Monday, March 11, 2013

What Can Sushi Tell Us About Learning?

"Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."
   -    Steve Jobs

Two things happened to me recently that seemed unconnected.  After observing both a light went on, and I realized that this experience was one of those threads that weaves it's way through your life for a subtle reason.

The first was a conversation with a customer.  They wanted a training class but were trying to go the cheapskate route.  An abbreviated form of the conversation can be summed up as...

Customer:  "I want to train my system admins in the software."

Me:  "Well we have a range of classes, but there are two basics I recommend to start.  One is four days and the other is three."

Customer:  "Perfect.  Can you do them over two days next week?"

Me:  "I can't do seven days of training on two days."

Customer:  "Well can't you just skip the exercises and give us the real important things?"

At this point in the conversation, and it is more common than I would like, there is a strong temptation to describe the fact that I don't include things in my course designs that are not important and that the exercises are where the learning occurs.  But I realize of they're asking this question they are not going to grasp this.  I also resist the urge to ask them so simply cut me a check and we can say we did the session so they can check the box on their implementation plan.

With the same compassionate tone I told my 12 year old he could not the ride his bike off the roof, I tell the customer I simply cannot provide that service.

In the other incident I was out at a sushi bat and the chef was describing how this was not so much as vocation as an art.  Sushi is about perfection.  We see delicious food but to the chef these are a constant attempt to create the perfect piece.  It can take months just to get good at create the little rice piece under the Nigiri.  Every aspect is about quality.  Every move is mindful.

At some point after the meal it struck me.  The Learning experience is about walking away with a new skill.  It's not about how much the Instructor can cram into a given time.  I would rather present four topics in a week that the learner can master, than to present 25 topics they will barely remember in two weeks.  It is the same mindful concept.

Maybe I need to discuss this next time with my customer over sushi.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

How Do You Measure Up?

There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you've made a discovery.
  -    Enrico Fermi

I'm big on measurement. I don't consider a learning development project complete unless I have a metric for success defined. Two years ago I was challenged to create a program that would shorten the time our engineers would get to a productive level. Next week we will debut a 5 week bootcamp program I designed to meet that challenge. It was a long and sometimes difficult road, but in the end its something we're all proud of.  But there was still something missing.

One of the things I pushed back to management was the ability to measure success. Survey sheets are good for gauging the mood of the learner at the end of the class (and not a lot more), and I could give a test (which I do) but that just confirms a short term memory.  I forced management to dig into their data and determine exactly how long it was that new engineers received assignments they could complete on their own, and we would compare that to measurements in the out years. That was difficult because it isn't just a field in a database, but a determination that has to be gleaned from many sources.

I feel that most of the time we don't measure success because, well, it's hard!  We like to think that if we identify a need and carefully design a learning program to fill that need, then we must have had some success.  Right?

But the bottom line is, you simply don't know.

So my question is, how do you measure success of your programs, and do you find it difficult to get management buy in?