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Surviving the J.I.T. Custom Training Project
by: Sonja Sakovich

The Just-In-Time (J.I.T.) process that took manufacturing by storm in the 8O's, infiltrated every area of the corporation in the 90's, is now a de facto standard. The concept of "overnight delivery" has become the expectation for almost every service, including training. What this does to the creative process is a topic to explore some other time, however today I'd like to address the ramifications it has on the custom design process in general and how we must manage that process in order to produce training that works for satisfied customers.

It is not uncommon these days to find ourselves, as either external or internal training consultants, to be designing a training program for a product, on-line tool, or service that is still in development. This means that there are no policies or procedures established for the product. In fact, it's a safe bet that your efforts in designing the training will uncover not yet anticipated procedural questions and perhaps even product specification concerns. Just to add some spice to the process, it also generally means that there are many cooks making the stew — that is, technical people developing the product, tool or service. This translates into many subject matter experts (SMEs) and reviewers who have a high level of "pride of ownership."

It is also not uncommon that the training you're developing is being done in a very tight time frame...in fact many sane people would say it could not be done that quickly! These two critical yet common factors - the short development schedule and the evolving product, tool or service increase the chances that your tried and true instructional systems development process (ISD) will be sacrificed - in part or in whole. Beware of this happening!

The usual steps in the ISD process include:
  • Task Analysis
  • Design Blueprint
  • Alpha Draft
  • Beta Draft
  • Final Draft
  • Production Hard and Soft Copy

This process looks very linear and well-defined, however we know that any custom design project may also require important project management details such as educating the client on each step of the process, managing the reviews, consulting on format if there's no standard to follow, negotiating hurdles, and meeting the expectations of the client team - which may seem at times to include a cast of thousands.

When a development project is large in scope - with writers, production staff, project manager and appropriate client counterparts, the project has the benefit of several interchanges and check-ins to help establish and monitor the parameters of the program itself, as well as the expectations of the customer(s). However, when a project is done in the J.I.T. mode, the emphasis is on the program itself: get it defined, developed and out the door. The process focuses on output — the training document. What can easily get short shrift are project management concerns and your contribution to the course development process. If these are not addressed (i.e. not paid attention to), dissatisfaction can begin to seep in ever so subtly. The client may begin to ask: "Where is the added value? We've been working so hard on this, maybe we could have done it all ourselves?" The expertise, creative input, and work that you, the course developer, bring to the table can be easily overlooked by the client who is busy with not only this project's delivery, but also with several other projects.

This can lead to general malaise that can take time and perhaps money to turn around. Even if the training is a "success" — the students love it and learn a lot- if you don't make opportunities for the client to attentively take stock of the work-to-date and sign off on the process, the training outcome may take a back seat to some general customer dissatisfaction.

Certainly J.I.T. projects are here to stay. We can't wish them away, so here are some guidelines that will help these spitfire projects hit the mark without any dismal side effects:

Process — Use your experience and expertise to adjust (not jettison) the tried and true ISD process to the particular J.I.T. project. Make sure to include the bare basics: 1) Your Letter of Agreement, including definition of deliverables, list of client SMEs and reviewers, and production specifications, 2) Analysis — SMEs have to be available, 3) Blueprint — at least a verbal presentation with outline and 4) Draft deliverables — make sure you are clear from the start on format and production standards.

Milestones — Review the Letter of Agreement. This is your first check-in for clarity of expectations and review of work-to-date. You have brought a lot to the table already! . Get sign-off on the Blueprint. This is your opportunity to clarify all parameters for going forward and to review work-to-date. Have all drafts reviewed and obtain from the client one hard copy with all the changes and additions.

Project Management — Don't overlook this key role — even if you're wearing multiple hats. Check-ins may be daily on a short project. Observe the client project manager. Is he or she actively involved — or is this just one more 'to do' on an already long list? If so, you need to be even more vigilant in keeping a handle on the project status. You need to have a pulse on all the key players and know what's moving and what's stuck. It is not unusual that you become the de facto project manager for both your team and the client's. Be ready for this and accept it as part of the beast. J.I.T. projects require flexibility, clear expectations and daily attention.

In summary, remember, we do have a development process that works and a lot of brain power and experience that we bring to the table. Within the fast pace of the workplace, it is our task to deliver on time and on the mark — with a clear sense of purpose and contribution.

© 2002, The Training Alliance, Inc.

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