Saturday, October 31, 2015

Online Communication

I had an interesting comment from a student in an online course message board. Basically, the note was that face to face communication is always better. I agree with the student's premise that technology is not always the answer, but that doesn't mean that it isn't often an answer. I do disagree that a face to face classroom is always better than a technology based classroom. I've been in a lot of ineffective classrooms. My response to the meta-challenge that the discussion of how effective technology is to communicate would be proved by the fact that no one would respond to the post positing such:

I don't know that I'd totally agree with the statement that the authors believe that technology is always the answer. If used correctly and implemented well, it often can be. But it's not always. A large piece of the SDLC which the course covers deals with the need to analyze what the problem is before making a choice of how to fix it. And the course starts with several chapters related to understanding how businesses function before it gets into an substantive discussion of technology.

Even your example of the discussion we might have F2F, while true in just the right set of circumstances, doesn't necessarily work for a couple reasons. One is that how likely would it be that you would be able to get a group of people who are enrolled in the course together? Not likely, due to geography and differing schedules, which is why most of you are taking online courses to begin with.

And two is how often do you actually get a substantial conversation in a group? Does everyone actually get to participate? In many classes in a F2F environment, 90% of the students sit there and don't actually participate. Only a small handful will often dominate the conversation because not everyone can talk at the same time and the introverts like actually thinking about what they're going to say before they say it and by the time they decide what to say the conversation has moved on.

Technology levels the playing field a bit. Not everyone who uses Wikipedia contributes to it by writing or fixing articles, but enough do that it has become an invaluable resource which is comprehensive enough and accurate enough to put print encyclopedias out of business. I will fully agree that technology is often used ineffectively, inefficiently, sometimes just for the sake of using technology and not for a real business need, or using the wrong tool (a hammer when a miter saw is called for).

That, I hope, is the point of the course. If you don't have the right tool or can't speak the right language to get what you need from the IT department, you will have problems. Flip it around. It's not that technology is a hammer and actually talking to each other are the other tools but rather what are the various technology tools that can help us in a variety of situations? Thanks for the conversation starter. I'm glad that the asynchronous post you made allowed me to make an answer later since I was busy at the time you were making your initial post. How about anyone else? Examples of using technology effectively or not effectively at work or other places you spend your time?

The student's eyes were opened a bit, I think, recognizing how common it is for some people to dominate the conversation in a live group. We didn't really talk about this specifically, but as I think back on it later, I wonder how often it leads to bad, extreme ideas, simply because the extroverts who like to blurt things out without thinking about them end up directing most of the conversation. This seems particularly relevant as we are in the middle of election season. The follow-up comment by the student that the younger generation is overly involved in technology and do not know how to communicate face to face is sadly true. It isn't a reason to get rid of technology but rather a reason to focus on when and how to communicate effectively in a variety of situations.

I definitely agree with you there regarding upcoming generations who only know how to communicate through technology, even to people who are in the same room as them. Or who communicate electronically only to people who are far away and ignore the people close by them. Just look at a group of teenagers in practically any environment, and you'll see very little live interaction among them, which is sad to see. I went to Europe a couple years ago, and I was happy to turn off my cell phone for two weeks and just enjoy what was there in front of me rather than trying to stay up on the latest FB gossip. I enjoy the same when heading up to the mountains for some hiking or backpacking. Some literally go through physical symptoms of withdrawal if removed from an always-connected environment. That doesn't mean the technology is bad, just that the person hasn't learned to use other options or is bad at selecting which tool to use when.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Properly Balancing Formative and Summative Assessment

Formative assessment is one of the most powerful tools for promoting student achievement by providing an understanding about how each student is progressing in their learning continuously, as it happens (Stiggins & DuFour, 2009). Summative assessment is focused on determining the outputs of the learning process in order to assign grades or for evaluation of the course, keeping in mind that it can be used for both evaluating output and evaluating the process used to create the output (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).

Summative assessment may be seen by some learners, especially those with a performance-focused orientation, as a way of comparing oneself to others, which can lead to less effective learning since the focus is on the display of mastery rather than on the actual learning process (Roll et al., 2011; Azevedo et al., 2008; Aleven et al., 2003; Butler, 1998). On the other hand, when formative assessments are used appropriately, they provide an opportunity to promote learning, self-improvement, and progress (Butler, 1998; Roll et al., 2011).

In order to allow learners to progress at their own pace, a combination of formative and summative assessment can be effective in helping learners understand what they need to focus on while learning and how to show they have attained competency in order to complete the course. This is especially important in an adult education environment, where each learner will come in with different levels of knowledge and experience, so effective assessment can help keep individuals progressing in those areas where they need assistance and complete the course when they can show they can perform at the appropriate level.

I'm always surprised, although I suppose I shouldn't be, how many students (yes, I'm purposely changing what I was calling learners previously to students, who may or may not be true learners) want to rush to the summative assessment and just "get it over with" instead of taking the time to use formative tools that are built into a course and provided in a very obvious way to guide their learning toward success. In some classes, a summative paper or objective exam may be actually used in a formative way as it is graded, feedback is given, and if the student is not happy with their result may revise and resubmit. It's a great way to approach things in theory, taking a bit of the edge off a high stakes summative assessment. But it also can lead to students throwing things at the wall to see what sticks even though they know they are not ready. I frequently make the point that when students say they don't know what they should be studying, then they know exactly what they should be studying, i.e. everything.

That is a key metacognitive error (White & Frederiksen, 2005), to know one is not prepared but not know what they are missing, so instead of taking the time to use provided course materials and formative assessments and guidance from a faculty member to figure out what they are missing, they jump immediately to whatever the summative assessment activity is and try repeatedly to ram it through even though they are not at the right level of cognitive preparedness (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) for it. It is thus important not only to provide appropriately designed scaffolding leading up to a summative assessment but also help learners understand why they are built that way so they are willing to use it.

Aleven, V., Stahl, E., Schworm, S., Fischer, F., & Wallace, R. (2003). Help seeking and help design in interactive learning environments. Review of Educational Research, 73(3).

Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D.R. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Azevedo, R., Moos, D.C., Greene, J.A., Winters, F.I., & Cromley, J.G. (2008). Why is externally-facilitated regulated learning more effective than self-regulated learning with hypermedia? Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(1).

Butler, R. (1998). Determinants of help seeking: Relations between perceived reasons for classroom help-avoidance and help-seeking behaviors in an experimental context. Journal of Educational Psychology 90(4).

Roll, I., Aleven, V., McLaren, B.M., & Koedinger, K.R. (2011). Improving students’ help-seeking skills using metacognitive feedback in an intelligent tutoring system. Learning and Instruction, 21(2).

Stiggins, R. & DuFour, R. (2009). Maximizing the Power of Formative Assessments. Phi Delta Kappan 90(9). Retrieved January 31, 2013 from

White, B., Frederiksen, J. (2005). A theoretical framework and approach for fostering metacognitive development. Educational Psychologist, 40(4).

Monday, August 31, 2015


Not that kind of accessibility.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Disney on a variety of fronts, which is not worth going into right now. One of the love aspects recently is the Disney Institute, which is their corporate training wing, where they act as consultants to do third party training to help other organizations achieve the magic they are known for. Of course, I think the reason they can give away their secrets is two-fold: first, I don't think they give away all their secrets and second, they know that most organizations can't or won't implement them. It is a significant investment requiring complete buy-in from the top to the bottom and back up again.

In a few recent blog posts, DI has talked about service recovery, which is how to fix problems when something goes wrong. Empowerment is the key to service recovery. For an example, every employee at Disneyland is trained to know that if a guest drops their cheese-filled pretzel or frozen banana on the ground, they can have a new one. It doesn't matter if it's the person who sold it to you or a random dude sweeping up garbage; half-eaten or just licked a little bit of the salt off, doesn't matter. They know the policy - free replacement cheese-filled pretzel - so before you even realize you dropped it, the garbage dude has swept it up and told you to go to the closest stand and just tell them that you need another one. Done. The pretzel person won't bat an eye, because they know the policy, too.

One of the most important points that I think gets lost is that empowerment should actually be empowerment, and not theoretical empowerment. That's where the idea of accessibility comes in. Accessibility means the service recovery solution is readily obtainable. As DI puts it, if a meal voucher is likely to be a recovery solution, "be sure the vouchers are available to employees when needed - not just when the one person with the key to the voucher drawer is present." If the vouchers are not accessible, the empowered employee is going to be less likely to offer that solution, and the unhappy customer is unlikely to want to stick around and waste time waiting for someone to find the key if that solution is offered.

That's also a good way to hide behind fake empowerment, where you tell a customer you wish you could give them something and if it was up to you, you would, but you know that the next level up will deny the request. You might even tell the next level up to deny the request when you put it in, just so you can say you tried even if it wasn't that hard.

Assuming you're not going down the fake empowerment road, the last thing you want to do is tell the person that you wish you could give them a particular solution but that you have to talk to your manager first. This is especially true if you know the customer deserves the solution but there is a chance management will turn down the request. That kind of empowerment is theoretical empowerment - your manager tells you that you are empowered, but there's no solid proof that your empowerment actually exists.

Even if you know they will back you up, it's annoying that everyone's time is being wasted - the customer, the employee, and the manager. How much is all that time and goodwill worth? Probably more than a cheese-filled pretzel.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Teaching

Another great post by Seth Godin, in which he talks about art. He clarifies that art can be anything, whether or not it's a painting (or photograph or sculpture, I might add) that is generous and risky.

Of course, teaching comes to mind. There are all sorts of people weighing in on various sides of whether you can measure what a teacher does. There are bad teachers that sometimes certain metrics may find and sometimes they may not. There are plenty of things that a good teacher does that cannot be measured.

Seth's list of characteristics of what makes art:

  • Human
  • Generous
  • Risky
  • Change
  • Connection
Of course, if we try too hard, we'll end up trying to make a rubric to measure whether or not someone's teaching or other works are "artistic enough" which then actually completely misses the point in the first place.

But, think of the good and bad teachers you've had (or that you've been), and consider the 5 factors above. Are they realistic? Do they give more than they ask in return? Do they sometimes try things that don't work but still end up being just as much (or more) of a learning experience as the the lesson plans that were executed to perfection? Do they instill real change (for the better)? Is there a real personal touch present, even if but for a moment?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Communication Management

In any project you do, a big piece of the success of the project is communication. As such, a large portion of the role of project manager is, you guessed it, communication. Sometimes people get frustrated by what they see as overcommunication from the PM. Other times people feel a bit like they're floating out there on their own, unsure of how the things they are doing fit in with what everyone else is doing. The PM must find a way to balance these extremes, so everyone gets just what they need (including the project manager).

The key first step is to identify the project stakeholders and perform a stakeholder analysis. Now, the term stakeholder is a bit of a loaded one for many people. For some it is the executive stakeholders who are the customers for whom a system is being built or change is being implemented. Sure, they're stakeholders. But that's a fairly narrow view.

Back it up and think of everyone who has a stake in the successful outcome of a project. Think of anyone who could positively or negatively impact the project. Then think of anyone who could be positively or negatively impacted by the project. Sure, your executive stakeholders or customers are on the list, which probably your project sponsor and/or champion who will probably need more communication than some of the other executives. And, yes, the sponsor/champion needs to be an executive, as they need to have money and political clout to help get past any roadblocks.

This is where the first step of the stakeholder analysis comes in - the power/interest grid. You build a 2x2 matrix with Power on one axis and Interest on another. You could pick different items for your axes, but these two often will get you as far as you need to go. You sponsor should be high and right. Not enough power means they're not going to be able to help when times get tough. Not enough interest means they're not going to want to.

Other stakeholders, such as future users of the system may fit higher or lower on the power and interest, depending on what kind of project you're doing. Something that has a status quo that people want to maintain will result in high interest users trying to shut you down. If they're the users, they have relatively high power, as they can sabotage, refuse to help get the system going, or just not use the system after it goes live, even if they are not actually on the project team.

Still others will include people like the dude you always see in the breakroom and is trying to get into a position in your department and really wants to know what is going on, even though at this point the poor soul has nothing to actually offer you. Then you have managers in other departments that could shut you down if they wanted, but they care little if anything about what is going on in your project, so you try to keep away from those people as much as possible. If one of those high power / low interest executives finds out how much your project is costing and wants some of that funding for something in their department, watch out. So a big piece of what you want to watch for is considering what information is relevant to which people, so you can be sure everyone has everything they need and nothing they don't. Even the lowly users who don't have much say in what is going on may be upset if they knew how much the project is costing, but unless they're writing the check, that's not something you talk to them about.

Once you've thoroughly gone through who the various stakeholders are, what kinds of things they can offer you, how much they care about what is going on, the methods of communication that would be most effective for each, and the specific details each cares about, it's time to actually create the communication plan.

The plan itself will be based on the stakeholder analysis and three major phases - introducing the project, carrying out the project, and closure.

Project introduction will include things like gaining buy-in from everyone. Sometimes it's little more than a courtesy notification that the project is happening, particularly for low power players. You'd be surprised how often people are surprised by projects that have been started and people who thought they were a key stakeholder are completely left out of the loop. Let people know what is going on, how the project will affect them, and what help you will need from them. If they have high power over your project, something deeper like explaining the ROI or strategic purpose behind the project will be necessary.

As the project begins, you need to check in with people every so often. A person who won't see the system for 2 years until it's completely done and ready to launch and isn't working on the project will get annoyed if they are receiving weekly status reports. Don't CC the entire company on things. Don't throw information out to people that they don't need to know. Be thoughtful and consider both their time and the political fallout of making people angry at you.

Do make your plan specific. Lay out what information team leads and other team members need to report back to the project manager and how often. Then lay out what the project manager will collect and analyze and who that aggregated information will be sent out to. What format will it be in? What are they expected to do with it? Just read it if they choose or provide feedback and approvals? What items don't recur regularly but happen on either just a certain date or upon some event occurring. When there are change requests, there should be a plan for getting those communicated to people, even though you don't know when they are going to happen. You just know when they are approved, they need to be communicated quickly so the project team is working on the latest information.

And as the project comes to an end, there is information that needs to be communicated and gathered to close out the project. Often final versions of the recurring communications will be put together. Other information, such as lessons learned and team member performance may not be known until the project actually does end. Whether the project is successful or unsuccessful, there should be closure. In fact, one piece of closure is to communicate about the success (or not) of the project. There can be many lessons learned from a failed project, so don't forget to sit down and talk about how to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again in the future. If you don't document that you were going to compile the approvals of all the project deliverables at the completion of each project phase, you may not be able to go back and collect those all later, due to people either leaving the company, losing interest in the project, forgetting what they agreed to, changing their mind, or otherwise. So know what you'll be communicating at the end so you can be gathering that information throughout.

As you lay out the items you will be communicating to gain buy-in and start the project off on the right foot, the items you will be communicating on a recurring or scheduled basis throughout the project itself, and the items you will gather to provide closure to your stakeholders when the project wraps up, be sure that you refer back regularly to the stakeholder analysis. Don't spend a lot of time on people who have nothing to help you with or who don't care about what you're doing. Be sure you have a sponsor who isn't going to lose interest in you half way through.

Make certain you include everything from the stakeholder analysis in your communication plan; if you know someone cares about the project costs and the communication plan never has you sending them a report on how much is being spent, you're missing something. Possibly even more important, when you're sending information to people, refer to the communication plan and from there back to the stakeholder analysis, and don't send stuff to people they don't care about and don't need, as it will begin to burn any goodwill you have with people and make it politically difficult to work with those people in the future. Yes, this means that you need to check who's on the CC line of an email before you hit reply-all and coordinate most of the communication centrally.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Game Changer

The automobile is a source of freedom for all but big city folk who have solid, reasonable options for transportation (and ridiculous traffic and parking fees). So outside a few big cities, no one would be willing to give up their car, right? Maybe. I think everyone knows self-driving cars are coming. To some extent, they're already here, even if not widespread yet. But natural next step may not even be to purchase a self-driving car but rather rent one when you need it. I, for one, welcome our new taxi-bot overlords.

There is very little remaining to make these viable. Obviously GPS and mapping technologies are involved so the car's computer can find the route to get you from beginning to end, and we've largely handed navigation over to these devices already anyway. When was the last time driving somewhere new that you didn't pull out your GPS or look up the Google Map before leaving? Likewise, many vehicles are coming with sensors that warn the driver of other cars around it already.

But let's take it a step further than just having it to the heavy lifting on the freeway. This is definitely something that can be a game changer in terms of Porter's 5 Forces - talk about bargaining power over your customers - if you can reduce their costs so much that they don't need to buy their own car and make it so they don't have to hassle with parking, that's pretty amazing. You can already call a car to get you with an Uber or Lyft app. It's just combining that system with the self-driving car instead of a professional taxi driver or an amateur Uber/Lyft driver.

What could we do with all the parking lots in front of stores? What will we all turn our garages into when we don't need our own car? You might think that you'll always want to drive your own car, but what happens when insurance rates go up for self-drivers so much due to the fact that they drive unsafely and get into more accidents? Insurance companies already have devices they can put in your car to measure how good of a driver you are by collecting data about your driving habits. They just have to compare your habits to those of the taxi-bots, and your rates skyrocket.

So then ethically, how does this affect us? More tracking of where you have traveled to and from being stored in someone's database (more because it's already happening some). Actually, anywhere you go carrying your cell phone, you're already being tracked and recorded wherever you go, and in many cities your license plate number is tracked as you drive around town..

One of the big ethical questions is what happens when someone does get hurt or killed? Fewer people will be hurt with self-driving cars/taxis, but instead of it maybe being the fault of the person driving, what if it is the fault of the programming of the vehicle? What if a sensor is dirty and doesn't catch debris on the roadway?

What is a fair trade-off there handing over the control of your travels in contrast with the overall benefits to individuals and society? There are some very tricky issues here, but self-driving cars are here, whether owned by individuals or by taxi companies or long-haul trucking companies. How many jobs will be created vs other jobs that will be lost? Could a community taxi-bot take kids around to sports and lessons so the soccer mom doesn't have to anymore? Could the dream of sleeping through a night-time road trip and awaking as you pull up to your destination become a reality? How would that affect the airline industry? Will my youngest never need to learn to drive? There's almost no end of the implications here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Project Cancellation

I had an interesting discussion with a student recently regarding cancelling projects. In question was whether it is appropriate to cancel a failing project. The student's position was that a project should never be cancelled. The claim was that, at least at the large company where the student works, they could not afford to cancel a project once it started. If it is failing, then one would investigate the cause and make whatever changes are needed to get back on track.

Of course, you want to track things carefully to be sure any project is progressing as it should. If it gets into trouble, you do a risk assessment and change requests and whatever needs to be done to salvage it. But eventually, if it's actually failing, you cancel it. I think the disagreement came down to perhaps a difference in definition of "failing". If you have been through the process of analyzing what is going on and trying to fix it and it is still doomed for failure, then yes, it needs to be cancelled. If a couple things are just not going as planned, that doesn't mean failure; it means job security for good project managers.

There are many projects that are not cancelled even though they should be because of not much more than pride or attempting to save face. One of the most important concepts I learned about in my MBA program is that of sunk costs. That is, if you’ve already spent the money, it’s gone, sunk, finito. You don’t look back. What you already spent in the past is less important than what is going to happen moving forward. You look at how much it will cost to complete the project or change it or whatever moving forward, and the corresponding opportunity cost (which concept I learned about in undergrad economics), which is to look at whether there is something better you could be doing with that money (or time or any other resources involved) instead. This is sometimes referred to as a good-better-best comparison.

This not being willing to cut one's losses is where compulsive gamblers run into a similar issue, where they lose money and the more they lose the more they want to bet to try to win that money back. But it just digs the hole deeper instead of salvaging what remains in order to take the lessons learned and invest more wisely in the future.

Even better than straight up cancelling, however, is to build in several exit gates throughout the project so that upon completion of a phase, a planned review takes place, with the intent of determining whether the project should proceed. This is most common when the first phase is a feasibility study, but it can also be added after a prototype, pilot, or contract negotiation phase. Write up the criteria correctly, and you can find yourself successfully terminating a project by making the determination that a contract is not worth pursuing or that the pilot did not show the expected benefits. Then reallocate resources to something better.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Consistency vs Transformation

A project is a temporary endeavor. Its successful completion results in the creation of a new or improved product, service, process, or other result.

Being temporary means it should have a distinct beginning and end. In some project-based organizations, the temptation may be to drag the project on forever as a form of job security. The best job security, however, is being efficient at finishing projects and knowing your successful performance means you’ll always be reassigned once your current project is over.

Operations and processes just keep going on without a distinct beginning or end. An assembly line may be used to build a car from beginning to end, but as a whole, the assembly line is really a process that continually creates new cars over and over. If an inefficiency in the process is found, a project may be undertaken to overhaul the process, but once the new process is in place, it goes on with no planned end in sight.

Operations are important to the consistent functioning of a business. But don't underestimate the transformational power of a good project.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cardinal Wolsey

When I am forgotten, as I shall be,
And sleep in dull cold marble, where no mention
Of me more must be heard of, say, I taught thee,
Say, Wolsey, that once trod the ways of glory,
And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour,
Found thee a way, out of his wreck, to rise in;
A sure and safe one, though thy master miss'd it.
Mark but my fall, and that that ruin'd me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last: cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not:
Take an inventory of all I have;
My robe, and my integrity to heaven, is all
I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.

Image "Cardinal Wolsey Christ Church" by Sampson Strong (circa 1550–1611)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I jokingly told my daughter who is supposed to do a presentation of some type on the seasons that she should do it as a haiku. I was looking up the "rules" since I couldn't remember how many syllables were supposed to be in each line. I found a site that talked about haiku, with all the rules and a bunch of examples. There are some great ones on that page. I really like the Christmas one about three quarters of the way down the page.

The basics are the 5 | 7 | 5 syllables per line, and it doesn't have to rhyme. What I had either forgotten or not known is that it is supposed to be seasonal, even if not obviously seasonal. And it's supposed to have a twist of some kind. So there are two halves, with some change from one to the other that provides a new perspective. Of course she had to do it, because of the season thing, but I still couldn't convince her, so she's doing a boring poster with a sun and the tilt of the earth across the different seasons.

So I decided to write a haiku for each season. Since they don't generally have titles (which would be kind of cheating on the 17 syllables thing, I grabbed some great Creative Commons licensed pics from Flickr to accompany each. Sure, each pic is worth 1000 words, but no syllables, so here they are with my four haiku:

Frigid, wind-whipped, dark,
Sullen stillness, empty streets.
Introvert's blanket.

Golden flowers bloom.
Wildlife fills the savannah.
Dandelions roar.

She reclines in sand,
Ocean waves in the distance.
Aye, mocking mirage.

Final drops, warmth drained,
He leans into coming cold.
A pile of leaves. Fall.

Photos by: ldandersen | paullew | cleftclips | sixelsid