The Art, Science, and Business of Program Development
Cohen, Stephen L., Training & Development
IT'S NOT ENOUGH FOR TRAINING PROGRAMS TO BE INSTRUCTIONALLY SOUND. THEY MUST BE COMMERCIALLY VIABLE, TOO. HERE'S A KEY TO DEVELOPING BETTER PROGRAMS.
Training programs and products are among the most valuable and useful outputs of the HRD industry. They help define its identity.
Today, with training's high visibility, our industry's learning systems will be scrutinized harder than ever for their practicality and effectiveness. So it is in our best interests to monitor and improve the processes by which we develop and distribute programs--both custom-designed programs and generic, off-the-shelf training products--to our customers.
In our industry two aspects of program development compete for "air-time" and resources: design and development, and sales and marketing.
Failure to attend to both may actually threaten the prominence that training has won. If we want our programs and products to draw accolades for "working," they must be instructionally sound and commercially viable.
It's time for the two sides of our discipline to come together. Few instructional designers have the time, experience, and incentive to learn the process of product "commercializing." And few training marketers understand the intricacies and subtleties of "instructionalizing."
How can we collectively increase the effectiveness of the programs we design, develop, produce, and distribute? How can we help all the stakeholders understand all of the critical factors involved in producing and distributing programs that work?
An architecture proposed
One way to begin is to set up a taxonomy or classification of all the elements needed to produce viable, effective training programs or products. This involves viewing the program-development process in a more holistic, or systems, manner. With a systems approach, the overall effectiveness of the development process becomes a function of the combination of its parts. We view the elements as part of an overall architecture of program development, encompassing the practices of art, science, and business.
Such an architecture could be used by internal practitioners or external training suppliers, though each might emphasize different aspects, depending on the requirements of their businesses.
This integrated model calls for internal practitioners to think and act more like external marketers, whose jobs depend on the commercial success of the programs they produce and distribute. These days, internal training departments must be able to market products inside their organizations in order to justify their own existence.
The model also calls for external training suppliers to think and act more like their internal counterparts--the people who are held responsible for improving performance over the long term.
The primary goal of the architecture is to help professionals involved in designing, developing, producing, and distributing training programs to understand and improve the program-development process.
What are the practices of art, science, and business as applied to program development?
* Art refers to a specific skill, or a set of skills, that requires the use of intuitive faculties. These skills cannot be learned solely from studying them.
* Science means any knowledge, activity, discipline, or study broadly accepted as having a demonstrable, objective, factual, systematic, or methodological basis.
* Business refers to any form of commercial policy, practice, or activity with the objective of manufacturing, distributing, or exchanging commodities or services for financial gain.
The main premise of the proposed architecture is that the program-development process is built from the practices of art, science, and business. The practices encompass nine disciplines (See figure 1). Each discipline requires some art, some science, and some business. In addition, each discipline calls for a set of core capabilities, which also draw on the practices of art, science, and business. The challenge is to identify how art, science, and business relate to each discipline.
The science of program development seems to come most naturally to instructional designers and developers, while the business aspect is more natural for sales, marketing, and financial people to understand. But the core capabilities of the science and business practices are common to both groups of people.
Figure 1 The Nine Disciplines of Effective Program Development ANALYSIS CONCEPTION IMPLEMENTATION Direction Diagnosis Delivery Differentiation Design Documentation Discovery Development Deduction
The third area, the art of program development, is the most elusive to all groups involved, but it is what ties the other two together.
Successful program development is not determined simply by applying the principles of instructional design (methodology) or sound business practices (commerce) alone--or even by developing innovative ideas (creativity). It is the subtle combination of all three that results in training programs that truly work.
There is a paradox in this equation. Successful program development requires a highly disciplined business focus with an equally intense creative approach. Business, science, and art often encroach upon each other to produce an uncoordinated effort. But they can be integrated successfully with careful planning, well-defined roles, and agreement about outcomes.
The nine disciplines
As stated before, nine disciplines are required for effective program development. Their classification in figure 1 may serve as a useful organizing tool for practitioners.
The important lesson of the taxonomy is that an effective program-development process requires the coordination of knowledge, skills, and abilities from many different disciplines. By evaluating your own and your organization's competencies in each area, you may be able to improve your current process.
The nine disciplines are divided among three phases of program development: analysis, conception, and implementation. The nine disciplines follow one another in logical sequence, although many can be practiced simultaneously. The key to applying them successfully is to proceed in an orderly fashion.
This phase of program development is often referred to as front-end analysis because it lays the foundation for the rest of the program-development process.
Typically, front-end analysis has been associated with certain activities in the instructional design of a program--activities such as task and audience analysis. But several activities included in this phase specifically address the marketing and business components of the process.
In the analysis phase, we'll look at the disciplines of direction, differentiation, and discovery.
Direction. This first discipline sets the stage for all the rest, clarifying the direction in which the program-development process is headed. In most cases, this means developing a new or revised vision of the program-development effort, resulting in a clear statement of direction, mission, and purpose.
The direction of the program-development process must not only reflect the overall strategic direction of your organization, but also complement the directions of your customers' organizations, in order to meet their marketplace needs.
Differentiation. Once direction has been established, it is easier to determine how to differentiate the program from its competition. While this may be relatively easy to understand from a training supplier's perspective, internal program-development groups often forget that they too must consider their competitive advantage, lest they be perceived as not adding value to their organizations' agendas.
Differentiation involves establishing a program's competitive advantage, such as its cost or its uniqueness. It also involves determining the scope of the marketplace in which the program will compete. Is the market broad (for example, all industries or all divisions) or narrow (for example, only the financial-services industry, or just the information-systems department)?
Differentiation sets the stage for positioning the program to meet the needs of its intended customers.
Another crucial part of differentiating products and services is establishing brand identity--in other words, specifically positioning programs and capabilities. The goal of "branding" products or services is to achieve a level of marketplace distinctiveness. This helps customers identify your distinctive competency, standards, and style.
Competency refers to what your organization is known for or does better than anyone else. Standards include the qualities and values your customers expect you to demonstrate. Style involves the attributes that the brand consistently represents.
On the surface, brand identity would seem to apply only to training suppliers, but internal program-development groups should consider positioning their capabilities for their internal customers. Recognizable brand identity can be achieved through packaging. Logos, color schemes, and design elements can all help establish product-family identity.
One outcome of the differentiation discipline is a report that details your program's distinctiveness, and a plan for communicating it to your intended marketplace.
Discovery. This discipline involves identifying the needs of the intended marketplace and translating them into the program-development process. The object of the discovery process is to accumulate as much firsthand information about the intended learning audience as possible and to incorporate that information into your program-development plans. Typically this involves such activities as analyzing the task or job and the audience to determine learners' specific needs.
Discovery also includes a competitive analysis, if appropriate, and a market analysis to determine the overall needs and trends in the external marketplace. A final step is customer analysis, best conducted through a system for continuous feedback.
All this information is crucial to the program-development process. As in any industry, the customer ultimately determines the value of the offering. So it is critical to have a method for retrieving information about the extent to which your training programs are meeting your customers' needs.
The second phase in the development process is to create a concept of the "deliverables"--the products or services you want to deliver.
This phase helps identify not only what the programs will actually feel and look like, but also how they will be strategically aligned with decisions made and information gathered earlier, during the analysis phase. The program-development concept should be a direct outgrowth of the data collected in the analysis phase.
The conception phase encompasses the disciplines of diagnosis, design, and development.
Diagnosis. The first step in developing an appropriate program concept is to translate the needs that were uncovered in the analysis phase. At this point you must determine whether your organization can consistently deliver products that will meet marketplace needs.
An important outcome of the diagnosis is a strategic investment plan that represents a mixture of the market's needs and the organization's capability for delivery.
Strategic investment planning involves developing a financial and business approach to the conception and eventual delivery of a program. Here critical decisions are made about whether to proceed, and if so, how. Investment planning involves calculating the financial return on money invested in developing the program. It assumes, of course, that the enterprise wants to make a profit or, at least, break even.
If more than one program is involved, the investment-planning process should include a portfolio analysis. Based on the number and types of programs to be developed and distributed, return-on-investment goals may vary for different programs, but the net return should reflect the performance of the whole portfolio.
Two other computations are part of a portfolio analysis: establishing costing models for the development of the programs, and determining likely product life cycles.
In a product life cycle, products, brands, and even industries pass through four stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. Typically, specific strategies are prescribed for each stage. Accurate identification of the stages makes selecting the right strategies relatively straightforward. A strategy includes both the length of time that programs will take to mature in terms of their revenue projections, and their expected shelf life.
These analyses make it is possible to put together a strategic marketing plan or business plan. This plan describes how you will strategically position and market your programs. It takes into account the following factors:
* financial expectations for design, development, delivery, and maintenance of the components of the program portfolio
* the strengths and weaknesses of the program-development enterprise and its strategic direction
* information obtained from the market and competitive analyses.
Design. Now that you have set the strategic, business, and marketing stages for the program-development process, it is appropriate to begin "conceptualizing" the deliverables.
The activities associated with design are familiar to most program developers. The design discipline represents the implementation of the vision and strategic direction that were created earlier.
The result of design should be a detailed conceptualization of the program's format. This would include the "development argument" or "issue definition" of the program--in other words, what it is and why it is needed now. It should include a summary of the program's content, as well as research that legitimizes the concept behind it.
The design should also spell out the details of the program's content and relate them to a set of instructional objectives. This usually involves defining logical blocks of learning that build on one another.
Once the argument has been established and the subject matter has been determined, instructional design can begin. Usually this process results in predesign and design documents that describe the proposed learning modules and their time frames; the learning objectives and outcomes for each module; and the proposed learning methodologies (a program "flow").
These documents offer a conceptual overview of the learning experience. They afford all the stakeholders in the development process an opportunity to reach consensus before actual development begins. Designers, marketers, salespeople, financial analysts, trainers, potential end-users, and customers have a chance to agree on the concept and its implementation.
Development. The final discipline of the conception phase is the development of the materials associated with the learning experience itself. At this point, the program plans and materials are created, resulting in drafts and production masters.
This step typically takes the longest to complete of all the disciplines and costs the most money. It is no wonder that the development discipline generates the most concern about a program's potential return on investment.
During this period, programs either hit or miss their financial goals and their projections for delivery dates. Cost overruns typically result from inappropriate translation of the design, from delays, and from lost opportunities due to delays. On-time delivery, a renowned Achilles' heel in the computer-software industry, is one of the most difficult challenges in training-program development as well.
A critical problem in program development is achieving effective program management. A good program manager should be skilled in project planning, project tracking, project mapping, and process management. Such a person is more likely to meet time and budget constraints than is someone who is only a subject matter expert or an instructional technologist.
The last of the three major phases of program development is implementation of a program, including production, recording, and evaluation. At this point, the product is actually produced and delivered to the marketplace. This is when "the rubber meets the road."
It is now possible to test all the assumptions you made about the marketplace and about the design you thought would meet its needs.
Three disciplines--delivery, documentation, and deduction--play an important role in the implementation phase.
Delivery. The delivery discipline involves producing and testing program components to yield market-ready materials. It includes the layout and printing of materials and the production of video or software. With the availability of electronic-publishing tools that are easy to learn and use, this discipline has TABULAR DATA OMITTED new meaning for just-in-time delivery and customization of materials.
The differences are shrinking rapidly between the capabilities and power of desktop publishing and those of more sophisticated publishing systems. Even so, the choice of production software and hardware should be driven by the needs of the customer rather than the needs of the developer.
The delivery discipline also includes initial testing of program materials, usually with "alpha" and "beta" testing procedures. Alpha tests are concept tests in which a program is talked through. Beta tests are walk-throughs of the program in real time. Both kinds of tests are pilots that enable developers to revise programs before spending a lot of money on final production.
The objectives of both types of tests should be clear before the pilots are conducted. There may be several alpha and beta trials, with different objectives for each.
After revisions have been made following the testing, formal trainer training and program implementation can begin.
Documentation. This is one of the most overlooked disciplines in the process of program development. But without proper documentation of procedures, it is difficult to replicate previous successful results and correct earlier mistakes.
Documentation can consist of a standards and specifications manual that describes the processes, systems, and procedures for all phases of program development.
But documentation is more than just record-keeping and file management. It can be a tool for implementing continuous-improvement procedures. And it can be used to benchmark other organizations' processes.
Deduction. The final recommended discipline concerns the evaluation of results. Outcomes associated with this discipline include evaluations of the effectiveness of the program-development process as well as recommendations for improvement.
Evaluation should cover a variety of critical points in the development process. It should provide data to determine not only the effectiveness of the training program--whether it produced the intended performance outcomes--but also its financial performance as a product. This step involves cost-benefit analyses and return-on-investment evaluations, which may also contribute to measuring any subsequent continuous-improvement efforts.
Applying art, science, and business
Effective program development that uses the nine disciplines should result in products that are not just instructionally sound, but also commercially viable. Analyzing which disciplines apply to the practices of art, science, and business can reveal areas you might be overlooking in your program-development efforts. It can help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your own processes and target areas for improvement.
Figure 2, shows how you might construct your own assessment tool for each development phase. It lists the three practices, with Xs marking the most likely relationships to various core capabilities. To adapt this tool for your own use, you may want to replace these core capabilities with ones that are appropriate to your own program-development process.
The figure shows that, in this example, business practices have the most influence on the program-development process. The analysis and implementation phases of development depend the most on business practices; the conception phase depends on art and business.
Many core capabilities relate to more than one practice area. So another way to read the table is to determine which practices are the primary influencers on any core capability. Again, the analysis points out the relatively strong influence of the practice of business on the sample capabilities. It is the sole influence on nearly a third of them (13 of 45). Art and science are each the sole influence on fewer than a fifth of the capabilities (eight and seven of the 45, respectively).
Of course, the core capabilities shown in the table are only samples. With other capabilities, the ratios could change.
The main point of such an analysis is to demonstrate the use of such tables for isolating areas that need improvement. With that information, you can determine which capabilities to acquire or develop to become more effective in each discipline.
Naturally, program-development practitioners tend to rely on what they have learned from their schooling in instructional systems design. But those "book" answers need to be balanced with the more complex application of artistic impressions. The practice of art involves a sixth sense--a feel for "what works." Hands-on experience expands a developer's ability to apply this sixth sense. Creating the mosaic of program development is not unlike painting a mural, combining proven techniques with personal style.
Achieving balance among the three practice areas is important for success. In fact, effective program development sustains its long-term value to individuals and organizations only when it strikes the appropriate balance between the practices involved in both "instructionalizing" and "commercializing."
Lessons for Better Program Development
* Remember that program development is a complex set of practices, disciplines, and capabilities.
* Exercise the nine disciplines of effective program development: direction, differentiation, discovery, diagnosis, design, development, delivery, documentation, and deduction.
* Strike a balance among the practices of art, science, and business so that programs are properly developed and marketed.
* Become well-versed in the core capabilities of all three practice areas and the disciplines they affect.
Stephen Cohen is president and CEO of Minneapolis-based The Learning Design Group, which focuses on the strategic design, development, and marketing of learning systems.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Art, Science, and Business of Program Development. Contributors: Cohen, Stephen L. - Author. Magazine title: Training & Development. Volume: 47. Issue: 5 Publication date: May 1993. Page number: 49+. © 1991 American Society for Training & Development, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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