Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Things I Got Wrong

The Tech Lead hunkers over her laptop, brow furrowed.

She looks up at the trainer, the last person in the room after a very long day.

Tech Lead: Why is everyone channeling their content in Search for Program?
Trainer: I told them to do it. Guess that's not right, huh.
Tech Lead: No - something else goes in there.
Trainer: My fault. Sorry.

Guess who the trainer is?

This scenario has happened multiple times this past week. In this particular instance, it was an easy fix.

Biggest error of the week essentially forces one team to completely rechannel and republish 300+ content items.

Making extra work for the tech team = bad.
Making extra work for the end-user = inexcusable.

Where I went wrong: I did not test the process once the code was up. I took the developer's word for how it works.

Lesson learned.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Hockey Break

One of the fantastic things about living near an NHL practice rink is the ability to catch hockey in July.

I managed to catch the first period of the Washington Capitals Development Camp scrimmage. Loved how they brought John Walton from the Hershey Bears to call the game, provided "goal" music and horns, and generally made it as close to a real game as possible.

With better seats. Managed to get right up against the glass. Better to see how big these guys are.

This was the view first entering Kettler IcePlex. Blue v. White.

As you can see, many of us had the same idea. Taking pictures against the glass. With cellphones (though props to the girls who actually brought a digital camera.

Unfortunately, none of my pictures caught:

- How BIG Joe Finley is. 6'7" 250 doesn't sound nearly as large as this guy appears in real life.

- The SAME Joe Finley racing down the ice to obliterate check whoever is going after the puck. I can see Ref's calling Icing just to save the poor sap who dares to go after the puck against the boards.

- Dmitri Kugreyshev's resemblance to Alexander Semin when playing. Very impressed with this guy. Didn't get a chance to catch Orlov (the "man-crush" among the Caps bloggers during this camp)

- The size and enthusiasm of the crowd. Fans ALL over the rink - cheering great plays. A more intimate (and sober) version of the Verizon Center.

The Twitter and blog coverage has been fantastic.

On Frozen Blog - the Live Feed
Tarik El Bashir - Washington Post beat writer. Twitter feed
Japer's Rink Twitter Feed

Is it October yet?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Open Workshops: Seeing What Sticks

The past couple of days have been open workshops.

The setup:

1 classroom, 12 computers.

People can walk in at anytime. The past couple of days - we've been open between 9am and 4pm (though 1 over-enthusiastic content creator met me at the classroom door at 8:10am this morning).

Support team - me (the trainer) + 1 technical person OR 1 content consultant.

How it works:

People bring their work with them and ask questions as needed.

If they want me to hand-hold while they perform a task, I do it.

If there are technical questions that I can't answer, the technical person helps.

Any troubleshooting or reporting of problems can happen right then and there.

Anxious folks become a tad less anxious.

Work gets done.

Everyone is (a little more) happy.

Impact on education:

Actually doing the task is where the real learning comes in - for all parties.

The student gets a chance to find out shortcuts and how to troubleshoot his or her own issues. Learning as needed.

The trainer/instructional designer (me) learns what made sense and stuck and what didn't. She also discovers what could be added and subtracted from subsequent training sessions.

The technical staff learns what works and what doesn't. They also find out what the common technical hiccups are and how to fix them.

Open workshops are grueling for the support team because there are many demands for your attention - even with two people.

As the "face" of the project, you get the brunt of any bitching feedback. And I will be the first to admit that it is tricky to handle comments on things you and the rest of the team can't "fix." I've had days on previous projects where "It's not personal" has had to be a mantra. This particular project, not so bad. I don't know whether it's because I've had a lot more support than I'm used to from the project team or whether I've finally developed a thicker skin.

Now that the formal "training" portion of the program is over and we are focused on support, I am starting to do the Evaluation portion of the ADDIE cycle. I'll be sitting with the project team on Monday to figure out how best to tackle maintenance training.

This weekend, I have an appointment with my couch to rest my gimpy ankles (developed tendinitis running and jumping rope - I am not built for speed) and overtaxed brain (developed from 7 straight 9 hour business days of classroom work).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 5: The Value of Workshops

Almost bi-weekly I see traffic and posts on the "uselessness of training." Especially in regards to implementation training for IT projects.

In an ideal world:

- The tool would be easy to use and so user-friendly that it would require little to no guidance for getting started.

- All stakeholders would have had a say in the decision so no need for training as sales pitch.

- And the tool would solve an actual problem at both the organizational level AND at the individual level.

In 5+ years of implementation training, I've seen that happen.....once.
And in that one holy grail instance, we just provided FAQs and help desk support.

I fear I have seen a once-in-a-career convergence of events, never to be seen again.

Since many of us are still expected to do implementation training (because that is a step in a project), this is the model I find useless:

- Drag people into a classroom 2+ weeks before go live.
- Give them a training on how to push the buttons and all of the cool features you are supposed to be able to do with the program.
- Give them an exercise that models the ideal world that they don't live in.
- Send them on their way.
- Pray go-live isn't a complete cluster****

I know this because I've designed and delivered this type of training before.

What I have been doing for this project is not necessarily "training" using this classic model. And though it has some flaws, the general consensus is that it helped.

Yes, there is an objective. The objective for the Vignette classes is for them to be able to get the work done that they need to get done. For the immediate future - that work is to get their content loaded for the new web site.

And like a good graduate-degreed instructional design-type person, I tried to design backwards from that.

To achieve the objective, we are spending quality time

- Logging people into the live system and fixing their permissions. None of this "training system" business. Yes, there IS a risk training in live, but the removal of having to get back to the desk and finding nothing working because they can't log in.

- Making them nose around in the areas they need to be nosing around in. Again, to make sure they have the correct permissions.

- Asking LOTS of questions about what they are trying to accomplish before AND during the session.

- Focusing only on their immediate concerns in the classroom. Give them other resources they can access later when they need it.

I designed this particular course to give them a few hours to get some of their actual content in the live system. This is their practice. NOT the phony "Here's how WE think you should do it examples."

As with any training, a baseline walk-through helps them visualize what is supposed to happen (especially when the system doesn't crash). I try to grab an actual item they need to turn into a web page. Provides context. I then try to let them loose on the system as quickly as possible.

Having them in the classroom and providing a couple of hours after the actual "training" for them to do real work has been where the true value of the implementation training has been. We can see if there are technical hiccups, access problems, disconnects between the content they need to load and the templates they have to work with.

The time also allows the team to answer questions about why things are the way they are. Or determine better ways to configure the system. Or at least address the thing they are scared of.

The best implementation training, I am finding, is a conversation. To do this, you need to plan for enough flexibility to make at least some changes (both from the IT end and from the end-user process end) so that whatever beast you are trying to implement works for the people who need to use it.

Yes, I hate it when someone feels the need to "redesign the application" 3 weeks before launch. Especially when that someone has absolutely no clue how to turn on a computer, much less what it takes to design, program and configure a major application. And most especially when that person has been involved in all of the decision-making meetings, but suddenly found they had an opinion right NOW (after being repeatedly asked for 6 months prior).

But underneath the whining is good information about usability and potential sticking points for when things go live. All stuff that can be addressed when you start designing tools and resources for those who come after.


We are now moving to the Open Work Session portion of the training. People will be walking in to ask questions and do some work with help available.

I think this is where the REAL education, for all of us, begins.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 4: Things that Work

Today was the most successful day training yet. First day that I could walk out of the room knowing that the folks I taught today had at least a fighting chance of being able to work with Vignette when they returned to their desk.

A few elements that seemed to make a difference:

- Introducing certain concepts early. Most importantly
+ Content / Project / Where you store your stuff (like the My Documents folder on your PC)
+ Site / Channel / Where you see your stuff on the website.

I didn't realize the whole concept of "channeling your content" was so foreign. Introducing this concept early AND repeating it often made a HUGE difference.

- Being more careful about context.
+ WHY you would start using the Preview site. (The preview site is best for editing or changing pre-existing material)
+ WHY you would start your content using your newly created Project folder. (Fantastic for creating material, even if you don't know where it goes yet. A situation sadly faced by many of our content contributors.).
+ WHY you would assign a channel. (Mostly for the situation when you have content, but didn't know where to put it).

Repeat early AND often. Now that I have a better understanding of how Vignette works within the framework of content development, I am finding it easier to explain why you would use one workflow over another. Remember, I am only a few steps ahead of my students in learning this application. If I hadn't done web development work before, I would have been in really deep doo doo in the first few days.

- Oh yeah, and did I say repetition of key concepts.....Today was a fantastic illustration of the power of repetition. It's like I couldn't talk about certain things ENOUGH.

It also helped that this was the fastest and most reliable that the system has been since I started the training. At this point, the technical issues I am encountering are more the result of hardware issues in our classroom rather than the application. We are replacing all of the PCs in our classrooms over the next month - so I can live with hardware hiccups. Especially if I have a few more computers than I need.

On the student side, the OTHER reason why today worked is that the students were able to actually take advantage of the workshop time we gave them.

Wow! I feel SOOO much better. I actually see PROGRESS!! I think we have a fighting chance of getting everything done!

Saw some of the same comments from the main content contributor in the first class. And he had more technical issues to struggle through.

It was good to have a day that validated my work. I was beginning to fear that the training portion was going to be a complete bust.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Day 3: Eliminating One Variable

The development team had a productive weekend. The system was up, running and twice as fast as before. Hooray for the Development Team! Hooray for getting rid of the crash variable!

Still had to fight through permissions (expected) and some technical issues (a result of my room being filled with Frankencomputers, not the application).

I am still finishing classes with the unmistakable feeling that I am not making any sense.

Maybe I tried to do too much at once in the instructional design. I tried to make the design applicable to both the implementation (where a tremendous amount of bulk entry needs to occur and which requires 1 process) and future editing (another process that is admittedly much easier when looked at by itself). Judging from the increasing confusion at the 1 hour mark, this may be too much.

I am still struggling with ways to communicate how to direct content into the site. Not just the notion of "channels" but with how to choose the appropriate content type for your page. It's much easier when they do everything from Preview - but I've run into too many instances where the pages they expect to load don't exist, or the wireframes aren't right, or there is misunderstanding / miscommunication regarding how things work.

I've also run into too many people who have been told they need to come to training, but don't know why. I had practically an entire class of that this morning. Thankfully, the manager who dragged that team in there told them, and me, that this was purely informational. Good thing, because I don't think anyone in that class got anything out of the 90 minutes other than time away from their desk.

The two people who are doing the actual work for this phase (the manager and his most tech-savvy subordinate), thankfully, DID get something out of the session and got even more out of the post-session work time. Why I am happy that we made sure this was a workshop with real work rather than a churn and burn training.

I dunno.... something still isn't sitting right with me and the way I feel this training is going. And I can't quite put my finger on it.

Maybe I'll find a solution tomorrow.....

Day 2: How to Punt

My sacrifices to the technology gods were for nought on Friday.

System up.
System down.
UserID and permission issues.

Thankfully, I was prepared for anything life threw at me.

I probably could have trained without electricity.

Good thing, because it had practically gotten to that level of badness.

In a fit of necessary optimism, I decided to use the day as an opportunity to practice my punting skills.

Here are the tools I had at my disposal:
- Quick References. Also known as "teaching from the book."

- PowerPoint. I had a baseline PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, as hidden slides for my reference, I also had multiple screenshots of the processes I planned to demonstrate. So glad I stopped myself from deleting these slides.

- A secondary / test site. Though this was up / down / suffering from some of the same problems as the site I was training on.

- Enough presence of mind to remember the above resources. This is a result of experience. Sadly.

- A sense of humor. Maybe the most important punting resource of all.

It was a long day. I will hear the results of my efforts towards the end of this week as to whether I even came close to my objectives as a result of these obstacles.

The Importance of Exact Terminology

One of my first, full-time "professional" (as in, I had "trainer" somewhere in my job title) corporate training jobs was at Johns Hopkins implementing an Electronic Medical Record.

Occasionally, when I would forget the name of the element I was pointing out, I would say "Click this thingie."

Poor JO (my boss at the time) spent a year removing the term "thingie" from my vocabulary.

My first lesson in the importance of terminology when training computer applications.

BTW JO - if you happen to run into this post through Facebook, thanks for everything! I haven't forgotten :')

The importance of terminology has hit home again with the Vignette implementation.

Case #1 - Template

Template, in Vignette, is the structure of the particular web page between the navigation and the footer that displays the content items created by the Content Creators.

Template, the way I chose to use it, is a generic content instance that serves as a partially filled in form. The Content Creator can use this partially filled in form to create multiple pieces of content without having to fill out the same items every time.

Is it any wonder why the students were confused.

One of the students told me a better term for my context is "Partially filled form."

I'm using "Baseline form" from now on....

Case #2 - Highlight

Highlight, in Vignette, a particular type of item within many content types that allows content creators to bring up a summary version of an article or story to another page. Usually consisting of a short title, 20 words of text and a 220x110 picture.

Highlight, as used when the content creators attempted to write materials for their web pages.

"Make sure you include 4 highlights for your content."

The problem occurred when we then tried to show them where they were supposed to put these for "highlights." Really, the material they wrote is content for 4 sidebars that would then be used to create a rotating sidebar. Completely different content type (with a completely different workflow) from a highlight.

Confused? They are too. Though now that they have finally seen the tool they are using to add all of this material, it is making a little more sense. Still - it took 30 minutes of class time to sift through the terminology.


Since this is still implementation, we are still trying to create a consistent terminology that bridges the gap between what the developers and technical folk understand and what the end-users understand. Trickier work than I had anticipated.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day 1: A Tolerance for Chaos is a Good Thing

As somewhat anticipated when doing training on an evolving system, things did not quite work out as hoped. They did work out as expected.

Some of the challenges:

- Users who were not completely set up. They have been trying to implement permissions and it has complicated the user setup process in unanticipated ways. Thankfully - Developer is a saint.

- Stakeholders who don't quite understand what they signed up for. Sometimes, the reality of a project doesn't sink in until they have to do the work.

- Stakeholder groups who realize that there are more decisions that need to be made NOW. This is a corellary to the above. One of today's groups spent much more time discussing consistency issues than I would have liked. Cut into the workshop time and, I suspect, may have helped confuse some of the audience.

- A trainer still trying to figure out ways to communicate the nuances of a very complicated system. Figuring out how best to explain getting their content from hanging out in the Content Manager to display on the site itself ("channeling the content" for those in the WebDev field) is a greater challenge than I had anticipated.

- A system that is still suffering from configuration changes and the occasional "crash". A known hazard of training in parallel with development. I've dealt with worse. But it's still very difficult and confusing for the student. All I can do is make my best attempts to mitigate the issue as much as possible. We are definitely going to do a follow-up with a couple of people affected by the technical issues.

Also found that my attempt to demonstrate Quick Action creation should have been done in the opposite order. Show the specific example, THEN show them how to create a generic to copy over. Lesson learned.

One of the team members insistence on having open sessions turned out to be a good call. We are going to need them. And I suspect they will be all hands on deck.

Overall, despite the preparation, the sessions felt disorganized and I fear that my goal of the end-user being able to work at their desk with a higher level of comfort was not achieved. I talked it over with the team. No one seemed bothered by it - and I got a thank-you from a couple of people. But it bothers me.

I'm gonna sleep on it and see if I can figure out a better approach....

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Last minute prep

One of the most exciting things about preparing for a class on a tool still in the throes of configuration is the excitement of not knowing what you will find when you go into training.

I spent the final afternoon before the training sessions start making sure I could do what I needed to do the next morning.

They had just finished installing a major build. Like, this morning.

As anticipated, things didn't quite work the way they were supposed to.
Actually, they didn't work at all.

So Developer (an alias, not his real name) and I spent an hour on the phone picking through the various issues.

I was thrilled he was willing to spend the time with me to get everything resolved.

His response:

I'm happy you are doing this NOW so we can make sure things are working well ahead of time.

I forgot how much people like it when their teammates try to anticipate issues BEFORE they happen.

From bitter experience, we both know that just because we are doing all of this preliminary work does NOT mean that we aren't going to run into major hiccups first thing tomorrow morning. But at least we can later look at each other square in the eye later on, knowing that the other did what they could. Besides, the blame game when you are standing in front of a full class with no working machines is not a particularly productive way to go.

To complicate matters for tomorrow morning - I am walking into a classroom where the computers have all just been replaced. First user. No IDEA whether any of them work. And I need ALL of the computers in the room to work (full house - both classes). Oh, and those computers won't be ready until.....tomorrow morning.

Fear and pessimism - powerful motivators for preparation....

Say a prayer to the technology gods for me, will ya?

Initial Training Plan for Vignette

A little background on Vignette as it applies to my institution.

For this project, I am training folks on two editing tools.

The first is a tool I am calling "VCM". This is the "back-end" editor and allows bulk content loading and publishing along with the ability to work with files not ready for assignment to a particular location on the web site.

The second is a tool I am fondly calling "Preview." This is a copy of the actual site with focused access to VCM for editing. They click a pencil, make the changes in the content, save the content.

Preview allows the content contributors to see what the content will look like on the site and how it will behave before it is actually published to the site. Preview has the added advantage of minimizing the amount of time the content managers have to spend looking for the correct file to edit.

The challenge, from an instructional design perspective, is determining the correct balance of information between the two tools for the different audiences. Since we are in implementation phase, there is significant bulk content management activity. Going forward, however, most of their time will be in the Preview area fine-tuning material.

The entire team is aware that the first two days of classes may result in some changes as we figure out the optimum balance between the two tools.

We gave each class 3.5 hours.
- 60-90 minutes of "training"
- 2+ hours of "work time"

All of the training will be in the live Vignette server. Risky, but necessary since the development team is still implementing builds in the test server that I would normally use for training.

Not a big deal - they would need to be in the live server anyway to get their work done.

Besides, this allows me to show them how to do some user account configuration. Shortcuts = Happy people.


We will also be working with the document management tool the teams are using to organize their content. Flying a bit blind as to how familiar the content contributors are with the document management tool. Hopefully, I won't have to spend too much time on this application.


The final objective to all this - by the time the student is kicked out of my classroom, they have gotten some content in the live system and they are reasonably comfortable with the tools at their disposal.


I will be writing at the end of each day.

Debating with Myself - and a result

I've been debating whether to take a long-term hiatus from the blog. For various reasons:

- Time - I've got some big projects, both personal and professional on deck from now until April 2010

- The feeling I don't really have anything new to add to the space that I haven't already said before. Maybe I'm afraid that I am doing the same thing over and over and haven't found the energy to get out of the rut.

- General social media burnout. Which may be related to the concern stated above.

- Work issues that are not appropriately discussed here. Don't worry - I still like my job most of the time and my employers still seem to like me. Just a hiccup that doesn't illustrate anything productive and has not resolved itself into a tidy lesson yet. So far, the only lesson I've gleaned from the experience is that I'm glad I'm not management.....

I seem to go through this funk after conferences. This time seemed worse than usual. Not entirely sure why.

After fitfully sleeping on it, I realized that I haven't really documented a project since the Electronic Medical Record project.

Since the ASTD / Innovations in eLearning marathon, I've been involved in a major revamp of our web-site.

Maybe the web project didn't seem so interesting because communications across groups (content, developers, training, management, SMEs) have gone fairly smoothly. Despite some concerns by some of the stakeholders - the project has been well planned. Most importantly, the product itself is fairly user-friendly.

Training, for this project, really serves 3 purposes:
- To communicate information on the project (particularly governance and formatting) and discuss ways to work with the tool more effectively.
- To give people a safe and focused area to work with resources at hand for questions.
- To make the really nervous content providers more confident about their ability to finish the admittedly large task they have at hand.

The pilot went very well. I received some productive feedback on the material and clarification on the tool - both from a technical "best practice" perspective and from a functional "this is what they are up against" perspective.

The team is racing through some last minute configuration changes and builds. If all goes well - I will be spending this afternoon finalizing documentation and doing one final walk-through of both designed classes. a) to make sure I have an idea of what I am talking about and b) to make sure the system works. If all doesn't go well....I've got enough PowerPoint slides with screenshots to punt. ;')

I've always got the technology unga-bunga dance in my arsenal if it gets really ugly....

So over the next 2-3 weeks, I will be journaling the training for Vignette.

Should be fun....