Designers of learning and development solutions frequently build learning solutions that have a prescribed time period and most designers, including myself, sub consciously chew over possible solutions and approaches to the blend of methodologies for days lost in the flow of artistic creation and exhaustive consideration of endless possibilities – it could go on for weeks on end if allowed to.
There is often a misconception that structure gets in the way of generating new ideas. However the creative process thrives under constraints and this discipline actually encourages more ideas to make it to the table. Deadlines tend to focus the mind and on any project resources are usually fixed, so there are three issues that must be managed:
- Schedule: The time when the training product must be delivered to the client
- Scope: The range covered by the topics and methodologies utilized
- Quality: The absence of errors in the product – errors could be textual or broken links in the case of a blended learning solution
I call these three factors “The Three Legged Stool” because they have a fixed relationship.
For example: • If we increase the scope, the schedule must grow to accommodate the increase, or the quality must decline. • If we shorten the schedule, we must decrease the scope or deliver with risk of more defects.
The TimeBoxing Technique for Learning Designers
Time boxing was originally created as a method for software engineers and developers to manage tasks and deadlines. Time boxing is simply allocating time to work on a task and then working as hard as we can within that time frame and rather than working on something until it is completed in one sitting, we only work on it for a specified period of time in 30-45 minute chunks Just enough time for you to feel the pressure to fill the time with your effort,. At the end of this time the task is either ticked as complete or we commit to another chunk of time to it at another time.
The time boxing technique puts parameters and boundaries around cogitation the practice of ranking outstanding tasks, makes us consciously aware of how much time we have available to focus our energies towards things that matter most and therefore we get those things done first.
Time Boxing Applied
Have you ever attended a training event that ran over time? Those who design and deliver training and development events start with an overall duration time box, and break that down into smaller time boxes to fit with breaks and lunches availability of I.T. suites and, carefully select materials and activities that meet development needs. Those who deliver training events know that people won’t remember why they were late finishing they will only remember that they were late, so time boxing is the technique that will provide the structure both during the design and to allow smooth running during delivery of the event.
Ready to Box – Here goes:
- Download a LARGE timer and set it for intervals of time remember – just enough time for you to feel the pressure to fill the time with your effort – make sure you configure it for sound.
Set deadlines for each task you need to do, – 30-45 minutes chunks is probably optimal. If you think a task will take longer, break it down further and set smaller deadlines
- Divide the day up into these chunks and you can see at a glance what you hope to achieve by the end of the day. Leave an hour unallocated for finishing tasks off – or if you are using the technique to plan the delivery of training add 15-20% to each scheduled activity use this time to accommodate group discussion – you’ll probably need it.
The benefit of the time box approach is: It enables you to cut the content or functionality to fit the scheduled delivery time, rather than extending and re-extending the time so that all the requirements can be built. Delivering a certain amount in the Time Boxed period enables constant progress and achieving the time boxed delivery forces us to stop agonizing over a perfect decision, and make a usable decision.