When discussing a new training project with internal or external eLearning teams, the first two questions from senior management are invariably, “How long will it take?” and “How much will it cost?” Usually, after hearing the answers, the next two questions are, “Why so long?” and “Why so much?”
The light-hearted tale that follows is intended to answer both questions. (For decryption purposes, substitute learning solution for vehicle and 100 or 1,000 for every employee, depending on the size of your organization.)
Once upon a time, there was an organization that instructed its 100 employees to start working at Point B, in order to be more efficient and competitive. The instruction came in the form of a new procedure that, if followed, would allow all employees to easily move from their current location, Point A, to the new location, Point B. Since the employees filled so many different roles, the new procedure was intentionally vague; offering no clear instructions, street addresses, or GPS coordinates for Point B.
Employees were willing to comply, but had a lot of difficulty finding the shortest route to Point B. They tried different routes, compared notes with their colleagues about traffic snarls, and even shared maps with one another. All that effort to get to Point B, however, had an impact on employees’ productivity and morale.
So their managers banded together and submitted a business case to senior management requesting an official vehicle to transport all employees from Point A to Point B. Considering how much time and effort would be saved, and therefore how much productivity would increase, senior management approved the request for a dedicated and safe means of transportation. A budget was allocated and a delivery date set for two months’ time.
A vehicle project team was formed and began work in earnest. They compared notes on what kinds of vehicles they had learned to drive on, were currently driving, and aspired to drive one day. They spent days refining a shortlist of all the vehicle colors and features they really, really liked. With the list in hand, they approached a vendor to build a special vehicle for their employees’ transportation needs. The vendor provided a fixed-price quote, based on other similar vehicles, and a contract was signed with optimism on both sides.
When the vendor asked to meet and speak with the passengers to document their needs, the vehicle project team assured the vendor that they alone were authorized to answer all transportation-related questions. The vehicle project team again shared their list of favorite colors and features with the vendor, who nodded politely and thanked them for the list (again).
Several weeks later, and on schedule, the vendor invited the vehicle project team to do a test drive on their new, customized vehicle. There was excitement in the air, not to mention that new-car smell that everyone loves so much!
One by one, the vehicle project team members took the vehicle for a spin, around and around again. They dutifully completed the vendor’s satisfaction form, noting the deviation in color choices from their shortlist, lack of cigarette trays, and unnecessary addition of seat belts. They submitted their dis-satisfaction forms separately, not bothering to check with each other to consolidate their comments or agree on any changes to specifications.
The vehicle vendor was dismayed at the list of new requirements—bigger rear-view mirrors, full lettering on the side of the vehicle, different material for the seat covers—because each item represented several days and sometimes weeks of unbudgeted work, not to mention requirements that had nothing to do with efficient transportation. Nevertheless, the vendor’s team went back to the shop and did their best to reconcile conflicting feedback (choosing purple to satisfy separate requests for blue and red seat covers; adding signs to remind passengers not to smoke while on board; but keeping the legally required seat belts).
When the vehicle was ready for the project team’s final inspection, each member again took it for a test drive, this time inviting vehicle specialists along for the ride. Again, each member submitted different lists of changes and upgrades, and again, the vendor dutifully went back to the shop to meet these new cosmetic specifications.
Although the project team had promised senior management that the vehicle would be delivered in three months’ time, the many rounds of changes created delays, and the deadline passed without fanfare.
That is until a senior manager followed up and asked to test drive the vehicle, which was now several months late and very different than the original features and colors shortlist. The project team relayed this urgent request to the vendor, who worked around the clock to get the vehicle ready for the next morning.
The senior manager drove herself to the shop in her own very large automobile, and was surprised to see how small the vehicle was and how few features it had. No choice in GPS voice accents? No coffee holders for all passengers? She relayed her feedback verbally to the waiting project team, who took copious notes and provided them immediately to the vendor.
Back to the shop they went, to add a GPS with voice accent customization options and coffee holders for all passengers, no small task at all. Six months after the initial business case was submitted, the shiny new rainbow-colored bus with large lettering on the sides, purple seat covers, an Australian GPS announcer, and state-of-the-art plastic coffee cup holders was unveiled at an all-company meeting in the parking lot.
After many speeches by senior management and project team members, the remaining employees were invited to get on board their new transportation solution, ready to take them from Point A to Point B.
The first employee hobbled up to the bus door on his crutches, thanks to a recent sports injury, and stopped. The steps were too high to reach on crutches. The second employee had no trouble getting up the stairs and chose a seat near the back. Unfortunately, the space between rows was so narrow she could barely squeeze herself in. The third employee got up the stairs and squeezed in a row near the front, where the glare from all four supersized rear view mirrors was so blinding she had to keep her head below the seat level, which made her carsick.
When each of these employees got off the bus with feedback, the project team was quick to dismiss their concerns in front of senior management. After several employees got on and off the bus with negative feedback to report, whispers began to spread through the crowd of employees waiting for their turns: “Don’t bother—it’s cramped and uncomfortable and not really designed for us. It’ll be less painful to just keep walking from Point A to Point B.”
And that’s exactly what they did. The brand new bus, delivered late and for more money than budgeted for, was rarely used by the employees who so desperately needed a better, faster way to get to Point B. Morale continued to be low, productivity continued to sink, and mistakes continued to made along the way. Eventually, the bus was decommissioned and no one spoke of it again.
If only they had spoken to the passengers first.