Scope Creep

scope creep

Scope creep is a change to a project that is already underway.  It happens frequently and can leave project teams feeling frustrated and can expand budgets and time.  It can also bring about positive change as well. (Project Scope Creep, 2014)

Many years ago, I got the opportunity to work on a new and exciting food licensing project.  I would be in charge of the project on our side and would work with a representative from the Department of Livestock.  However, she and I really were the liaisons and had little power except to work out the day to day details of the program.  We both had bosses that called the big shots.  In addition, we worked hand in hand with a computer programmer, food plant supervisor, and warehouse supervisor.

Scope creep invaded and the project grew and grew and grew and grew.  There seemed to never be a stopping point.  When we got close to what we felt was our key objectives, one of the bosses would request something new or a change to what we had been doing.

There were many reasons for this.  Basically, we were piloting a new type of licensing program because our operation was unique, so there was no template to follow for our project.  After taking this course though, I can see that the other big setback for us was that we really had no guiding documents – there was no statement of work or Gantt chart or even a calendar of deadlines.  In other words, we had no idea where the finish line was or sometimes even if we were headed in the right direction of the finish line.  This made it easy to feed more and more into the project.

In the end, we turned out a remarkable system that I am still proud of today, but if I were asked to perform the same or a similar project again, there are many things that I would do differently.  Controlling the scope creep is definitely one of them.

Resource:

Project Scope Creep. (2014). Retrieved August 6, 2015, from http://www.projectscopecreep.com

Communicating with Project Teams

In the multimedia presentation “The Art of Effective Communication”, Jane teaches us a valuable lesson regarding communication.  In each of three scenarios, Jane sends the same message to Mark requesting a missing report that she needs to finalize her report.

In the first scenario, she sends the message via email.  Because there are no non-verbal cues available, Jane’s message conveys frustration.  She is curt and short with him.  She does use a few words like “please” and “I really appreciate your help.” This goes a long way to show that she is not super angry with him but Mark may skip over these when he’s reading the message.

The voicemail in the second message is slightly better because at least Mark can hear her voice and hear that she is not speaking in an angry tone.  Her tone is polite, but the message still comes across as somewhat short and frustrated with him.

The final message is delivered in a face-to-face method.  This time in addition to being able to hear her voice, Mark can see her face.  He can see that she is smiling and obviously not angry with him.  Though he does not speak in this clip, he could interrupt if he chose to interject his own thoughts and opinions on the subject; thus, if this is a healthy relationship, he should feel valued and respected at the end of the conversation.

We can learn a lot about communicating as a project manager from this short exercise.

  1. Never say something via email, social media, or voice mail that you would not say directly to the person.
  2. Messages delivered electronically or via voice mail are missing several of our normal and expected forms of communications. (Davis & Flores, 2012) The loss of these communication methods must be over-compensated.
  3. All messages that could be deemed as confrontational or negative must be delivered in person.
  4. Regardless of the delivery method, a person does not feel heard and valued unless their opinions and ideas are heard and valued.

I am not saying that voicemail and electronic communication are not important communication tools.  For instance, email is probably the best way to relay a meeting agenda or the finalized SOW to team members.  A quick email to ask/answer a question or verify a piece of information is also appropriate.  There are probably a thousand other acceptable uses of electronic communications.  We just must be careful to not become brave and irreverent while hiding behind our computers.  Even one error in communication can cause an irreparable rift in a team.

Resources:

Davis, D. B., & Flores, F. (2012, March 22). Netiquette and Code of Conduct in Communcation. Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.slideshare.net/floresnewcastleeduau/netiquette-and-code-of-conduct-in-communication

An Unsuccessful Project!

In February 2009, I started an exciting new job as an HR Manager for a water bottling plant.  It was my first job in a manufacturing facility, and it was my first HR job where I had a lot of autonomy.  I was so excited.    Very shortly after I got there, probably within a few days or weeks, my plant manager assigned me my first project.  He wanted an entirely new, innovative pay scale that paid employees based on their worth to the company (in other words, on their skills).  Talk about overwhelmed! But, I jumped right in the best that I could.

I created a committee comprised of key upper management staff, a few line supervisors, and hourly employees from each department and shift.  We worked really hard on that project, and we did turn out a pay plan that we were proud of.  Unfortunately though, it just never quite worked the way that we had intended.  It was plagued with problems that we could never really overcome.  First, we did not have the technology to properly run the plan so tracking training, certifications, and raises was extremely labor intensive and prone to human error – meaning that someone due a raise might be missed.  Second, our skills evaluations were too subjective.  One supervisor might be tough in his skill evaluation or require more skill than we intended so his people rarely got raises.  Another wanted his people to make as much money as possible and evaluated very easily so his got multiple raises every year.  Finally, because we had switched from longevity based pay to performance based pay, we lost a lot of respect from the long time line employees, even though we planned for this, included some of them on the panel, explained the rationale, and tried to help them advance.  The production line required low technical skill but the ability to do the same job hour after hour, day after day at a quick pace and catch minute details (like a crooked bottle cap).  It was hot, repetitious, boring, and tedious, but many of employees had done it for 10+ years.  These people were dependable and responsible workers but many of them were not workers that possessed the mental abilities to progress upwards in the company (nor did they want to).

Using the Project “Post Mortem” Review Questions found in Michael Greer’s e-book, The Project Management Minimalist: Just Enough PM to Rock your Projects!, I can see where I did some things well and  where I needed to make improvements.  Our biggest success was the project team that I put together.  Everyone on it was dedicated to the success of the project.  They were willing to work together to provide the company with a unique product.  They worked well with each other and with me; they listened to each to each other, even during times of frustration; and they did whatever jobs were necessary to help our team accomplish its mission. (Greer, 2010)  The team was representative of the entire plant in every way – by shift, department, ethnic makeup, gender, age, ambition, and job responsibility.   This helped us to get a global perspective on our new ideas.

I think that our biggest downfall is that we really did not have a clear idea of where we were going.  We knew that we wanted to pay radically different than we had been and that we wanted to reward skills and work performance, but we did not know what that looked like.  As the project leader, I take full responsibility for this deficiency.  If I had to do this project again, I would do research prior to meeting with the team so that I could show them several finished projects built on ideas similar to ours.  I think that with end goal visual, we could be much more successful.

Our other big downfall was not getting the “old timers” on board.  Because their opinions were so important to the plant culture, I should have seen that success was going to be very difficult without their full support.  I also should have fought harder for a way to reward them for their hard work and longevity without requiring them to gain new knowledge and skills.  A third major downfall was not purchasing the software necessary to operate the system.  We should have budgeted this into our project as a necessity instead of thinking that we shouldn’t spend any extra money.  Having it would have helped us be so much more efficient and accurate.

I can sum up a project that took nearly two years to complete in just a few sentences.  My team and I worked our tail ends off.  We tried very hard to make the plant a better place for everyone.  We did make some improvements to the pay structure that were very important to us for hiring new talent, but we did a big disservice to our loyal and hardworking line workers.  And finally, I learned so much about what I would do if given a similar project again.

Resources:

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your Projects! (L. E. Ed., Ed.) Retrieved July 9, 2015, from https://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1 /201560_04/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/ embedded/pm-minimalist-ver-3-laureate.pdf

The future of distance education and my part in it

I don’t consider myself to be old; yet, if I look at the changes in college education since the start of my college days in 1991, I might as well have been in college with Fred Flinstone!  Education is so drastically different now.  Perhaps the biggest educational change has been the creation and evolution of distance education.  I think that there are more changes to come for distance education.  In addition, I’d like to discuss the ways that I (as an instructional designer) can have a positive influence on the future of distance education.

Scott Howell, PhD, Peter Williams, MS, and Nathan Lindsay, MS, state that education had become more consumer driven, learner centered, and self-directed. (Howell, Williams, M.S., & Lindsay, M.S., 2003) My personal experience certainly bears witness to this trend.  In mid-2006, I took my first distance learning course.  Over the next three and a half years, I completed my Associate’s Degree and then my Bachelor’s Degree via distance learning. After a four year hiatus I started on my Master’s degree, again via distance learning.  Over this 9 year period, I have taken classes through 3 different institutions, and each experience has gotten progressively more challenging.  Going hand and hand with this, Howell, Williams, and Lindsay also feel that education has become more competency based, moving away from memorization and testing. (Howell, Williams, M.S., & Lindsay, M.S., 2003)  Again, from my own experience, this does appear to be true.  As these changes continue to occur, I think that any remaining stigma that online education is inferior to brick and mortar education will disappear. I think that distance learning will become a normal way of learning for nearly all people who want a college education.  Even those who attend traditional campus courses may find that several of their courses are distance learning (or blended) courses.

In 2008, Ismail Sahin and Mack Shelley did a study on learners’ satisfaction with distance learning.  The most general summary of their results was that when students can successfully use online tools and feel that the education is a useful and flexible way to learn they have high levels of satisfaction. (Sahin & Shelley, 2008)  Using this finding, I can influence people’s perceptions about distance education by designing courses that meet these standards.  I can make sure that I provide resources to students who struggle with the online technology.  I can make sure that I provide background and well written performance objectives so that students understand the “why”.  I can create challenging activities that center whenever possible on the learners’ personal background and experiences.  Distance learning provides a lot of flexibility for learners but I can also make sure that my schedules are as flexible as possible.  When students finish a class feeling like they have been challenged but learned something, they will share their experiences, thus benefitting the entire distance learning community.  I can also share my own positive experiences with distance education; I hope that when people hear that I (a single mom of 5+ kids who works full-time) was successful with distance education, they will feel inspired to achieve their educational dreams too.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” (Franklin) There are a few things that I can do to be a positive force for continuous improvement in distance education.  First, while I am a student, I can provide constructive feedback (both positive and negative) about the courses that I am participating in whenever possible.  This might be as easy as completing the end of course surveys or emailing the professor regarding a specific assignment.  As an instructional designer and instructor, I can ask others for their opinions, and then I can listen intently with an open mind to their suggestions.  I can share my best practices with other instructional designers, and I can use theirs as well.  I can remember that to make a product learner-centered, I must actually design it for the learner and not for me.

As I stated in the beginning of this blog post, distance education has come a long way in a very short period of time, but I don’t think that it is done changing yet.  I think it will become even more learner-centered and even less stigmatized.  As an instructional designer there are some very important things that I can do to help distance education move along its journey.  I hold this as an important job and look forward to being part of this exciting process.

Sources:

Franklin, B. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Brainy Quote: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr387287.html?src=t_improvement

Howell, S. L., Williams, M.S., P. B., & Lindsay, M.S., N. K. (2003, Fall). Thirty-two trends affecting distance education: An informed foundation for strategic planning. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html

Sahin, I., & Shelley, M. (2008). Considering students’ perceptions: The distance education student satisfaction model. Retrieved June 28, 2015, from Educational Technology & Society: http://www.ifets.info/journals/11_3/15.pdf

I love to learn, and I hope that I am able to do this for the rest of my life.  That is a big part of why I am spending all of my free time working on my Master’s degree. This week I discovered open courseware, which is basically the highlights of a college course, posted on the Internet for anyone to use for free.  I am wondering whether I would be spending all of this money if I had known about open courseware a couple of years ago.

In order to accurately evaluate open courseware, I looked at 2 different classes on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware site (http://ocw.mit.edu).  According to their site, they have 2260 courses available for free to the general public! (About OCW)

The first class that I looked at was Strategic Human Resource Management, a doctoral level course.  The HR Management course had a few pages of weekly readings and at least two case studies per week that the learner was supposed to read and answer questions on prior to the weekly lesson.  There were no videos but there were PowerPoint slides of each lesson.  In addition, instructions for the course project and the final exam were available.  The only difficulty was that there were no links to the reading material so I was left to attempt to access it on the Internet. (Burton & Osterman, 2003)

The second course that I looked at was Autism Theory and Technology, a graduate level course.  This course also had weekly readings but the links to the materials were given; however, a couple of the links I tried did not work.  Like the first course, it provided a detailed syllabus, weekly assignments, and the course project.  This course also offered select video lectures from the course, though not all were available.  It also had a tab with links to autism resources. It was more user friendly than the first course was. (Picard & Goodwin, 2011)

While it is great to have access to free educational materials, if the materials are poorly put together, then they will be of little help to the learner.  Remembering that the open courseware is not the actual course in its entirety, I believe that MIT did a very thorough job of creating learning environments for the public.  The syllabus is thorough yet easy to follow; a 2010 US World & News Report states that a well-developed syllabus is necessary to run a distance course (Hyman & Jacobs, 2010).  The course website is very user-friendly and bright and clean.  The weekly reading and assignment page is also very simple to follow along with.  Course projects, tests, resources, etc. each have their own links making the site easily accessible.

In addition to being easy to access and navigate, the materials also supported learning.  In the Strategic Management course, the case studies were chosen based on the weekly topic and the questions related to it.  The order of learning then was to read the material, read and answer the case study, come to class, hear the lecture, and then discuss the case studies.   The autism course had a similar setup except that they were to write answers to questions regarding the reading and submit them before class.  Nearly every class had a guest speaker.  Now obviously some changes would have to be made as open courseware because assignments are not submitted, but a learner could definitely still follow the steps in order to gain knowledge on the subject.  He or she would lose the benefit of interactive discussions however.

Overall, MIT’s open courseware is exceptionally done considering that anyone is able to access with no fee.  I think that this is a great way to brush up on old material or to learn something about a subject that you might find interesting.  I cannot wait to check out more offerings when I have time!

Sources:

About OCW. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2015, from MITOpenCourseward: http://ocw.mit.edu/about/

Burton, P., & Osterman, P. (2003, Spring). Strategic HR Management. Retrieved June 5, 2015, from MITOpenCourseware: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/sloan-school-of-management/15-660-strategic-hr-management-spring-2003/index.htm

Hyman, J. S., & Jacobs, L. F. (2010, June 30). 7 More Tips for Distance Learning. Retrieved from US News & World Report Education: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/professors-guide/2010/06/30/7-more-tips-for-distance-learning

Picard, P. R., & Goodwin, D. (2011, Spring). Autism Theory and Technology. Retrieved June 5, 2015, from MITOpenCourseware: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/media-arts-and-sciences/mas-771-autism-theory-and-technology-spring-2011

Using podcasts for safety training

In my two previous positions, I was responsible for safety training so I could easily understand the challenges posed in scenario 3 of our Distance Education assignment.  In fact, I have faced very similar situations on numerous occasions.  Ironically, a distance learning solution would probably have been the best technique, but we did not have the knowledge or capabilities to do this.  To briefly describe the given scenario, a biodiesel manufacturing plant needs to create safety training modules that show step-by-step safety processes for several pieces of machinery.  These modules must be available regardless of shift.  Finally, supervisors want to ensure that the employees can demonstrate their learnings.

I feel that ideal solution for this learning situation would be to create a podcast for each piece of equipment.  According to Teaching and Learning at a Distance, podcasts are relatively short, prerecorded learnings.  They are single concept lessons. They can include video with audio as well (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015, p. 84).    Using this list of characteristics, here is how I would suggest to the company that they make and use the podcasts.  First, the company’s safety professional or a high manager (the plant manager is the best), demonstrates safe operation of each piece of equipment.  These demonstrations should be video-taped.  The safety professional or instructional designer can then add audio description of each step over the video.  It is usually important that this audio not happen on the plant floor because the noise level of most plants is high and this makes it difficult for instructions to be heard and understood.  Depending on the technological abilities of the plant, the podcast can be downloaded to a computer very near the piece of machinery or to the plant’s training computers.  Because of the shortness of the trainings, operators will be able to easily find time to view the podcast.  As a final step, I would have the supervisors create a checklist based on the steps found in the podcast.  They could then use these checklists to verify that employees are following the required steps.

This technology is being used in the safety world currently.  Safety Solutions Academy (http://www.safetysolutionsacademy.com) is one example.  Paul Carlson uses podcasts as one method to teach his followers self-defense and defensive firearms safety instructions.  Students are able to open and watch one of approximately 100 short podcasts using You Tube, I-tunes, Stitcher, or LibSyn. (Carlson, 2014)  The American Public Safety Training Institute is another institution making successful use of podcasts for training.  (The American Public Safety Training Institute, 2015)  Looking through their website, it appeared that there were hundreds of podcasts aimed at every sector of public safety.  I did preview a few of their podcasts though and each one greatly exceeded the length suggested by Dr. Simonson of 3 -10 minutes (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015, p. 84).

Based on the facts that podcast are currently being successfully used for safety training, their succinctness and ability to provide step by step direction with audio and video, and their portability, I think that a series of podcasts are clearly the best option for this biodiesel manufacturing plant.

Sources:

(2015). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from The American Public Safety Training Institute: http://www.tapsti.org/

Carlson, P. (2014). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from Safety Solutions Academy: http://www.safetysolutionsacademy.com/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and Learning at a Distance. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Distance learning evolution

“Distance learning” – For some people the term is inspiring and hopeful for others there is a sense of dread.  Since the late 1990’s, I have had distance learning experiences both personally and professionally.  These experiences have shaped and evolved my opinion of this teaching method.

I took my first correspondence course sometime in the late 90’s.  I was going to use this method to obtain my bachelor’s degree.  I found a college that seemed decent using an advertisement in a magazine, if I recall correctly.  I signed up and got my books and syllabus.  I was so excited, but it didn’t last long.  I had no one to interact with, ask questions of, or bounce ideas off of.  There was no “real” professor and no other “real” students.  Basically, I was teaching myself.  I quickly determined that distance learning was not an option for me – and it was not for several more years.

Around 2006, I started working for a community college, but I worked at a remote site, several hours from the main campus.  One of our benefits was free tuition so I figured I would try out a few online classes.  This was pretty early in the online era, when it was still not a popular option.  In fact, many people felt that this was not a “real” education; I guess if I were honest, I felt that way too.  The quality of the classes was really not that different from my old correspondence classes – each week, I read a couple of chapters, wrote and answered to a discussion question, and took a short quiz or wrote an essay.  There was little interaction with the professor and no real give and take.

Though I was not hooked on the learning platform, I was hooked on learning again and went on to pursue my bachelors online from a different university.  This university – Franklin University – knew how to ensure that students interacted with one another.  We were required to meet in small groups with the professor at designated times.  We also had a group project in each course.  The course work was much tougher than my associates was!  The downside though was that with all of the group interaction, it was not as flexible as my previous or current experience are.  Currently I am pursuing my masters through an online program as well.  I would say that in comparison to my two previous online experiences, Walden University’s courses fall somewhere in between – in interaction with students and teachers, in flexibility, and in the challenge of the work.

Professionally, I worked at a big box home improvement store that relied heavily on distance learning programs.  It was the most sophisticated training program that I have seen to date and was customized to each person’s specific job title.  The training programs were very well built and organized.  It also offered review questions throughout, and the learner could not move on until he or she had mastered the material.  However, there was no instructor available if you had a question or wanted more information.  According to Dr. Simonson, this really fails the criteria for distance education because distance education requires both a learner and a teacher. (Laureate Education Inc.)

Looking forward to the future, I think that distance learning will continue to gain popularity, both educationally and professionally.  For businesses, I think that the benefits are too great for distance learning not to be an ever-increasing option.  The expense of travel and valuable loss of productivity caused by sending an employee to training (Moller, Foshay, & Huett, 2008) is simply too high to be justified when e-learning is an option. I also see distance education continuing to expand for education as well because of the convenience and flexibility for the learner.

These few paragraphs clearly show that my opinion of distance education has changed as quickly as the field itself is changing.  Following is a mind map of my current thoughts and feelings on distance education.New-Mind-Map_4fr8v

Sources:

Laureate Education Inc. (Director). (n.d.). Distance education: The next generation [Motion Picture].

Moller, L., Foshay, W. R., & Huett, J. (2008, May / June). The evolution of distance education: Implications for Instructional Design on the potential of the web. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from ebscohost.com:http://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer. asp?T=P&P=AN&K=33281719&S=R&D=a9h&EbscoContent=dGJyMNHr7E Sep644y9f3OLCmr02eqLFSrqa4SLSWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGss0q1qK5IuePfgeyx4

Fitting the Pieces Together

This is the last required blog of my Learning Theories class.  I can honestly say that during the last 7 weeks I have learned so much about how we learn – even more so, how I learn.  Prior to this class, I felt like I was pretty “in-touch” with the way that I learned.  I would have told you that I knew exactly how the teacher needed to present the material and exactly what kind of assignments would stimulate my learning.  And likely, if I left a class with little new knowledge, I would been very apt to place the blame on the professor.

This class has taught me that learning is so much more in-depth and multi-dimensional than what I thought that it was.  For one thing, I no longer believe that I have one learning style.  I have learned that it depends on many factors: the subject, the learning environment (on-line, team based, traditional classroom, etc.).  Instructors can use learning strategies from several learning theories to facilitate learning.  For example, as I teach Culinary Arts, I use a behavioralist approach to teach the students foodborne illnesses.  I have them make flash cards and review them daily until their test.  For many of their other activities (with the exception of cooking), I use a self-directed learning approach where I provide a basic structure but allow them to take control of their own learning outcomes.  But to learn to cook, I use more of a group learning environment (constructivism). Their learning then comes from each other experiences and help and the course materials.  Logically, of course, I knew that I taught using different methods, but this course has given me some of the whys and theory to this.

My final contemplation – What role does technology play in today’s learning environment?  I think that technology diversifies the ways that we can learn – classes no longer have to consist of a professor lecturing while the students take notes.  I also thinks that we have many more opportunities for learning because of technology.  So many people today are engaged in learning in an online environment.  Many of these people (myself included) would not be able to take classes without the online option.  Informal learning is also so much easier and always at our fingertips.  Got a question – no problem – google it and you will quickly find the answer. 

So, to sum up the past 7 weeks, I have learned that there is so much more depth to learning and so many ways that people learn.  I find this both exciting and challenging.