Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Analysis Day 1: Determining Your Need

I am, by nature, an analyst. I love to analyze everything from complex learning strategies to the movie I'm sitting through. Yes, I can safely say that analysis is a big part of my life (to the chagrin of my wife). And as such, you would think that instructional analysis would be right up my street. Well, you would be right, but only when I take it in short bursts.

Instructional analysis comprises a strong 75% of my overall design process, because of the need to get every detail worked out. The details are often so minute that they can sometimes be missed through initial surveys. So I developed my own system that adopts many other systems I have been exposed to, but works best for me. That being said, please don't think this is the one size fits all scenario. The process itself may not work specifically for your situation, but the basic elements should apply everywhere.

What is the Problem?
The first step in any analysis process is to determine the problem. A problem would basically mean a need is not being met. In the corporate world, this generally means that a job is not being performed to the standard that is expected.

This doesn't mean that a job isn't being done in the way that is expected, but that the outcome of the job produces results that are not as expected. I want to be very clear on that point, as innovation can be throttled if a single process is the only process allowed.

Is "throttled" too strong of a word? Good! I want to impress in this posting that the job of training is not to produce conformity, but to instill a level of competence that allows the learner to not only do what is required, but find ways to do it more efficently. This, utlimately, is what makes a good employee: Someone that is able to innovate within their realm. It also makes for really good resume fodder.

Also important to note, I have found that many managers feel that training is the answer to everything. It's not. As I've mentioned before, you can't expect more knowledge to improve on poor management decisions. At best it insults the employees, and at worst it exposes the poor management style for what it is, ruin morale, and shorten the employment span of the employees.

Where Does the Problem Exist?
So, having established what it is the trainer is looking for, it's necessary for the trainer to focus on causes of the problem within the context that it happens. Often this means going right to the source: sit with the employees that are expected to benefit from this training. Does everyone experience the same problem? What do they know? What don't they know? What are they allowed to do? What are they not allowed to do? These are all really good questions to get you started.

The next step is to check with those that do not experience the problem, which generally are more senior members within the group. What makes them different? This is the key that will answer the problem riddle, and determine whether or not training is necessary. Are the senior employees more empowered? Do they have access to resources that others do not? Do they have more knowledge than those that continually run into the problem? Do they have any insight into what could be the problem? These questions should clarify where a problem can exist, or at what point the process fails. If it doesn't, continue up the chain until someone gives an idea of the expectation and you have enough information to identify the problem.

Houston, We Have the Problem. Now What?
Once you have identified the problem, it's time to identify the solution. What is the only problem that applies to training? "There is a lack of knowledge or skill that needs to be addressed." That's it. Not having the tools to work with doesn't get resolved through training, it gets resolved through new tools. Poor management decisions doesn't get resolved through employee training, it requires a better manager. Unclear expectations do not get more clear with training, they need to be clearly communicated by management to the employees.

While working for a previous internet company, I found a major problem. Employees didn't know what critical updates had been rolled to the site, and therefore couldn't support the users that had trouble with these new updates. What did management try to do? Give them more training. Did the employees need it? No! They knew how to resolve the issues, but they didn't know what changes were made, and hence could not prepare properly. This was a classic example of a communication failure within the company. Training cannot resolve this issue.

Also, with the same company, I found a new project that was being rolled to the site. This project was complex, and required a complete rethink of the entire process to utilize on the site. Does this require more communication from the developers? No, because I already had all the information, it just needed to be distributed to the rest of the company to teach the employees the new skill. This is an excellent example of what training is all about.

So determining the need itself can be a long and comprehensive process, but this is a necessary step in order to determine if training can actually resolve the issue. If not, you don't have to invest any more time into developing for training, and more time and resources into resolving the problem on another level.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry: Analysis Day 2: The Skill Assessment. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

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