Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cared Mentoring vs Public Advice

To be a good manager, the subtleties of mentoring vs advice is paramount. This post is about investment of time to build a great workforce and is similar in lines to my earlier post where spending time to ensure the team "gets it" instead of mere "buy-in".

Cared Mentoring
  1. What teachers do on one on one discussions.
  2. What managers do on one on one sessions and appraisal discussions.
  3. What Parents share with you in close moments and in various occasions.
  4. What friends come around to warn you in ecstasy and goad you to carry on when chips are down.
  5. When customers teach you their business to help you do better.
  6. When you recognize you are being comforted instead of being flattered.
Public Advice is
  1. When you address a one-size fit all approach.
  2. When you address issues on expected lines rather than taking the root cause heads on
  3. When you appear to speak to the head and heart but not to intellect and emotions.
  4. When there is a bullet and presentation rather than an impromptu speech.

I have always loved my network to be with mentors than advisers. Do you yearn for the same traits as I do ?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Deriving Content Value: Design vs Repurposing

This distinction may not be a need for every e-Learning professional. But when you know it, the demarcation will:
  1. Add value in scoping, and
  2. Aid in winning business with differential pricing. :)
Content Design: is the set of tasks that transform a base content to a presentation-friendly, interaction oriented e-Learning module. The goal is transformation here. The source and the end output are different and become 2 independent content source streams. The process requires multiple skills (Instruction Design, Interaction Design/Visual Design, Producers, Integrators, Multimedia specialists, Testers, Project Managers with multi-faceted understanding). The accent and importance is on design and technology. The aim is to give an experience on screen that is
 1. Interactive
 2. Readable
 3. Self-paced

This is opposed to content source formats that mostly are available in forms of
1. Static
2. Typed and
3. Heavy.

hence the transformation is required. Content Design is still an esoteric view of e-Learning and proves an entry-barrier to many organizations. This requires
1. Specialists
2. Continous presence of vendors at customer site and
3. Is deemed complex to understand from traditional IT process

These, coupled with IT priorities of a CIO, ensures taking the first step towards e-Learning enterprise a seemingly uphill tasks. Sample these regular challenges for implementing and driving e-Learning in organizations.
  1.  A deep commitment of management,
  2. Dedicated bandwidth of resources for these projects and
  3. Understanding from senior management to sustain it during rollout to users which is another change initiative that requires psychological selling.
Hence, as stated in my earlier post "Top 10 considerations for choosing an e-Learning vendor", the kind of people you hold together is important for the e-Learning program success. In other words, it is not the vendor that matters. What matters most is the team that is working for you and the management commitment towards you as customer which should be the focus for selection.

Content Re-purposing: is the set of tasks that seek to make the existing assets learning ready. The aim here is to re-use base content as much as possible. The source and end output are in same family and with intelligent process get managed from single source. The process requires 2 skills (Instruction and Interaction design with technical know how). The accent and importance is on reader-friendliness, web-compatible technologies. The aim is to give an experience on screen that is
  1. Media-oriented
  2. Learner Centric break down
  3. Modular-chunked to make them self-paced and
  4. Interactive with pre-defined templates

For example: A Video capture needs topic identification, cleaning up the source to make them more flow-oriented, add preamble, topic leading phrases and making it in smaller chunks to assimilate information without overwhelming with the video details to get it in e-Learning shape.

The entry barriers are low. It requires simple tools and finding the required skills in a single person is relatively possible. (Skills are combination of learnedness and acquired skills.) Content repurposing is the busy manager's view of e-Learning as a typical
  1. Low cost,
  2. Low risk,
  3. Low key initiative and
  4. That can be managed within given constraints.
Content repurposing would be the ideal start point to companies stepping into the energized world of realizing business benefits through e-Learning. The primary tasks of turning over all digital assets and repurposing them into a learning program gives organizations:
  1. The much needed impetus and inputs to delve into a program of this nature.
  2. Allow for enough user feedback before committing budget to a full fledged e-Learning program.
  3. Provide time for iterations in enabling users learn more and more through e-Learning models.
  4. Give credibility and reduce risks towards achieving goals of learning organization.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Social Media Adoption: 10 Yellow Hat points say not all social media is bad for organization

My earlier post "Antithesis for Social Media Adoption: 10 points to answer for getting buy-in" was the black hat thinking that happen to be the primary and gate keepers thoughts when any initiative is triggered by a group.

Having said above, wearing "yellow hat" tells me that not all social media tools should to be firewalled in enterprise.

1. Bookmarking Evolution: Remember the days when we clicked on bookmarks from browser menu and it used to roll on and on taking browsing time for searching within bookmarks cumbersome. Not any more. Delicious, Digg, Stumble upon are worthy tools that provide gems from heap in lesser time.  One Riot searches the phrases in realtime social media platforms as they occur. So giving access to them would save on bandwidth and time to read up with interest.

2. Subscribing to blogs  relevant to business are good form of encouragement and letting control to users to comment/share it among themselves. RSS Feeds can be shared across people. Tools like BlogRovR are online and can share the RSS feeds without moving the physical files. The like minded recommendations is what makes a social gathering impressive and talked about. Same for corporates also. First, remember, that corporates are part of social animal. Not a place which cuts of societal considerations for business purposes.

Having a diverse and dispersed team scan related tags relevant to enterprise and contribute to tagging multiple sites which have compatible license agreements would benefit the entire organization that otherwise relies on google search.

3. Social media presences enhances organization credibility:
There was a time when individuals felt proud of being part of an organization. The internet world has flattened and would eventually flip the equation. It is the people with whom the organization is associated that would be business differentiator.

4. Person dependent network of networks gives a wider reach: This is of course, the organic way of growth. With organic, there is guarantee of good health. It is important to adopt social media, if your organization needs a viral support.

In my earlier post "Ideas and Ideanets" I postulated that it is connectors (people) who boost the nuclear reaction and the power in the idea as it travels multiple nodal points in the net. This is the way Social Media operates. Organizations need to tap into power of ideanets of individuals to overcome the "size inertia". If an organization is in, say, facebook, then you either be in their network or out of the network. While if you are as an individual in facebook, your network and network of networks have a chance to know you better. Knowing a person better boosts the organization credibility in terms of the resource qualities.

5. Leadership skills are about your recognition and reach:Well, leadership and management books do not talk about this. But to me a good leader can throw his/her weight around to reach right people and get the job done. A leaders motivation skills, oratorial skills and other business acumen skills are secondary compared to this one skill if practiced right.

I need a business. You can get the best brains in the company to put their 200% on the back room and liason work. But the crack moment is only when the leader lifts the phone to place a call and cement the deal. This then means that leaders at work needs enough recognition and reach to socialize for organization benefit. What better way than to use social media and create a niche.

6. A good tool for Introverts: I attended a MBTI training session and was found to be introvertish. True to my character. Now, if I have to climb the ladder and be the leader as wished in #5, then I need to take personality transformation session. A better way for introverts to open up is to be part of the social media. A tweet, here and there, a blog, a contribution to a forum, a simple recognition, the etiquette of peers, mentors and admirers go a long way in shaping the career of introvertish personalities. Isn't then the organization responsibility to take interest in personal development of their own resources ?

7. Contribution is the key: Many organizations culture is seeped in knowledge hoarding. Many new joinees come with the mindset that to grow they need to own more. But what a wrong way to start the career. Experience has taught all of us that to grow you let go of your current responsibilities. The best way then is to contribute to a knowledge pool and give training to people who can step up to your current roles. At same time, you go ahead and dip in the same pool to grow further. The best tool to encourage contribution is social media. Without meaningful contribution, you don't exist in the internet world.

8. Social Media is about "identity revenue": "Oh! I have heard good stories about him/her!". Don't you feel positive vibes when some one speaks the sentence. Wouldnt intuition say that the meeting is going to go well. In social/business conversations, the best way to start, direct and end conversations is to discuss about people whom we mutual admire (well cribbing about a person is also a great bonder. But could pull down a mehfil into serious mode.) This then gets to a win-win situation. This identity revenue is lost if there is no one you know or connected with.

9. Content is the new currency: If your identity is the revenue stream, then content is the currency to trade in this economy. You either aggregate content from multiple sources to a chosen theme or be the author to create new content or a synthesizer to bring together multiple sources under a single topic to build a fresh perspective. FMCG companies have realized this and contribute heavily to create content consumers. They charge up mind share in shelves and in internet steps. The approach to allow their community connect in their own platform brings them as extended family with minimum investment.

Just that IT companies have not understood the full potential (except share few white papers and turn their sales materials in public domain.)

10. There is no disadvantage with social media: Just tell me if you can spot one. Well, yes, people can spat public with a lose-all proposition. But isn't that transactional for the audience. The parties hurt need introspection. But we dont remember these spats over the long run. That is the beauty of social media. Negativism is buried deep with lots of positive energy around.

Embrace social media for a better business and personal growth trajectory.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Top 10 considerations for choosing an e-Learning vendor

1. The team that is to be committed to you: Any organization has skills, people of varied quality. The group dynamics is of utmost importance in good solutioning exercise. Not all would you want to be star performers in the group. The team will "over heat" quickly with differences. What you then need to ask is profile of people who would be committed on project and visit them to check their internal working dynamics.

2. How much time the vendor and you are willing to ideate together: Believe me, the execution and implementing an e-Learning course is a negligible figure compared to the remaining tasks that are required for a good quality e-Learning program. The ideation phase is always given the short drift. The normal drift talks go something like "You are the experts. Advice us on the course of action to take." Vendors say "We know what works better. Let us adopt the 'yy customer' style."

Another reason why you should Ideate together is because typical e-Learning projects work in Fixed Price model. In this model, the ideation time and solutions that come out of it may vary from the initial commitments. Hence both sides find it convenient to accept ideation as design.

But if you are interested in e-Learning implementation, get to talk and ideate with the people either in presales stage or in initial stages of project.

3. Take quicker decisions: This one is for you, the customer. The vendor role is to insist and ask for them. Many a times, I have seen managers not wishing to ask customers to take a decision. Things like "Don't we know the best for them" is the mindset that leads to quirks later in the day.

This eventually is the #1 cause of change orders, risk escalations, and eventual project delays with resource burn rate at faster pace.

4. How much Risk the vendor can take for you: Remember "going the extra mile". The question normally asked is how much miles ? Rather you should ask "What is the quality of the miles covered." What risks the vendor is confident to take on your behalf. This also gives you the judgment of the treatment and the confidence levels in the team on the project.

For my customers, I typically take the risk of going ahead even without sign offs or directly showing the final output instead of storyboards. Many a times, it has helped and helped my clients better with saving their time and knowing what they get in the first instant.

5. How transparent is the working: You may not need to know, who is working on what tasks daily. But you still need a tab on the project. Many times, customers rely on reports from vendors. Ever cross-checked with vendors or audited the reports ? If not, recommend you do it now. This is not to say that you would be surprised or vendor is making a mistake. I too am a vendor and always feel all vendors would be good to customers. The simple step is to ensure good health for the project from vendors side as well.

6. Can Senior Management give time every fortnight for the project: We call it "Steering committee meetings". You may want to call it anything. But it is important that senior management come in and exchange notes that augurs well for the project.

Do not give a project to a vendor where senior management delegates their meeting time to another standby member.

This is critical of all. In my earlier company, we had a monthly one-one where my boss with my peers boss at client side would discuss project progress at high level. More than project escalations, we learnt so many cultural sensitivities that made both of us (me and client PM) do better in the project.

7. Do they use XML standards: Sounds technical right ? Yes, it is. But it is important that you know. XML is a beautiful language: Not a good answer.

The understanding should be: It is a wonder system. Why? It is the key and answer to save your investments.

XML is semantic language. It is mostly relegated to developers to create their own tags. Ask if the XML structure has been checked by an interaction designer or an information architect. You can open a file and going through the tags; do they make sense? The semantics of tags need to give the right meaning. XML as a rule of thumb must be used for
1. All textual content
2. Defining the structure of e-Learning program
3. Describe and Define Assets used in the program

More than this, it is the creativity of the teams to manage and use XML technology better.

Every one now claims they use one.  The key question to ask is what is XML used for and how it is going to protect your investments? Check the proof yourself, if presented a chance.

8. What numbers do you get: Insist on EVM (Earn Value Management) formulas and numbers/ratios outlined in EVM. These, by far to me is the best project control and forecasting method.

9. How are you tracking efforts: You will get a great manager and a wonderful team. But what is the system to track progress ? You need your vendor to make profit to serve you next time better. So it is in your best interest to track efforts and progress, lest they come to you next time to make up for the costs incurred in first project ;)

10. What freebies can vendor offer: Well, how can we leave this aside? Isn't this the major swing factor in decisions? Evaluate freebies carefully. Many will sound too good, but if you really want it, take it. I am a vendor and I first think, what will it take me to not get into a trap. So it is better to carefully negotiate the freebies. Meaningful freebies are warranty, support, administration, training, user feedback analysis, or may be a demo package at reduced cost, etc.

You check what you want and ask for the same. Freebies should be just that: "Free" as in bird than "Free" as in puppy. The after effects should not be costly for you. Further freebies should not be demanded that they are hidden in cost.

A genuine freebie in my experience, has given me good customer relationships to savour for a long time.

11. Freebie point to this post :) - Is SCORM required? Short answer: Yes. Long Answer: Understand the benefits of SCORM and utilize the tags mandated in your project definition. (If you don't have one, just assume you are creating one.) Creating SCORM just for launching the course in LMS, is not a good utilization of the power of SCORM packages. SCORM exists to describe about the course in as much detail as possible to enable search, re-use and re-hash. Are you getting near these objectives with your SCORM courses ?

When you "get it"...

That is the belief moment that you can do it;
That is the conviction moment that it is worth it;
That is the "Aha" moment that it is good cause to live for;

Most managers opt for a "buy-in". The typical business to go about it requires:
1. Addressing a gathering
2. Saying nice things
3. Putting up a rosy picture
4. Asking for support
5. Creating awareness with little bit of motivation (some do) strewn around.

Rather when you take pains for users to "see it" and "get it", you get to slog a lot more. They include
1. Spending time with groups.
2. Understanding the view points
3. Giving the balanced picture
4. Request for volunteers and nominate people to help you in cause
5. Generate Buzz, excitement and access to true picture.

When you want
  1. An idea to be shared (not communicated, as is the oft committed mistake) and implemented,
  2. A change to be rolled out (where the betterment for you is paramount and explained)and adopted
  3. To make an impact that results in an affect-effect relationship (that is going to make you wake up to a different tomorrow),
you may want your users to "get it" than "buy it".

Is it worth the effort, though ? Your comments would help.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Antithesis for Social Media Adoption: 10 points to answer for getting buy-in

While social media has its fan-following, its application in business always polarize debates. Often the arguments take charge between teams labeled "control freaks vs freedom/de-centralized champions". These hardly get us to a decision that is backed by logic any time. At end, it is a writ that is dictated to follow which is more of an appeasement policy rather than a bold step. 

This post, is my attempt to play "Black Hat" advocate for social media adoption in business. All of them are my adaptations based on what I see and hear in my peer and working group.

1. Social Media tools are a distraction: Very diverse than emails. More frequent than emails. Create more flood than emails. Lots of time management tips revolve around checking emails are designated time window and closing the responses in the same window. To add another transaction window for social media would be a seemingly simpler solution. Is it worth yet from working productive hours?

2. Time to visit Social Media pages is time-consuming: Take twitter for example. With lot of tools, you can track tweets which splits your attention from main stream task at hand. Then you are distracted to visit links, then may be visit another, perform an action like comment or retweet all in middle of work extends the working hours. Take FB for another: Writing on a wall, commenting on another status, checking farmville updates are not required for business - right? Or a case of answering a question in a LinkedIn group. It takes time, effort, proof reading to post a response, since it is business people who seek out these places to check out profiles and quality of responses.

3. Social Media attraction is a temporary infatuation: When work catches up with you, when you are in fire-fighting mode, when you are ill, you don't find time for using any of your social media tools. It is then just a convenience or an exercise of freedom revolving around self-centricity. How much aligned is it for organization goals, is a management query that remains unsolved.

4. You don't miss anything, if you are not on Social Media: You may get a breaking news from another country. Or openings suiting your profile. Or a video just shot or streamed real time. But a breaking innovation story that is life changing will still be viral through traditional media, experts advised columns, blogs, presentations, videos or a well planned and executed event to garner the critical mass and make a social impact. News channels don't break news on social media and do their coverage. Rather, they link their coverage in social media to expand eyeballs to gain advertising revenue.

5. It is safe to assume no learning happens on Social Media: Can you remember the last update you made in FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspaces, Google Buzz ? How much relevant is it for the consumer in their day to day life ? What social media provides is information in drones. What stays as learning is a carefully chosen topic of interest that is iterated, read and re-read from a closed set of authored content over a good lengthy period. How much social media helps this cause is still a matter of personal opinion.

6. Social Media is information guzzler: The problem with guzzlers is that the work done vs fuel consumed is irrationally proportional to each other. Can you possibly check out every video in You Tube, track every tweet or every presentation in Slideshare? Would you want to guzzle information or take in chosen snippets from a few select mentors?

7. Is there a social cause in social media:
Shouldn't social media be used for society, of society good, and by society. If so, do organizations use social media for business or social media for a social cause. Umair Haque column "Social Media to Social Strategy" is a great read in this regard.

8. You miss your immediate society:
To be on FB, Twitter, Linked In with your connections, means missing time with immediate family, friends, social neighbors and missing get-together. Is it worth the cause to not seek the expert within your "reach range" than seek out a "internet pal"?.

9. Social Media needs utmost protection:
May not seem like a place for theft, rob or mugging. But it is a place where bad expose leaves a trail to your real character. It is a place where rules are minimal and hence one to one flirts leave a bad taste. It is a place where emotional outbursts can be played upon to sway people towards positions they find it hard to come back around.

10. Social Media needs baby sitting:
If you have been baby sitting you will know what I mean. The nurture, the care, the attention, the sensitization, maintaining the sanitation is a full time job. It is a highly focused and demanding exercise. It is a continous cycle. It requires discipline in ensuring timeliness. All of this is applicable for using Social Media well and shower the love back at you. Is it possible to do it as part of your job unless you have a mandate to do so?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Learning Snippets: Quick suggestions - for conference call

I was to enter a conference call with US client and drive the demo and presentation. My colleague gave this piece of advice to follow:

Shrini, some quick thoughts.
  1. Ask if they have questions.
  2. Make short sentences if possible.
  3. Long silence in the team on call, may detach them …
Wisdom in every quarter is a welcome learning snippet. The ability of the snippets to repeat itself before an occasion makes the impact bigger.

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