What a minimum viable product approach can do for workplace learning & development

What is a minimum viable product (MVP)?

An MVP is intended to create the minimum amount of product to be able to get something in front of your user (or leaner). The intention is that it shortens the time that it takes to work out what your customer (in our case the learner) really wants through an iterative approach.

The approach was originally described by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup.  Begin with a hypothesis which can be built quickly and cheaply. This minimum build includes the data gathering tools to extract valuable learnings to determine if your hypothesis was correct or not. Over time you refine the process with the intent that you are orientating closer and closer to meeting your goal. Failing that you identify quickly that the hypothesis was wrong and you should start over.

This process is often described as Build – Measure – Learn as shown in the cycle below.

build measure learn

The technology startup and innovation world are awash with this approach with many adopting solely this approach over more traditional research and focus groups. Within HR, Learning & Development the approach has been discussed previously by KAnthony in the minimum viable practice, by Teachable: How to run your online course like a lean startup and by Andrea May in minimum viable products development

The focus in this post is to explore the measurement and learning aspect and how it can bring about an opportunity to measure bottom line performance improvement and bring strong cohesion between the learner and the learning designer.

1. Do you know what your learner wants and needs?

The focus is to take a different perspective to the usual approach and really understand the needs of your workforce and the problems they are facing.

Once you change focus towards identifying the problems and looking for repeating trends across the organisation then you can start to see what you might offer.

This provides an opportunity to move learning and development towards performance improvement:

You’ve identified a problem which impacts 30% of your workforce. Through your MVP learning cycle (above), you identify that the cost (time) spent doing X in a current way is 17 mins per person per day. Gross this up across the workforce and a strong rationale for action can be formed.

Although this is not the aim of this focus,  by identifying user problems often yields insights which can be used in a myriad of ways. Improving the organisation performance and developing a valuable business case are 2 examples.

2. How do you learners want to receive information?

Understanding how to reach a learner is critical to engage them in. We often are told there isn’t enough time. However if it really matters and the channel is effective then you can often be surprised by how much time people can find. It’s about choice, not time, is your learner motivated to do something about their development.

This requires effort on the learning designers part to understand and align motivation of the learner to objectives of the programme. For example, a new employee going through their induction programme may be highly motivated to ‘fit in’. This is quite different to the motivation levels associated with someone stepping up to managing or heading up a business unit.

This is a fantastic creative opportunity; disrupting someone with content which is appealing, relevant and timely. Using an MVP approach you might begin by curating resources from Vimeo or Youtube and sharing that through your social network.

One important consideration, however, is how you can learn from this trial.

Example

Let’s say you find a short video clip on how to rebuild an engine component.

At this point, our understanding is that this is a complex process and many technicians don’t feel skilled to carry out the task in the manufacturers stated repair time.

Looking on Youtube we come across:

But before we provide this we want to be able to know if it’s working so let’s include some analytics. Using the link to the video page we shorten it with bit.ly. Then we share and use this resource in our target group or emails we send. This way we can see who engages with the content.

http://bit.ly/2a2uAml

Using this link I can now track and monitor this in bit.ly. This is very rough and ready and a better solution would be to embed the video into a blog post or portal so that I can use Google Analytics to get improved data on how its being used and include a poll to get further learning.

Bitly URL analytics

The value at this stage is the opportunity to try content in front of real users and get some valuable feedback. Optimising for the best channel and mix of resources is a great way to avoid overtraining or delivering information which doesn’t hit the spot.

3. Experiment

Discovering what the learner needs is only part of the puzzle. If you don’t know why then you can’t expect to apply this to any viable product and replicate at the scale the same results.

So far you’ve identified a problem which a number of people have. For that problem, you’ve shared some existing resources (no cost) and tracked each resource to see where there was uptake.

During this exercise, you are dealing with very low volumes of users. This is one of the key principles of a minimum viable product. It provides you with the chance to be personal, to speak to each user and go deep on why something is or isn’t working.

This experimental approach doesn’t scale but neither does it need to. At the end of this, you will have a great understanding of what the problem is and how your learners would like to see it solved.

Your discussions should look to extract information around:

  1. Identify the triggers – what gave them the initial spur.
  2. What were the channels they used to find a solution?
  3. What were their expectations of what they would find Vs what was provided?
  4. Was there an appropriate supplementary, web or resources which allowed them to go further?
  5. Can they recall the key learnings and apply these in their practice?
  6. Were they motivated to contribute either a rating, comment or question for the next person?

Try new ways and see how best you can meet your goals. This process can be rapid and low cost by curating something which is available already to develop an effective learning solution.

Q&A — I was asked for some further suggestions to test ideas with low-cost curated resources …

  • If you identify a tool or calculator: Try Google Docs to provide a read-only version that each person can copy and adapt.
  • Looking for curated infographics: Try Pinterest.
  • Presentations: Slideshare
  • Videos: Vimeo or Youtube or ted
  • Industry leaders: Twitter or buzzsumo
  • Surveys: Google Forms or WuFoo
  • Ask and understand how they solve the problem today. The feedback can be surprising, from my experience you can get responses like:

“Oh I’ve created this little tool”

or

“Bill in Customer Service keeps a report on each process”.

What next?

Through the MVP process, you gain an understanding of the elements required to address a problem. The Build->Measure->Learn loop removes barriers, can recognise the role of motivation to engage learners and drives collaboration between the learning designer and the learner to co-create an effective, proven set of insights. These insights are the ingredients of your next programme.

It’s now time to develop a solution which scales to meet the size of your audience and offers the resources and support your users need.