Organizational Change is Everywhere

Today I had an experience that proved yet again that certain elements of organizational change exist no matter how great or insignificant the change may be. It started when I stood at what I thought was the front of the sandwich line at the cafeteria at work.  After a long time of waiting for someone to take my order, I realized that I was standing at the end of the line instead of the beginning.  This was particularly confusing because the entrance to the cafeteria is exactly opposite the exit of the sandwich line, making the flow of the sandwich line exactly opposite the flow of the rest of the traffic moving through the cafeteria.  So my friend Mike (who was standing at the end of the line with an equally perplexed look) and I decided to save hundreds of people confusion and unnecessary steps and switched the “entrance” and “exit” signs.  The process was dramatically improved (Steve Krug himself would have been impressed).  Yet the funniest part was to hear the roles that emerged during our change initiative…

First we had the conformers – people who saw that the current system wasn’t working but figured that they were the ones that were wrong and then decided to get in line.  In fact everyone in the line first stood by the “exit” sign waiting to place their order, but eventually realized that the line was backwards and moved to the other side.  Next we had the change agents, in this case Mike and I, going against the odds (and several direct threats from the lunch lady) to fix a broken process.  Then on to the nay-sayers.  Several people that were already in the line actually turned to us and said, “you know you’re not allowed to change the signs like that, right?”  And of course no change effort is complete without the dinosaurs.  Shortly after we changed the signs two guys walked up to the new entrance of the line, one turned to the other and said, “the sandwich like has changed – but it’s always been the other way!” and then decided that it would be easier to get a salad than to adjust to the change.  And finally, the natives – people who showed up after the change had occurred went right to the front of the new line as if it had always been that way.

So if you’re considering an organizational change effort but are afraid that perhaps it would cause too much stress on your team, realize that they would be just  as bent out of shape if you changed the direction of the sandwich line (and everything falls back into perspective). fails usability test…

This week a friend of mine showed me that the US Department of Health and Human Services has a site called “”. If you visit the site (, you will notice the irony of an article called “best place for nav bars” on the *right* nav bar! Don’t worry, it gets better. You will then notice the word “accessibility” is actually an image making it completely not-accessible. Want more? Go to the main page and try to figure out what text is a link and what is not – no cheating, you have to tell me without just clicking on everything to see where you get lucky. I sure hope these aren’t the same people who manage emergency preparedness and food and drug regulations… oh wait, they are.

Asking Questions :: Getting the right people on the bus

In Katherine Cennamo and Debby Kalk’s book “Real World Instructional Design”, they highlight the importance of asking the right questions. This should be one of the strongest attributes of an instructional designer. I first learned the importance of asking good questions when I was supervising a technical support team for American Power Conversion at their headquarters in Rhode Island. I learned that the ammount of time and frustration that can be saved by asking the right questions can be enourmous (and yes, all of those stories about the questions that tech support people get are true).

From that point on, I made it a goal to become a better “question asker”. When it comes to instructional design, there is a question that, in my opinion, is the most important designer to ask. That question is…

“Do we have the right people on the bus?”

The “bus” is whatever project you are working on at the time. The analogy comes from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great where he says that the most effective executives have said, “…I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.”

If an instructional designer is a good ogranizer of who is on the “bus” and where they are sitting, the bus will most likely go someplace great.

Evaluation in Instructional Design

Evaluation in instructional design is very important. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way awhile ago (see Why are they clicking there?). Since then I’ve struggled to try to figure out why evaluation is so often put off to the last minute with whatever resources are left. I think the reason comes down to pride and naevity. As a designer I just assume that whatever materials I’m creating are good and that if they work with my learning style they will work with my users style too. Perhaps there is an issue of difficult at play here too. Evaluation is more work. Well, I’ve found that by evaluating often it is actually much less work.
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Content Diagrams & Rube Goldberg

When planning a project, often “content analysis” diagrams are made. This was the case during the implementation of Blackboard at BYU and other large instructional design projects that I’ve worked on. However, every time I look at one of these things, I can’t help thinking of one of Rube Golberg’s drawings…
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Needs Assessment and Post-it Notes

My father is a well-known speech pathologist. On the first day of teaching his “intro” classes he always ends by saying “All you have to do is speak louder and slower. Congratulations, you are all now speech pathologists.”

Of course that isn’t really all there is to being a Speech Pathologist. From that point on, the students begin years of learning about the intricacies and details of the field. But his point is that, even with all of the additional information they are going to learn, it all comes back to some simple principles. Applying my dad’s wisdom to instructional design, there are all kinds of models and ideas, but when it’s all said and done, Instructional Design is really just a bunch of common sense. In this way, we’ve all been Instructional Designers to some extent for a long time (as Geoff Wright puts it in his blog). However, even in Instructional Design we can get so caught up in the models that we loose trace of the purpose of this whole thing in the first place.
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Why are they clicking there?

Several months ago, I produced a Violin Pedagogy site. Because of the time involved in capturing and editing the video clips used on the site, a friend of mine suggested that I use a Rapid Prototyping model of development. This is the idea (described by Dorsey, Goodrum, & Schwen 1997) that content is developed in iterations, testing it with “end users” along the way. Confident that I really didn’t need end-user feedback, I produced about half of the video clips before reluctantly doing finding a violinist to look at the clips. The first user, after about 30 seconds of looking at the clips, said, “It’s too far away. This won’t help at all.” Humbled, I finished the project adhering strictly to the iterative model of Rapid Prototyping.
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“Don’t Make Me Think”

I have read a plethora of books on web design, and user interfaces. However, I think I’ve found my favorte book yet. It is called “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. Definitely worth the $20. on

Krug’s down-to-earth approach forces us to look at how people really use web pages, not how we claim our users use our web pages. Some of his key points are that we don’t take the time to read pages — we scan them for what we think is important to us and that we don’t bother learning how things work–we muddle through until we figure it out. Coming to grips with such hard facts sets the stage for Web design that then produces topnotch sites.

Color Schemer

One of the best little tools I’ve found when it comes to designing is called ColorSchemer. This online app lets you set colors while automatically generating related color schemes. Fortunately, for the colorly challenged, like myself, this thing can be a life saver.