Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Portfolio Creation

After a much needed post-masters degree break, I am now working diligently to create a multimedia and instructional design portfolio site to showcase all of the designs, productions and content that I have produced over the last few years.

Fireflies Media    (Check it out--it is still a work in progress)

Nowadays, it is difficult to be considered for any design job unless you have a portfolio; the more impressive the better.  I am also having my resume professional done because I have found it very difficult to merge my past work experiences and my graduate qualifications into one comprehensive resume.  Thank goodness there are people in this world that like doing that sort of thing and are good at it!  (shout out to RTP Resumes)

Once I have my portfolio site created and my new resume polished, I will be ready to dip my toe in the dream job pond.
Photo Credit

Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflecting on my Master's Degree Experience

Photo Credit

As I reflect on my experiences in obtaining my Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology, several challenges come to mind. The first challenge was learning how to think and write reflectively. I would wait till the end of each class and struggle to remember key points to highlight. Then I got a terrific suggestion from one of my instructors to keep a note pad on my desktop and jot down key points throughout the course. That way, all my material was ready to summarize in my reflection at the end of class. Learning to write again at a college level was also a difficult challenge. My bachelor’s degree was in an allied health field and we spent more time working on clinical practices rather than writing papers. I was sorely aware of my need for writing improvement after my first class. With the help of the amazing staff at Walden’s writing center, I was able to come up to speed pretty fast. Lastly, I was one of the few that did not start this program from an education background. My careers are deeply rooted in science and technology, so learning theory was entirely new concept for me. Although I had to put in extra study hours for theory classes, the technology classes were a little easier for me. The exciting thing about the MISDT program is that there are many students from a wide range of backgrounds. I was able to share some of my knowledge of technology and project management, while gaining a vast deal of insight into the world of education. 
Instructional design was born from communications and education. From communications, ideas about message design, readability, and screen and page design were merged with ideas from education such as how people learn in formal and informal settings. From there, over forty different instructional design models have been shared. All of them are commonly based on the processes of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation, also known as the ADDIE process. ("About instructional design,").

I have to admit that thought that instructional design would be mostly development and design with emphasis on technology. I was surprised to learn that just as crucial to the instructional design process were phases like analysis, implementation and evaluation, and that instructional designers had to be knowledgeable enough to manage any and all of those phases. Instructional designers also have to act as facilitators, project managers, evaluators and communicators of information. I have been fortunate enough to gain some experience with project management and communication, but will need to gain the full range of experience as I move through my new career. I know that it is a process and one must fine tune their skills based on experiences, but I certainly will try not to lose sight of my overall goals of adding value to any project I undertake. I want to know how people learn and develop engaging learning activities or practices that mirror real life skills.


About instructional design & technology (idt). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://idt.ctl.und.nodak.edu/about_idt.html

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Project Scope Creep

I am the director of customer service for a software company in North Carolina. Although I typically do not act as a project manager for our software projects, I do function in an account management role. This means that I manage the customers that are undergoing software projects with us. This gives me an indirect window into our project process. From my perspective, scope creep happens after the project scope and deliverables are defined and commitments in resources, schedule and funds have already been allocated. As our project team works to complete the project deliverables, the customer’s expectations often increase above what was originally defined.
This happens unusually often within our software projects especially with respect to timelines and work statements. For example, the original software development project was projected to take 500 hours to complete. Half way into the 500 hours, the customer realizes that the functionality originally scoped does not “do” exactly what they want it to “do.” The project manager is looking at another 200 hours of work to complete the software design based on the customer’s expectations. Now, the project manager is faced with either delivering less than expected, or the project will be completed much later than planned. Software project managers often call this type of scope creep “feature creep”.
Internally, we often discuss “who is to blame” for certain projects going off track. Sometimes, the customer is blamed because they were not clear on what they wanted. That could be the case I guess, but I see it as an issue with our software development team. (Ok—hear me out). Our programmers and analysts are top notch. They are smart and conscientious about their work. All of them want to do a stellar job for the customer. As they start working on a project, they are constantly thinking about ways to make the design better or more efficient. These are small tweaks, here and there, but creative ideas to help the customer achieve their result in the best way possible. Well, these little tweaks and features add up, and before you know it, the project design exceeds the project scope. It becomes a snowball effect because the customer gets excited about what they are seeing in their new software design. This sparks new discussions about other areas that can be made better and so on. This snowball makes the project run longer and eventually cost more than originally planned. The hardest part for the project manager is that these “feature” conversations can happen outside of standard project communication. When the PM finally hears about the new ideas, it is too late to stop the giant snowball.
Everyone on the team needs to be responsible for scope creep. The project manager certainly does not want to stifle creativity, but the creative ideas need to be brought to the project manger first. Dr. Stolovich (n.d.) advises that when new ideas come up, the team members should fill out a Change of Scope document. By following this communication protocol, the submitter understands that the feature will not added until it is approved. The PM can discuss the changes with the customer and together they can make a collective decision on whether the idea is worth adjusting the scope of the project. This communication protocol makes managing the customer's expectations much easier for the project manager.
Stolovich, H. (n.d.). Project Management Concerns: ‘Scope Creep’. [Video]. Retrieved from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/Walden/EDUC/6145/02/downloads/WAL_EDUC6145_02_C_EN-CC.zip

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources

There is a certain amount of anxiety on projects (more on larger projects) to be “within budget”, depending on the commitment levels and where you are in the scope definition and price assessment process. The repercussions of being "off", or "over-budget" can range from mildly unpleasant to severe; hence, the anxiety. Estimating costs and allocating resources is a skill that project professionals diligently strive to hone because it is the back bone of a successful project run. Others, like me, that are relatively inexperienced with this skill rely on experience or mentors to share their knowledge. I found some resources that provide perspective and tips on how to professionally and successfully estimate project costs and resources.

It is useful to think of “budget” as what you have to spend, and an “Estimate" as what the specific scope of work should cost. It has been my experience that these terms are used interchangeably, but the distinction is an important one. Before you can provide any reasonable estimate, you must clarify the scope first (Stener, 2010). Common sense right? Maybe, but budget-and-scope or estimate-and-scope mismatches happen all the time. I would expect that more change orders, disputes and claims on projects come from "missed scope", or "misunderstanding of what was included", than any other recurring project problem (Stener, 2010).

Big Dog, Little Dog: Performance Juxtaposition: Don Clark

I found Don Clark’s blog early in my Instructional Design program and have been following the feed for some time now. I relate to his writing style because it is straightforward and he tells me clearly what I need to know. (The “skinny”) He provides a detailed write up about estimating costs that can provide the instructional designer with several “at a glance” estimates for individual instructional design tasks. These figures are useful for putting together some preliminary estimates.

SEER software by Galorath

My instructional design background is rooted in Information technology, and I naturally gravitate to software that can help with difficult tasks. SEER is a project management software tool that is a little different than many that are on the market today. Rather than allowing you to simply document and chart your project, it can help you with project cost, effort and duration estimates. There is a great deal of information on this site, including white papers and case studies. It appears that you have to go through a sales representative to get a pricing schedule. I would love to know if anyone has experience with this tool.

Articulate Message Board

Lastly, I found a general discussion on the Articulate forum about the time it takes to create a course. Granted, this is referencing Articulate as the tool of choice but still contains some useful input from many different professionals. It is a virtual melting pot of “experience speak”. 

My web research kept turning up references to an article that Dr. Karl Kapp and Robyn Defelice wrote for the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) , but all of the links noted are pointing to an invalid location. Apparently the article was revised and moved. If anyone has the new link, do let me know because it clearly contained some invaluable information regarding estimating the cost of one hour of training development.


Stener. (2010, June 18). [Web log message].  Retrieved from http://buildingforts.blogspot.com/2010/06/scope-first-then-price.html

Friday, July 13, 2012

Communicating Effectively

To prepare for this blog post, I was asked to view the multimedia program called “The Art of Effective Communication.” It allowed me to view one message delivered in three different ways: written text (email), audio (voice mail) and face to face (video). The email example of the message is to the left.

My first impression of the email message was that Jane was rambling. One of the most important parts of effective communication is …the communication part (“5 tips for,” 2012). I was frustrated before I got to the end of the email because I felt like she was almost apologizing before she asked Mark for what she needed. Granted, I do not understand the relationship between Mark and Jane, so perhaps Jane has reason to be apologetic. I would have simply said: “Mark, when you get a chance, please send over your report data so that I can finalize my report. The deadline is coming up soon , and I need your part by the end of the week. Thanks and appreciate your help.” That is my effort to be clear about what I needed and when I needed it.
Jane’s voice mail message sounded upbeat and genuine without negative emotion. I value that because no one wants to listen to an unenthusiastic robot when picking up voicemails. This can also go a long way in helping others learn to feel comfortable around you (“5 tips for,” 2012). I still felt like she should could have been more direct in specifying what she needed, when she needed it and gave a sense of urgency. Mark likely will put her request at the bottom of the pile after hearing this voicemail.
The most effective communication medium is not to have one at all (Taylor, n.d.). Face to face conversations may not always be the most practical, but it is the most effective. The person receiving the message has the opportunity to pick up on non-verbal cues like eye movement or body language. Also, they have the opportunity to respond or ask questions directly. For me, the video or face to face communication conveyed the real meaning and intent of the message. Somehow, when I saw Jane face to face, I was could see her genuine concern for me and not wanting to interrupt me, but did get the intent that she was worried about her report and needed my help. I did not feel annoyed or frustrated by her apologetic tone and felt more willing to assist her.
This exercise showed me that face to face communication is best whenever possible. It brings a personal nature to the message intent and depending on how the message is delivered, can go a long way in getting the information or results that you need. Email and voicemail can be tools to aid in communication for important updates , but if the message is complex or urgent, then it is best delivered in person.   
Mark Parish-offthemark.com

5 tips for effective communciation [Web log message]. (2012, April 6). Retrieved from http://www.canvascreekteambuilding.com/1/post/2012/04/5-tips-for-effective-communication.html


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Learning from a Project "Post-mortem"

It is important for a project team to review the project as a whole at the end of the project regardless of project success or failure.  This review can lead to a list of lessons learned so mistakes are not continually repeated going forward (Greer, 2010).  I was involved in a proposed project at a software company where the Vice President of Knowledge Management wanted to create an online community for our customers to share ideas, challenges and success stories. It would be an alternative to their usual technical support channels. I knew, in talking with our customers on a regular basis, that many asked for a tool to collaborate with other customers as part of their annual support subscription. I thought the project proposal was excellent and would help sustain our existing support contracts and get people talking about our product. I joined the team as a customer representative and subject matter expert. The concept was excellent, the need was there, and the final design was impressive, but the project was shot down before it ever had a chance to test with customers.

The concept was initiated by the VP, and he also elected to manage the project. This was the first issue that contributed to the project's failure because ultimately, his intentions were not in the best interest of the company. By this, I mean that he believed that the success of this project was going to set him above the rest of the executive staff, thus bolstering his career in the eyes of the company. This set the tone for the whole project plan because he kept the project details on a ‘need to know’ basis.  He wanted to keep as much of the project details secret so that he could stage a big company reveal. In doing this, his focus was purely on the design, and he did not consider any risks, constraints or assumptions. Project managers give themselves the greatest chance for success if they prepare at the outset for how to minimize any associated negative consequences (Portny et al., 2009). The VP set himself up for failure by ignoring potentially negative consequences and focusing only on his personal gain.  His narrow focus proved to be disastrous when he demonstrated his online community prototype to the entire company. His big reveal turned out to be a colossal flop.

Photo credit

During the demonstration, the VP was pelted with questions about site security, maintaining site exclusivity for our customers, product information leakage, and resources for discussion moderation. The company was so put off because these critical factors were not considered that no-one wanted to back the project. Despite the excellent concept and proven customer need, the narrow, selfish focus of the project sponsor, poor project management and restricted communication left the online community idea on the table. To this day, no one has wanted to attempt to conduct a project post-mortem or revive this project, despite the fact that the VP has moved on to another company. 

Greer, M. (2010).  The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Kramer, B. E., & Sutton, M. M. (2009). Project management. John Wiley.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Project Management in Education and Training

I am starting a new class at Walden- Project Management in Education and Training. 
According to the syllabus, I will learn more about systematic approaches to project management. I will use various project management tools, procedures, and methodologies, and apply them to projects in a real-world education or training environment. I will analyze the interrelated nature of the triple constraints of time, cost, and scope, and their impact on the overall quality of the project. I will post my class assignments here as well.