I know that one of the top gripes we have is being asked to do amazing things with too little time and too little resources.  Occasionally we're asked to do something that looks and feels insane.  It makes us feel exposed to failure and it's a little like going out without your trousers (apparently...)

So what do we do in situations like these?  What do we do when we're asked to deliver a great learning solution to a lot of people (say in the thousands) in a short amount of time (say a month)?

Terry Pratchett, using General Tacticus's wisdom says "endeavour to be on the other side" but that doesn't cut it for us.

What I'd like to discuss is stupidly, insanely ultra rapid development.  I think it can be done without too many late nights and importantly without too big a drop in quality and efficacy of materials.

Here's my top 3 practical ideas, I'd like yours:

  1. Get help.
    You're not going to be able to do this alone or even in your learning team (if you're lucky enough to have one).  Ask on the forums for creative ideas.  Find colleagues who can bounce ideas with you.
  2. Get experts creating content (also known as getting more help). 
    You can't do this alone and the chances are you don't have time anyway.  You need to focus on bringing the learning expertise, let others write the raw text/diagrams
  3. Use templates.
    This isn't going to be a flash masterpiece.  So create some templates that experts can simply drop content into.  They tend not to be so good at ordering, chunking and designing practice, so guide them with a template.
  4. Pre-Record. (Ok - so I said 3 but I'm not so good at keeping to lists...)
    For thousands of users, you're not going to be able to do much face to face. So record the experts.  Video them talking about key messages.  Record them doing screencast demos.  Remember, because you're involved you can keep them from straying into boring/irrelevant/too long behaviours.
(Apologies for the long post and any opinions, thoughts and ideas expressed in this post are mine alone and in no way reflect or portray the opinions or policies of my employer.) 

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5. Set expectations: Ensure that everyone knows that you wont necessarily be using your standard training methodology - and things might be smoother on later training sessions. Offer post training surgeries/ floorwalking to correct any ommisions/mistakes after the original training session. (Make sure you review your training sessions immediately after - or better, have some review it for you).

6. Be flexible and let the trainees help you: Not enough time to create documenation? Create a web page and get the trainees to ask questions and then get your experts to answer them publicly. Or why not create a user forum, so that users can help each other. If you have an application that supports such a thing, ask people to rate expert/user responses - building the knowledge base as you go.

7. Relax: be confident in your abilities. This might not be the way that you would want to run things, but you can only play the cards you've been dealt. Ensure that you have realistic expectations of yourself and, you never know, you may actually learn something exciting and different about training (and yourself) in the process.
8. Set out clear guidelines (preferably a timetable) for feedback and edits. Make it very clear that you have built time into the development plan to make updates/apply edits after a round of reviewing by SMEs, but that there is a time and a place to request changes, and if it's missed, it's not going to make the first live version of the course.
You don't say whether you are able to reshape the requirement. I am sometimes able to persuade my clients to concentrate on (a) rectifying critical mistakes (a la CMA methodology from Cognitive Arts) or (b) identifying and focusing on core, essential proficiencies. This second I derived from the book "Learning Paths" by Williams & Rosenbaum. Sorry if this doesnt directly address your challenge but sometimes looking at what has to be done from a different paradigm can be helpful. Best regards. Glynn.
Bu y 'Getting Things Done' by Dave Allen - a work of genius.
+1 to that.

In addition, I'd say we need to find a way not to get into this bind in this first place. On agile teams, there's always talk about a sustainable pace. I understand this is easier said than done, given the demands of our workplaces, but there's a huge benefit in being able to work at a sustainable pace. Your defects decrease, morale stays high and most importantly you have the tendency to do things right, than cut corners. If you can establish how much work you can complete in a finite duration of time, by working 8 hard hours, then it becomes easy to manage expectations with clients (or internal customers) and explain when you have your hands full.

If new work still comes in, then it's more a question of prioritising what stays in scope for the next week or so and what goes out.

I'm sorry if the above rant seems very bookish, but on agile teams we make this happen on a daily basis and we get more work done than the guys working 12 hours days.

You're right - it'd be great not to find ourselves in this hole and we can always endeavour not to be the one attacking the heavily defended fortress (to complete the odd joke from my preamble).

However, it's extremely difficult in large organisations to stop yourself being dropped on from a great height from time to time. If it's happening all the time then you should take stock and aim to work the pipeline a bit more. But sometimes it just happens. And this is what I'm talking about.

So it's not about sustainability or long term working because no-one's asking for that. It's about getting the job done quickly and effectively when, through no fault of your own, your back is against the wall and you're starting to suspect the walls just started moving inwards.
If you already have some expertise within your learning community, another approach might be to build a community of practice and concentrate on designing ways of allowing the community to share and explore their knowledge, prompted by some key discussions.

A second approach, at the risk of doing myself out of a job (content authoring) is to use materials that are already freely and widely available on the web and concentrate on giving your learners the skills they need to find them.

A third approach, and you may see a theme developing here, is to get your learners to develop their own resources. This creates ownership and develops motivation. In short, draw on the skills and talents of your learners - and, where these are lacking, give them the tools to help themselves.

Doug Merrill's recent book 'Getting Organized in the Google Era' is an interesting, light read with lots of practical tips. Merrill is the former chief information officer at Google, so knows a thing or two about dealing with overwhelming amounts of 'stuff'.
Thanks Charles, and Donald, for the book suggestions. These are 2 more to be added to the list :)



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