Using Your “Lessons Learned” to Design More Efficiently

With the constant pressure to do more for less…and FASTER!, learning professionals are always on the look-out for tips from experienced professionals. This blog describes how FKA’s design and development team takes full advantage of decades of experience over hundreds of projects.

In a nutshell, we follow two simple rules:

  • Work “smarter” on current projects
  • Invest now for future projects

Where, when and how is time saved?

The diagram below provides a major clue to answering this question. It shows a cycle of actions, that when repeated over time and across projects, produces significant time savings. Because the process is a cycle, you can jump in at any point, but for the purposes of this blog, we are going to start at the beginning of a new project – the top of this cycle.

Leverage work from other projects.

Once the learning need has been identified, the first question you need to ask yourself is: “Are there materials from other projects I can re-purpose to use on this project?” Finding previous relevant projects will be easier if you were already following the cycle and have kept good records and categorized your previous projects for easy retrieval. If you haven’t done this, it will take you longer. This extra work will act as a good incentive to keep a database of all subsequent projects with appropriate tags to help you find the best matches later.

Create/use tools and templates.

The next question you need to ask is: “Are there some existing tools and templates I can use?” Your organization may already have templates for handouts, slides, job aids, instructor notes, etc. Having these in place significantly reduces up-front time spent designing, prototyping and getting approvals; you can jump right into designing and developing the materials.

Sometimes we work with a client who has a new need – one we haven’t dealt with before – so we need to create a new tool or template. You should always be on the lookout for new tools and templates that can be used to help speed-up future projects. An example of that situation occurred when we were working for a large global company who needed to have a consistent approach for selecting the best instructional strategy for each of their learning programs. We created a simple spreadsheet tool they could use for making the strategy decisions.

Once this tool was in place it not only shortened their conversations with their clients, it led to better instructional strategy decisions. We realized that our spreadsheet could be used for other projects so we added it to our library of design tools. Taking the time to do this is an investment that pays dividends on future projects.

Instructional designers and developers use tools and templates all the time. The most common types are Word and PowerPoint templates. FKA’s own Instructional Systems Design Support Manual includes over 30 down-loadable templates, worksheets, checklists and calculators.
A highly effective way to speed-up your workflow is to use existing templates and tools and to continually assess whether any of your new tools and templates can be re-used.

Keep good records of project plans, decisions and deliverables.

This step is just common sense. You may know you have some materials developed on a previous project but if you can’t find those materials or spend too long time looking for them you cannot streamline your process! FKA has a library of previous projects going back into the 70s so we have had to develop a rigorous project information recording process. The critical element of our project record-keeping is the individual eight-digit Project Code assigned to each of our projects. The first four digits of the code identify the client; the next two digits identify the year in which the project was initiated; and the last two digits specific project number for that client. For example, our code “FKAA1505” indicates that this was an internal project (“FKAA”) initiated in 2015 (“15”) and this was the fifth (“05”) internal project for us that year. This project code appears on all deliverables as well as all project documents and communications. If you were to exam our electronic filing system you would see that it is organized by Year/Project Code. If you look back at the sample spreadsheet tool I referenced earlier, it had a project code associated with it. In fact, the spreadsheet file name starts with the project code. Just by looking at the file name I can see the project code and that tells me the year, the client and project number and with that I can quickly navigate to the appropriate project directory.

Once I find the right directory I will find all versions of the project deliverables—right up to the final versions—and a lot of administrative information that could save me considerable time planning my next project. In the project administration folders, there will be:

  • A project work plan
  • Weekly time sheets specify what was done and by whom
  • Weekly status reports note any challenges encountered and how were they resolved
  • A Project Summary Report briefly describes the client, their identified need and the solution delivered to the client.

Categorize project deliverables for easy retrieval.

In today’s terms, categorizing project deliverables means #tagging them. In this blog we started at the top of the cycle where you consider if you can leverage work from other projects. This is where you look for previous projects to see if you can piggyback on any of those efforts. If you have categorized or #tagged the deliverables from previous projects it will make leveraging this step much easier.

The specific categories you chose will reflect your work environment. FKA’s clients span all industries so we always categorize/tag the industry. E.g., #banking, #insurance, #retail, #pharma, etc. This tag will be important to you if your organization is very large and has operations across many industries.

The next major category we tag is population data. The type of job held by the target learners is another important category. E.g., #sales, #engineering, #new hires, #managers, #all employees, etc.

The rest of the #tags we use reflect our instructional design decisions. E.g., #instructor led, #video, #role play, #case study, etc. A lot of the #tags are included in the materials we produce, either in the file name or embedded directly in the file. To ensure the project is fully #tagged to reflect all the ways you want it categorized you can use the Project Summary Report and include a Category Summary section for all the #tags you can apply to the project.

Summary: “A Stitch in Time Save Nine”

The cycle process introduced above is not a new methodology but may be a mind shift. As you work on each project you must think carefully about the elements that could be helpful on future projects. You invest some extra time organizing and #tagging those materials when they are created so that you can save significant time on future projects. As the old saying goes: “A stitch in time saves nine!”

This process helps individual instructional designers, teams or entire departments where the specifics of any project can be efficiently communicated to everyone.

Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development