Applying TQM and Process Facilitation to Accelerate the Instructional Design and Course Development Process

Accelerating The Instructional Design Process:

A Case Example 

by Ariane Benefit

Published in the ISPI P&I Journal, September, 1995International Society for Performance Improvement

Abstract:  This article describes how the cycle time for designing a two-week instructor-led training program was dramatically reduced from nine weeks to one week.


The Business Need   The global information services organization in this case had recently completed a new strategic plan to meet the projected market demand for its computer security services. At the time, there were approximately 100 highly skilled consultants providing these services, all of whom were already working serious overtime. To meet the projected market demand, 300 new consultants were to be hired around the world over the next six months. Because of the specialized knowledge and proprietary methodology involved in delivering the services, and the high quality standards required, all of the new hires would have to be fully trained before being assigned to a client project.  
The Challenge Based on a high level assessment of the business needs, program objectives and content, the relatively small audience of 300, the tight budget and short time-frame, we determined that a two-week instructor-led program would be the most appropriate instructional strategy.  Objectives. By the end of the two weeks, the participants would have to be able to talk intelligently with clients about their computer systems, to design and perform computer security tests, and to make recommendations to improve security.  Timeframe. The workshop had to be designed, developed, and tested within four months to meet the world-wide hiring schedule.  The Traditional Approach.Historically, using the training organization’s established design processes, the design phase for this project would have taken at least nine weeks. We would also have required at least three subject matter experts (SMEs) to work on-site full-time with the designers to develop the content for most of the program. We would also have needed several other part-time SMEs to develop the content for specialized modules.  Constraints. We quickly realized that the traditional approach was not going to work for this project for several reasons, including:  

  • The SMEs were all extremely busy and could not be taken off-line for nine weeks. (In addition to the issues associated with interrupting or delaying service to clients if the consultants were taken off-line, their time was billed out at premium rates. Time not spent serving clients would mean a significant decline in revenue.) 
  • The available design staff was also minimal because of the immediate startup required. 
  • The budget was less than one-third of what it would normally take to design a two-week instructor-led program. 

A radical change to our approach was needed.  

The Solution:
Apply TQM and
to the
Design Process 
To meet the challenge, we decided to experiment with some of the quality and process re-engineering methods and tools that had been so successfully used to dramatically reduce cycle time in other areas of the organization. Such methods as just-in-time (JIT) production cells, real-time reviews, team process facilitation, and group problem solving processes were adapted and applied to our instructional design process to reduce project cycle time from the usual nine weeks to one week. Change. Implementing the new processes required both the line sponsors and instructional design staff to make a fundamental paradigm shift away from 25 years of tradition–instead of the design organization taking ownership of the project, and using the line SMEs as resources, we approached the project as partners.  Commitment to Partnering. We all agreed that we would have to cooperate fully to develop a quality program in the time available. The designers would have to give up having total control of the design and work as a team with the SMEs. Line management would have to commit to make time available to come to the worksite to review work in progress and provide immediate feedback to the team.  Planning to Build-in Quality. Together, we devised a plan to bring the eight key SMEs together with two instructional designers and myself as the team facilitator for one week to work as a team to complete the design document. A line manager and myself also served as coproject managers. We made all decisions together.  The agenda for the week-long work session was developed to correspond to the steps in the design process. The first half day of the session included an ice breaker/ team building activity and a mini-course for the SMEs on learning principles, designing instruction for cost-effective delivery, and materials production. Examples of design documents and workshop materials were used to illustrate the outcomes and the value of the design phase. Taking the time to educate them up front was critical to getting them to buy into the systematic design process we had planned and to helping us establish our credibility as designers.  

The remainder of the agenda included working as a team to develop a detailed audience, job and skill analysis, program goals and learning objectives, and design a high-level program agenda. Real-time management reviews were scheduled at each of these critical milestones. Once we had approval on the overall agenda, the team broke up into small groups to develop module outlines which included content points, media, and activity descriptions. On the last day, each small group then presented their outlines to the whole team, including management, for input.  

The Result At the end of the week, the team had produced a detailed design document, complete with a job, skill and audience analysis; learning objectives; an agenda specifying module sequence and times; a module-by-module outline; a listing of instructor, materials and equipment requirements; and a plan for developing the materials. Not only was the program fully designed, key managers had already provided input and signed off on the design.  
 The Methods Establishing a partnering mindset and using total quality management (TQM) processes produced such positive results in this case that I now regularly use these processes with clients to meet seemingly impossible deadlines. Although the processes need to be adapted to each organization, and they do need to be positioned carefully with some organizations, I have found that most companies have implemented some kind of quality and/or teamwork initiatives and are eager and excited about using these processes to speed up their design and development process. The specific methods and processes used are briefly described below.  Just-in-Time (JIT) Work Cell Environment. The SMEs and designers were brought together to work in the same location: two joined workrooms. All needed supplies and equipment were brought in to minimize any need to leave the work cell.  Team Process Facilitation. The instructional design process, including needs assessment, was broken down into a series of team activities and discussion topics and built into the team’s agenda for the week. Team meeting facilitation techniques were used to orient the team. We established consensus on the ground rules, project goals, team member roles, the process we would use to achieve the goals, and the format of what the final product would look like.  Use of a team facilitator helped ensure the team stayed focused on results, time and process. When the team was subdivided into smaller work groups, regular time checks helped us stick to the timelines.  

A Note of Caution  These methods enabled the team to create a detailed design document for a two-week course in one week. Facilitating a team successfully, however, requires skills beyond instructional design. An untrained, inexperienced facilitator can create more problems than are solved using this approach. If you are considering using any of these approaches, I highly recommend that you ensure the team facilitator has the appropriate background and skills.  

  Constant Consensus Building. The team’s consensus was sought and obtained at every step along the way. Ownership of the process and full participation by every team member was encouraged by using a “round robin” approach to brainstorming discussions. Voting techniques were used to prioritize and ensure consensus on final team decisions. This fostered a highly collaborative environment, and ensured the team’s commitment to the results.  Group Output Display. All responses to discussion questions such as “What tasks will be performed by the new consultant during the first year on-the-job?” were recorded in the SMEs’ own words on flipcharts and posted on the walls. Whenever changes or final decisions were made, different color markers were used to indicate them.  JIT Input of Group’s Work. As the group was working, the information on the flipcharts was also being input into a word processor so that, by the end of the week , we would have a complete design document.  JIT Management Reviews. Key management stakeholders came to the work cell at critical milestones to review our work. We used the posted flipcharts to walk them though our work, get their input, and to obtain their signoff.   Feedback from the executives on this part of the process was surprisingly positive. They said they really liked reviewing the work in progress and enjoyed discussing their feedback with the team and, especially, with each other. They also felt assured their points had been understood and would be incorporated into the course appropriately.  
The Benefits Using the methods described above produced several benefits for everyone involved.  Role conflict was reduced. The team facilitation process ensured roles were clearly defined up front. The SMEs were encouraged to take an active role in designing as well as in providing content, which they thoroughly enjoyed.  There was almost no rework! By the end of the week, the SMEs and management had already signed off on the design. Only minor editing of the design document was needed to finalize it.  We established credibility. The SMEs and the executive reviewers learned a lot about the instructional design process and developed a new respect for our skills. Those who had previously worked on training design projects as SMEs felt that, for the first time, they understood what instructional designers do and why their specialized skills are needed to produce quality, cost-effective programs. By partnering and facilitating rather than controlling, we were able to build credibility.  Quality was enhanced. Because we had top performers with real-world expertise as SMEs, and we set up a fun work environment, the creative ideas flowed freely. More ideas to choose from led to a strong, highly interactive design.  

We saved much time and money.For example, the emphasis on consensus building and real-time reviews eliminated the time-consuming and expensive process of “polishing” the document and sending it out for management review. That process usually leads to getting back conflicting comments which, in turn, causes delays to the project because of the need to resolve the conflicts.  

The Top 10
Key Success
There were many reasons why the project was successful, but there were several which proved to be absolutely essential. Here are the Top 10.  

  1. Management committed to partnering, to selecting top performers with varying experience levels, and to participating in JIT reviews. 
  2. Every team member was highly qualified for his/her respective role. 
  3. We focused on process as well as results. Each team member reviewed, agreed on, and committed to the project goals, and to the process for achieving them. 
  4. We educated the line team members on the value of using a systematic instructional design process. 
  5. The company was in the process of transitioning to a team culture. Consequently, many of team members had had some training on being an effective team member. 
  6. Everyone participated fully. 
  7. Team members worked in the same room, which enhanced communication. 
  8. The team’s work was on display in the workroom for the entire project. 
  9. We trusted each other.
  10. We made having fun one of our goals!


How We Made Work FUN
Knowing that the team would be under significant stress for a week, we decided to establish a fun environment for the work cell experience. Along with the usual introductions, we kicked off the project by asking everyone to name a cartoon character they would like to be, and tell us why. It helped us get to know each other quickly, and set the stage for a really fun and productive week. We also planned a series of “energizer breaks” throughout the week, and provided an assortment of stress-relieving toys, such as “Koosh” balls and juggling games at all work stations.