out and socialized with my eLearning colleagues more. So happy to finally meet some of my heros.

Not that there isn't room for improvement. So instead of focusing on how not to f*** up 2009, I want to focus on improving certain WorkLiteracy skills.

For me, this year is the year of the network. How to better cultivate and use my network to help with professional issues.

Some of the concrete steps I'm taking:

- You may have noticed that I have become more active on Twitter. As I mentioned to Mark O in the comments to his Micro v. Macro post, the increase in conversation between the Tweeters and the retweets /links provided by people I follow have made the space more valuable to me. And no, Mark - I am STILL not going to fully take off the editor to show people how dark I really am. :')

- I am also paying more attention to my Facebook account. Partially because my Twitter updates (which feed directly into my Facebook status) are attracting comments from my friends in Facebook. Also because, looking at my network, I've discovered that folks I've known for years have established some really cool careers for themselves and have been opening themselves (and their networks) up to provide help.

- I will be participating in at least one MMORPG this year. Mostly to look at how these spaces build communities and what elements can be used for online learning. I figure since I am not a "natural" gamer I am a good guinea pig. Plus - as I've admitted before, these things intimidate me. So the trick is figuring out how to get folks like myself involved.

- A harder goal - to get more involved in the eLearning Guild and ASTD. I'm attending the ASTD conference in DC this year (which, sadly, is at the same time as the Innovations in eLearning conference). I am also attending a vendor conference this year (which is going to prevent my attending the eLearning Guild Annual Gathering - should make the fall conference). I am in the process of thinking through exactly how I want to contribute this year beyond my conference blog posts.

- Do a better job of being a friend to my off-line buddies. More sociable people (like my SO) are very good at keeping in touch with people and inviting them to things. Me - not so much. Maybe it's that fear of rejection thing (never mind that these folks have tolerated me for up to 20 years). Because it's not just about maintaining the "on-line" network. Gotta maintain the "off-line" network too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

As Promised: Vacation Video

Ryan's comment after seeing this video
Wendy - that's PARASAILING, not WINDSKIING! Stoo.....


Yes - I say Um. A lot. Ummmmmmmm.......

I am disliking the way the still pics from my camcorder come over using the Mac. Sorry for the pixilation. I need to figure out a better process.

Fruity rum drinks + filming does not = best practice. Thank goodness we have better editing tools now.

I used iMovie on my Mac to edit this video. First time using this tool. Not bad for a first movie edited quickly. I'll have my thoughts on iMovie in a later post.

Update: Turns out we were BOTH wrong - that guy at the end of the video is kiteboarding.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In Preparation for the Inauguration

I live close enough to this weekend's festivities that I can walk from my house.

If I were so motivated.

And I'm not.

Lots of scary tourist people invading DC like a plague of locusts.

Finding out that if I leave my little corner of the DC Metro area anytime after Sunday afternoon morning, I may not be able to get back home.

Oh yeah - and we've been warned we may not have cell phone service. So no communications lifeline. As we speak, I am praying to the technology gods that my cable and internet continue to function over the weekend.

- TP - check.
- Milk - check.
- Enough food to survive one week without leaving the house - check.

Most places around here are closing through Wednesday because no one will be able to get to work.

I grew up here. Never seen anything like it. Hopefully - the reality won't be nearly as dire as the prediction.

Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.

My "to-do" list over the weekend:

- Finish my Dominican Republic vacation video using iMovie. The process is, sadly, going slower than expected. Mac is not my first language.

- "Evil Sue" Hickson - re: Everquest II - you are ON! I'll get in touch with you via Twitter. BTW - is only one of us allowed to be evil?

- Get in contact with the Manager so we can get our Wii's hooked up. I see rounds of Mario Kart in our near future.

- If I have internet this weekend, work more with Twitter. BTW - I think I broke my Blogger to Twitter feed. Harumph. Now I have to remember which tool I used to set it up and what my username / password is.

That should be enough to keep me entertained for 4+ days......

Look for me on Twitter - if it doesn't break this weekend :' )

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back from Vacation

Occasionally, I need to take a break from my pet computer to gain perspective. To remember how to function without the internet / smart phone etc.

Despite calls from the SO that I really NEED to bring the laptop (to check on Caps scores, of course), I decided that I was going to travel the way I used to. No computer. No phone.

Back in the day, before mobile, practically ubiquitous internet, I used to bring 3 things with me:

- A copy of the most recent Fodor's guide to whatever country I am visiting (in this case, the Dominican Republic).

- A hard-copy list of things I might be interested in doing and important phone numbers / contact info. (Credit card co's and the US consulate)

- A willingness to ask questions and talk to people.

Unlike all of my previous trips, this one was literally planned at the last minute. We had a general idea of what we wanted to accomplish while we were on vacation (golf, eat, sleep, maybe fish if the waves aren't too high). Did some research. Gathered some survival tips. Left one week later with passport in hand, Fodor's in the carry-on, the list, 6 days worth of clothing, golf clubs and a wad of US dollar bills.

One of the best vacations I've had in years.

We had well-defined objectives and we met them. Golf - check. Food - check. Sleep - check. Hanging at the beach to people-watch - check (and prime people-watching it was too! If I ever go swimsuit shopping again, I will think of the fearlessness of elderly Russian women.).

We gave ourselves enough flexibility if we found something better to do or the weather didn't cooperate (hence, no fishing pics this time). Furthermore, we had no obligations to meet (usually, we travel to see friends or family). As a result, our schedule was a lot more open. We did everything we wanted to do and had lots of time to siesta.

There is something simultaneously refreshing and challenging when travelling in unfamiliar cultural territory. Dusting off forgotten 20 year old Spanish. Eating unfamiliar foods. Playing golf. Hanging at the beach people-watching.

Somehow, this trip got the balance of new external inputs and familiar comforts just right.

3 things I learned while on this trip:

- Knowing how to say "hi", "thank you", "yes", "no", and "How do you say.....?" in the language of the country you are visiting pays huge dividends. I found that the more we made the effort to communicate with them (often badly) in their language, the better the service. I found this to be true in all of the countries I've visited (yes, even France....)

- Not having a computer or the internet forces you to talk to people and use their expertise. On this trip, I found this interaction to be more satisfying than the usual lonely round of online research + reading the reviews.

- Going to Caribbean resorts that market to Europeans (and Canadians) means better and more varied food! Just avoid anything that is "American-themed." :')

I've started working on the video of my trip (an excuse to finally play with iMovie). Hopefully, I'll have something posted before next Wednesday.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Game 11: Top Golf

This is Mike playing Top Golf. He doesn't know I took this picture (or posted it). He may kill me if he reads this blog.....

BTW - by the time you read this - I should be on a beach, umbrella drink in hand....

Game: Top Golf
Platform: The Top Golf facility in Alexandria, VA
Price: Varies.

Imagine a really tricked out practice range. Or a live version of a golf simulator.
That's this place.

The game is played with the following:
- 20 balls with a chip inside that has your name registered in it.
- A large field with flags and holes.
- Golf clubs.

Try to aim the ball at the holes. If the ball drops in one of the holes, you score. The score is based on how close you are to the flag. The ball doesn't make it in the hole - you don't get points.

Here's a link to the FAQs.

Is the game fun? Why? What I like about this setup is that you have a target you shoot at. The Top Golf folks have done a nice job of modifying their games for different levels and objectives. The standard Top Golf game allows you to aim at any flag - but if you accidentally get it in another flag, that's OK too. Other games are not so forgiving.

Do I want to play this repeatedly? It's pricier than the practice range. However, if I either want to goof off / play with friends and it's too crummy for a round OR I want to accomplish something very particular with more detailed distance feedback than I get from the practice range - this is a good place to go.

What did I learn playing it? That I am still crummy at golf.

First - the competition aspect. If I play with friends - I find that I am more inclined to practice distances that I am already strong at (the yellow flags at 75 yards out get LOTS of play from me). Depending on the objective - this may or may not be a good thing. In this last session - my strategy probably served to improve the accuracy of my mid-range game, but did NOTHING to help my distance.

Second - the allowance for slop. Top Golf has a series of games - some games require you to hit a specific target. Others allow you to hit ANY target. For first time / beginner golfers, the fact that you can still get points even if you don't hit it where you are aiming may be motivating. For more advanced golfers, misses might be inadvertently rewarded and potentially result in bad habits - like the time I was aiming at the green flag (125 yards out) and hit a fantastic shot into the brown flag (150 yards out). If I were on a REAL golf course - that baby would be in the woods / water / sand.

What element(s) can I use when designing a game at work?
When choosing to develop a competitive element, it's good to make sure that the act of competition does not inadvertently undermine the objective.

When designing the rewards structure, make sure you are not rewarding slop while keeping beginners motivated. Top Golf addresses this through different games - but the default game is pretty loose.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Game 10: World of Goo

Game: World of Goo
Platform: PC/Mac. Also available in Wii - but I can't play it on that platform right now because my SO has commandeered it.....
Price: $20.00 for the full version

This game combines a building puzzle with a story. Really entertaining. Especially if you like cartoon blobs. A demo version (a healthy-sized one at that) is available at the 2D Boy website.

Is the game fun? Why? The animation really makes this game. The developers have planted a backstory amongst what is essentially a puzzle game. I find myself becoming a huge fan of physics puzzle games. Why? Because, when done well, I can easily see how the contraption I build to solve a problem may work in the "real world." Even if I am missing specifics (like Goo with eyeballs that squeak at me).

Do I want to play this repeatedly? I'm really bummed that I haven't been able to get back to playing this yet. Hence the lengthy delay between Game 9 and Game 10. Stupid deadlines.....

What did I learn playing it? I'm afraid I haven't given this game as much attention as the other ones in this series. However, I was captured by the ability to use some of my prior knowledge of building things to solve the various puzzles in the game. The Marshmallow Tower icebreaker experience I had during grad school was particularly useful. And, no... I didn't eat the marshmallows. Didn't know where my teammates had been :'(>

What element(s) can I use when designing a game at work? Here is where this game's use of context helps. What can I pull from my audience's prior experiences to help them solve whatever puzzle I put in front of them to make my point?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Uhh...a Little Stuck on Game 12

I had hoped to get all 12 posts done by this time. There are 2 more games in the queue for the next couple of days.

But as you can see, I am a bit stuck.

I want to do a Massive Multi-Player Online Game as my 12th game. Something with real game structure.

But they scare me. New territory. And games, for me, have always been something of a solitary pursuit. The exception being when I am hanging with friends, in person. And, as many of you may have noticed, I am not a natural gamer.

So does anyone have any recommendations for a game to try? Recommendations / advice for getting into a more established environment (like World of Warcraft) without embarassing myself?



BTW - I will be utterly and completely off-line starting January 8. No Twitter, no Facebook, no phone, no computer, no blog. Just me, a companion, some golf clubs, and multiple fruity rum drinks. If you send me comments after January 7th - 10pm I won't be able to get to them until after I return on the 14th.

Hopefully, I'll have some fishin' and golfin' pics for you when I get back :')

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Game 9: Fantasy Football

My 5th place winning offense on Yahoo Sports.
Name blocked out to protect the guilty....

(BTW - I had screwed up the date in the post scheduler. So the cat is out of the bag...I am posting early....)
Game: Fantasy Football
Platform: I've played on Yahoo Sports and CBS Sportsline
Cost: Again - depends on how serious you (and your friends) are. You can do it for free if you have friends less gung-ho than mine.

Fantasy Football may be the closest I come to venturing into the MMOPG space. World of Warcraft and their ilk intimidate me. Unless one of you is willing to serve as a guide. Volunteers?

Is the game fun? Why? This is a game that extends itself over a long period of time. In both of the leagues I played in this year (yes, I got roped into 2. Don't ask ;) ) - the draft occurred during Labor Day weekend (around Sept. 1), playoffs started during Week 14 and ended Week 16. Each week - you have to re-set your lineup to account for injuries, sucky performance (Joseph Addai - I am talking to YOU!), trends, and surprise hot players (Matt Forte is my best mid-season pickup EVAH!).

Do I want to play this repeatedly? This is my second season. Peer pressure has a lot to do with my participation. It's a way to hang with friends in the online space, have common conversations (mostly consisting of talking smack), and, ultimately, strengthen relationships. 2 leagues is a bit much for me. I had a hard enough time keeping track of one team and who I was supposed to be rooting for.

I think I will be branching into Fantasy Hockey next year....

What did I learn playing it?

What I find most appealing about this game is the research component. I've learned a lot over the past 2 years about different players and how each of them work within given offenses. I also find tracking season-long trends great fun.

The biggest learning point for me this year - realizing that those overall season point stats are incredibly useful as the season moves forward and you are filling in roster holes. Just because a player is a "name" player doesn't mean he will be the biggest point-getter in your roster.

What element(s) can I use when designing a game at work? There are certain subjects that lend itself to this type of game structure. Finance and management are two that come to mind. Anything that allows you to track long-term trends over a course of months. I also find this structure does a nice job of "community-building" among folks who know each other in real-life.

Come to think of it....I wonder if there is a way to translate this structure into my little Security project.... Hmmmm.......

Friday, January 02, 2009

Game 8: Kongregate

Game: Well its really a whole bunch of games....
Platform: Online - Kongregate.
Price: Free!

While I was searching for games for this series, Christy reminded me of Kongregate.

Remember yesterday when I talked about recognizing and finding motivation for pushing past the frustration point. I think Kongregate has an interesting model.

Kongregate has a system of badges. The activities for obtaining the badges range from easily achievable to impossible. This approach does 2 things. It encourages you to try out new games that you would not necessarily try and it encourages you to play long enough to achieve the badge.

I've currently got 4 easy ones.

There is also an online card game as well. Collect cards by completing challenges / badges and play the game. I don't understand this nearly as well. But then, I wasn't much of a Magic the Gathering player either.


Playing the different games within Kongregate also demonstrated the importance of well designed levels.

Since our goal for many of the games we design is for the player to actually FINISH the game, we need to pay close attention to how the difficulty increases from level to level.

Too much of a jump, and the person may abandon the game because they don't want to take the time / energy to complete the level. Too little, the person gets bored and abandons the game.

An example of too small a gap - Music Catch

An example of too big (for me at least. I can't seem to get past level 6) - Super Stacker

An example of just right (and with a killer introductory activity to show you how it works) - Fantastic Contraption

I enjoy all of these games, but it was interesting to see where I quit in each of them and why.

Of course - you can always design a game like this if anyone complains that what you design is too easy.

Or you could send them on a scavenger hunt of mindless tasks. And yes, I WILL figure out how to change the elephant's colors.

FYI - Kongregate also has a very nice series of tutorials to teach you how to build your own simple flash game. Looks like I have a new project for this weekend....

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Game 7: Bowling

Game: Bowling
Platform: Real Life
Cost: Depends on how serious you are......

Some types of training require physical skill and memory. And not every game has to be on the computer.

Is the game fun? Why? I'll admit that this game is more fun when I am not doing it competitively. I don't have a particularly tuned competitive instinct and find I would much rather compete with myself (best score) over others. There is, however, something appealingly satisfying about obliterating pins.

Do I want to play this repeatedly? Erm....because I'm in a bowling league, I kinda have to. The things I do for my friends.....

What did I learn playing it? I find that when I learn a new sport, I go through phases.

- Phase 1 - serviceable enough to see some promise. This encourages me to continue playing.

- Phase 2 - moderate improvement. I'm getting more comfortable with the activity and more comfortable with the rules and culture surrounding the activity.

- Phase 3 - can't perform the activity to save my life. At this stage, I am overthinking everything. I feel like I should be getting better, mentally know what I need to do, and just can't get my body to do it. This is where the threat of quitting is greatest and unless there is some true motivation / reason for me to continue, I may abandon the activity at this point.

- Phase 4 - improved consistency. I find myself back at the level before phase 3. There is also a feeling that I am at the brink of "finding my game." I'm here now with bowling and I am finding myself motivated to practice more because "I'm almost there."

I'm hoping there is a phase 5 - where I get really good at what I'm doing. Sadly, I haven't found a sport yet where I can actually threaten anyone with my athletic prowess.

What element(s) can I use when designing a game at work? Now this model works more for repetitive physical tasks. And I kinda wonder whether my feeling of the phases is just me....or the natural progression of physical training....or what happens when you are working with your weakest intelligence.

I think the takeaway here is keeping an eye on that frustration point and finding the appropriate motivation to get people to push through it.