It’s Not the Design that takes Time…

Where does the time go?

I realized recently as I was going over some simulation work for a banking client that it’s really not the design and writing of the simulation that takes the most time. It’s really the reviews, edits, tweaks, and project logistics that seem to add up.

Writing is a fairly simple, creative process. It’s easy (okay, it’s easy for me; probably because I’ve been doing this kind of writing for almost 30 years). You take what you know about the client, the audience, and the desired training outcomes, and then mix in some adult learning theory and creativity, and you have your simulation scenario. A little bit more work produces the characters and the specific challenges the learners will face. At that point, the details start to become important–do the learners already know about banking policy, or will we need to feed them the terms? Does this come up on the job like I have laid it out, or do I need a subject-matter expert reality check? Ultimately, the balance between too much and not enough detail becomes clear, and the simulation material is written. Then, it goes back into the rush of ideas and opinions and schedules of the various people involved with the learning solution itself; the simulation being only part of the picture.

People are busy, and getting two people’s schedules to match up is tough enough, sometimes. When a project has a dozen important perspectives that have to be considered and satisfied, timing becomes the real challenge. Reading and approving a draft of a learning solution takes time. Even people who are very, very happy with the writing have some good (if minor) edits to suggest, and the back-and-forth of the reviewing process can easily force the project off-schedule, if not managed well. Many clients I have worked with over the years haven’t really been able to grasp or understand the gist of training design documents, much less the detail of a simulation. (That’s not necessarily a shortcoming on their part–they weren’t trainers or designers.) As long as it looks okay, it goes into production.

“Into production.”

There is a sometimes-scary phrase. In order to make changes after training material goes “into production,” a great deal of re-work has to be done. Woe to the project manager who has not called this out specifically in the contract! Post-pilot changes to a training program can be the bane of the design and production teams. Ultimately, again, good project management makes the scope and expectations for changes clear. The writers, creative, and technical teams will always do their best to meet (and exceed!) the expectations of the clients and the learner audiences, and to do that, we need the timely help of the sponsors and subject matter experts. Sure, I’ve done a lot of changes after a session or two, or to an already published course title. And, it has always come at a cost.

My advice depends on where you sit in regard to these three roles.

  • Writer/Designer: Focus your efforts on creativity and satisfying the needs of multiple stakeholders, and be sure to leave time in your writing budget for edits, rewrites, and changes.
  • Project Manager: Make the review expectations clear–politely, tactfully, professionally lay out the practical impact of missed deadlines and after-the-fact changes. People get excited by possibilities and may need to be reminded of the work implications.
  • Sponsor/Subject Matter Expert: You are responsible for making sure that the training solution and all of its details meet your expectations and those of the learner audience. Make sure that you understand and agree with the timeline. Changes or omissions you make in the review process will cost extra to correct later, so make wise use of your money and time.

It all boils down to this: The design itself doesn’t take a lot of time, compared to the whole scope of the project. If we manage our projects well, then we’ll have more resources for the next important priority!

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