Better eLearning: Agile, LLAMA, and Lean

Agile project management is an approach for managing a creative design and build process, where team members accept and expect change throughout the life of the project as they manage time, budget, and scope to completion. The lot like agile methods approach (LLAMA) marries the best practices of the IT world’s agile project management with instructional design best practices to deliver truly effective eLearning in an orderly-but-flexible way. Agile was first conceived by the software industry around the turn of the century, and the learning world (through approaches like SAM, A.G.I.L.E., and LLAMA) is seeing the benefits of this method as well. Estimating and building in small chunks, iterative development, and frequent customer communication are hallmarks of the agile process.

Lean principles heavily influence agile’s “orderly-but-flexible” project management style. Growing out of the total-quality-management movement, people have applied lean principles in manufacturing for decades and they have now taken firm root in healthcare as well; but viewing service processes (such as the design and development of eLearning) in light of lean is relatively new on the scene.

The eight wastes of lean

A wealth of lean literature, education, and consulting exists out in the world, but for the sake of this article, we’ll use a short definition. Lean derives from Japanese manufacturing processes, and offers a set of tools to systematically identify and eliminate waste from production systems. They define “waste” in lean as anything that does not add value to the customer. Waste adds time and cost, without increasing value. There are eight commonly recognized wastes of lean:

  1. The waste of defects: The processing required to make a mistake, detect it, and then correct it. This one is pretty easy, especially if you grew up in the total-quality-management era. Mistakes are expensive at best, hazardous at worst.  
  2. The waste of over-production: Producing more than is required to meet the needs, or producing it faster than is needed. This is when you are simply making too much “stuff.” We think of this in terms of lettuce. If you grow too much lettuce, and can’t sell it all, it rots on the truck and is useless. (Not to mention the fact that people get sick of eating lettuce and become turned off.) As we all scurry about to “do more with less,” stop first to consider whether “more” is actually useful.
  3. The waste of over-processing: Putting in more work or effort than internal or external customers need. We all want to do our very best and we like to show off our skills. It’s how we stay employed. Before you create your next 3-D-gamified-scenario-based-streaming-video-social-storytelling-mobile-xAPI course, eliminating this waste requires that you ask whether all that is really necessary for this one.
  4. The waste of inventory: Excess raw material, work in progress, or finished goods. What does “inventory” mean in a services environment? It’s work that you have completed but not yet delivered. This work provides no value to your customers. And just like the lettuce, it can rot quickly. (Professional services firms often define inventory as completed work that they have not yet billed. The goal is to keep that inventory fresh and small.)
  5. The waste of motion: Any movement of people’s bodies that does not add value to the process. This one might be deceptive at first, but don’t be fooled. Just because we eLearning types tend to spend a lot of sedentary hours at a keyboard or in meetings doesn’t mean we’re not committing the waste of motion.
  6. The waste of transportation: Transporting goods further than necessary or temporarily relocating and moving them. In the eLearning world, this is the transportation of people, files, and data.
  7. The waste of waiting: Waiting for people, material, machines, or information. The waste of waiting is familiar territory for most of us; waiting on content, reviews, sign-offs, and release.
  8. The waste of time and intelligence: Under-utilizing people by not allowing them to fully use their knowledge and skills. Perhaps this waste hits us closest to home as individuals and in our roles as professionals.

Sources and remedies for the eight wastes of lean

We gathered some of the best minds in learning today—the ones gathered at the Management XChange stage at the Learning Solutions 2014 Conference—to explore this topic in some depth. Yes, that’s right; this article has been completely crowd-sourced. After a quick introduction to agile (of the LLAMA sort) and lean, we all spent a lively hour identifying sources and remedies to each of these wastes. Here’s what we came up with. Please add to the comments below to keep the ideas flowing.

The waste of defects

Sources:

  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of careful or informed review
  • Loss of direct connection to business goals and outcomes
  • Poor needs analysis
  • Incorrect SME or their lack of time or focus on the project
  • Last minute changes to the product or process being trained

Remedies:

  • Identify SME needs and expectations up front with the business.
  • Plan for frequent, small iterations so you can make (and fix) the small mistakes faster. Skip the big mistakes altogether.
  • Test as many iterations as you can with actual learners and/or their immediate supervisors.
  • Conduct an agile retrospective to proactively collect lessons learned and apply them to future phases and projects.

The waste of over-production

Sources:

  • Duplication of effort, where the same training is developed in two (or more!) parts of the organization
  • Content-driven courses that include everything but the kitchen sink “just in case” someone needs it
  • Development of more training than is needed (for example, developing training for skills the learners already have)

Remedies:

  • Define a clear and shared vision of course objectives, including the use of techniques like Cathy Moore’s action mapping to ensure that they tie to performance and goals.
  • Improve communication and collaboration across groups developing training within an organization.
  • Pay attention during the “A” of ADDIE to pre-existing skills and knowledge.
  • Follow the agile principle: Simplicity—the art of maximizing work not done—is essential.
  • Design flexibility around learning the entry points to learning to account for differing skill levels (instead of dragging everyone through the most basic training needed only by a subset).

The waste of over-processing

Sources:

  • Development for too many different platforms
  • Creation of more bells and whistles and neat features than are required
  • Minor changes requested by the business that have little or no apparent value to the learning

Remedies:

  • Work with stakeholders to define what “done” is for the project (and when the churn will stop).
  • Pay attention during the “A” of ADDIE to what delivery platforms are really used.
  • Define agile iterations by platform to be delivered, starting with the most popular or most critical platform.
  • Coach reviewers and SMEs to provide appropriate, useful feedback.
  • Make intentional decisions about what requested changes you will make, instead of making them all.

The waste of inventory

Sources:

  • Rework that is done when project sponsors change their minds
  • Waiting for product release before training is needed
  • “Hoarding” of project files, drafts, assets, etc. in multiple locations
  • Work on one aspect of the project holding up all the completed parts from release

Remedies:

  • Improve communication and collaboration across groups for release planning.
  • Minimize the amount of work in the flow at any given time by limiting your “in progress” tasks.
  • Release training on each platform or component as it’s available instead of waiting for all platforms to be ready.
  • Use cloud storage and tools and enforce consistent and neat file storage across the team.

The waste of motion

Sources:

  • Excess meetings where some people have little need to be there
  • Overly-documented development processes that add little value to the end product but require many side-deliverables along the way

Remedies:

  • Follow the Agile Manifesto and value “working tools over comprehensive documentation.”
  • Use the RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed) approach for decision-making to identify the people who should attend a meeting based on whether they are responsible, accountable, can be consulted, or must be informed.

The waste of transportation

Sources:

  • Walking or travelling to meet with teammates and SMEs
  • Sending course assets and working files via email, FTP, or file-sharing services, increasing download times and risking version control issues

Remedies:

  • Follow the agile preference for face-to-face communication by co-locating teams as much as feasible.
  • Kick off projects as co-located teams for the first iteration, then go back home.
  • Use video conferencing
  • Use cloud-based collaboration tools for meetings and file sharing.

The waste of waiting

Sources:

  • Waiting for budget
  • Waiting for authorization to begin
  • Waiting for the product (subject) itself to be completed
  • Waiting for information from others
  • Waiting for teammates to complete their tasks

Remedies:

  • Use visible project management with agile boards or online tools, where critical tasks and slack periods are easily seen and communicated.
  • Work in small, sometimes parallel, chunks to deliver what you can, when you can (instead of holding up a project for just one little piece of information).
  • Work closely with the product team to build what you can when you can, leaving only the finishing bits at the end.
  • Sorry, we can’t help you with the budget.

The waste of time and intelligence

Sources:

  • Micromanaging
  • Time spent making minor changes requested by the business that have little or no apparent value to the learning
  • Assigning team members with the wrong skill sets or roles to the project
  • Senior team members performing administrative tasks just to get them done
  • Junior team members left without organizational support to complete work for which they are not yet qualified and without  adequate coaching
  • Not allowing everyone on the team to attend eLearning Guild conferences. (OK, kind of kidding on this one.)

Remedies:

  • Coach reviewers and SMEs to provide appropriate, useful feedback.
  • Make intentional decisions about what requested changes you will make, instead of making them all.
  • Make deliberate team-member selections based on roles and working styles in addition to availability for the project.
  • Provide adequate leverage for senior team members.
  • Provide adequate coaching and support for junior team members.
  • Be sure to register for eLearning Guild conferences, and then plan project schedules around them.

More Management

You May Also Like