Pivot: It’s Time for Some L&D Spring Cleaning – by Joanne Astorga

Spring has finally sprung here in Canada and after record-breaking amounts of snow and rain many of us are finally opening the windows, letting fresh air in, and starting our spring cleaning in earnest. At home, spring cleaning takes the form of questioning the usability and continued value of household objects, furniture, knick-knacks, and clothing. As Marie Kondo fans well know, it can be hard to let go of the familiar but embracing a “less is more” approach leads to time saved looking for things, not to mention the energy required to clean, sort, and store them.

At work, L&D managers (and their teams) might also benefit from some springtime decluttering. Not of objects, necessarily, but of old habits and processes that no longer serve us well.

Here are four questions to ponder when embarking upon an L&D spring cleanup.

1. How many review cycles does a deliverable really need?

In my workplace we used to provide three opportunities for clients to comment on storyboards, with an alpha-beta-final pattern. Invariably, however, each storyboard went through an alpha-beta-final-final-final cycle, which added unplanned time to the project schedule.

When we stood back to examine the effectiveness of the process, we realized that we had one review cycle too many: no one took an “alpha” version seriously, because it implied it was brand new and unfinished. Similarly, very few reviewers paid attention to the “beta” because, well, it wasn’t finished either. Only on the “final” round were decision-makers and senior managers asked to comment, at which point their feedback added a fourth round of changes, reviews, and approvals.

The lesson we learned over many years: moving from alpha-beta-final review cycles to draft-final rounds on all deliverables can shorten project schedules by weeks, even months for larger training programs.

2. How many opportunities does a subject matter expert really need to comment on the learning solution?

Of course we want to include subject matter experts in the process of creating a new learning solution on a topic they know well. But asking them to comment on every version of the learning solution—from storyboard to prototype to programmed course—can create clutter. SMEs may provide the content for your new learning solution, but they are not the experts in learning solutions—nor are they the target audience.

Many of our clients have instituted processes whereby subject matter experts are asked to do two things: provide the information on which the course will be based; and verify that the draft storyboard is technically accurate in the information it shares. After those two contributions, the project manager or lead ensures that any SME feedback is incorporated into the subsequent version, and that the SMEs involved receive credit for helping bring the learning solution to life. In this simpler process, the project manager consults with members of the target audience about whether the course meets its learning objectives.

3. Do the requested changes help support the learning objectives of the course?

Marie Kondo’s key question is: “Does it bring you joy?” If the requested edits to text, images, animations, or narration will make some or all parts of the learning solution clearer, more engaging, and/or more effective, they are worth doing. If, however, the edits are based on subjective preferences or are unrelated to the key messages or objectives of the learning solution, don’t waste time and resources updating the solution. In other words, if a requested edit or change will not help or matter to the target audience, discard it.

Admittedly, this last piece of advice is easier said than done. But like all spring cleaning, a bit of rigor goes a long way. In my workplace we focus relentlessly on the learning objectives of each new learning solution, always asking: “Does this meet the agreed-upon learning objectives?” If the answer is yes, we let it go. If the answer is no, then there is more work to be done.

4. How much will this extra review round cost?

Another technique to convince those who want “just one more change” is to calculate the cost of the delay in terms of lost productivity, less-than-ideal performance, or any other metric the new learning solution is targeting.

If an occupational health and safety course is being delayed by SMEs who are fiddling with words, what is the risk and cost to employees who don’t have access to information they need to stay safe on the job?

In my work (and I suspect yours) it can be tempting to hold on to old processes and habits that once served us well. But we are all in the business of continuous improvement. For L&D managers, a bit of time spent streamlining familiar processes and decluttering old habits can result in extra time, resources, and even energy for other activities. Just like Marie Kondo promises.

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