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Minimum Viable Product Meets Learning and Development: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 10:40 AM

I am part of an international crew of L&D professionals that organizes and facilitates a bi-weekly chat on Twitter under the hashtag #chat2lrn. Over the past couple of years I have gained many new ideas and perspectives from both the #chat2lrn crew and those who take part in the chats. In our chat last week, we focused on what L&D can learn from start-up culture and methodology.

I will admit that before a fellow #chat2lrn crew member posted a blog on this topic a few days ago, thinking about what I may be able to learn from start-ups had never crossed my mind. I work for a company that has been in business for close to 35 years. What could the start-up mentality possibly have to do with my training development projects?

I now see that there is a lot actually, but a couple of things really caught my attention:

Minimum viable product donut

The concept of an MVP, popularized by Eric Ries, a writer and consultant on Lean start-ups, is to create a product that is just developed enough to test a vision with customers. This allows you to learn more about what your customers want and need while investing a minimum amount of time and overhead. Essentially, the MVP is an iteration of the product that enables a full turn of the build-measure-learn loop with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.

Build measure learn feedback loop

The build-measure-learn feedback loop acts as a sort of compass for testing the MVP and after each full cycle is complete, a decision is made to either continue along the current path or make a change in direction. Ries calls this course change “a pivot.” The goal of each cycle is not necessarily success or failure, but rather to acquire “validated learning” that can be used to make informed decisions about the next iteration of the MVP.

So what can the Learning and Development world learn from these ideas?

In our business, we build custom learning and support solutions based on the needs of each customer. We gather as much initial information as we can up front from Subject Matter Experts (SME) and project leadership and then recommend solutions that would best fit the need.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of potential wild cards that can mean the difference between the success and the failure of the solution. One of those wild cards is company culture and the fact that there can be a major difference between how company leadership view the company culture and what it is like “in the trenches.” Another potential wild card is the assumptions made about the end-user audience either by the SMEs or by us.

By using the MVP and build-measure-learn feedback loop concepts, we could rapidly prototype an MVP learning solution to test the assumptions around company culture and end-user audience. We could quickly validate what will work as a solution for the client before spending a lot of time and money building out the solution. Using this approach could ultimately save a great deal of time, money, and mental health by ensuring that the fully developed solution will be successful.

product feedback loop

I don’t think that this approach is either necessary or even desirable in every learning solution development situation. However, after working as an instructional design and training development consultant for the past 17 years, I can certainly think of multiple clients and projects that would have benefited greatly from this approach.

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Andrea May

Currently Vice President of Instructional Design Services, Andrea joined Dashe & Thomson as Director, ERP Training in 2005 after working with the company as a contract Senior Consultant/Project Lead for almost 5 years in the areas of instructional design, training development, change management and communications. Prior to Dashe & Thomson, Andrea was an SAP Training and Change Management Consultant and Project Lead for DDS, Inc., where she provided consulting services to major companies in the Twin Cities, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Houston, and Saudi Arabia. Andrea specializes in customized instructional design and training development for large-scale ERP implementations, and in recent years her focus has shifted to primarily providing certified employee training programs for the propane industry. She is passionate about helping her clients find the best solutions to their unique training and performance challenges. She is a member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and the eLearning Guild where she has served as a speaker at their national conferences. At home Andrea is a voracious reader, a long-time Girl Scout Troop Leader, and she does her best to keep up with her teenage and not-quite-teenage daughters.

Learning, Subject Matter Experts, Rapid Prototyping