Working In A Dedicated Learning And Development Team: An Instructional Designer’s Perspective

What It's Like To Work In A Dedicated Learning And Development Team Model

“You are sold!” My Team Lead and Project Manager, back from onsite, happily announced this in the meeting room. This was almost a year and a half ago… I was still new to the Instructional Design world and was clueless about what it means to work as an Instructional Designer in a dedicated Learning and Development team model.

What’s the big deal? Is there really any difference? I know many people out there who do not know the difference.
That’s why I decided to share my experience through this article. This article is not intended to analyze the merits and demerits of dedicated team vs fixed price business model. It's an attempt to share my journey and experience gained through working in a dedicated team model. Working closely with the client helped me gain customer perspective and learn the nuances of client engagement.

Learning to be patient is the first key, learning to unlearn and then relearn the client way is the second… and the list continues. My experience in a dedicated team model has taught me the most important lesson: Client Engagement is crucial to Customer Satisfaction.

Initially when I got into the team, I had questions like why would a client engage a dedicated Learning and Development team when they can get the same done in a fixed price model? Isn’t that more economical? Then I thought they must be having loads of work to keep us on our toes throughout the year.

I was about to discover the answer to these questions and experience it too.

Working As A Dedicated Team

Our engagement in projects is long term, where requirements are unclear and scope changes frequently. After months of content discussion and storyboarding, we might get to the stage where we have developed initial few screens to showcase the visual strategy for course development and then scrap off the project completely because of some changes in the organization.

On the other hand, sometimes, we burn midnight oil to get a training material ready on a short notice or accommodate the client’s request to attend a workshop, which runs over the night (Time Zone differences)!

Typical to a dedicated team model, our client’s own team lacks skills or expertise in specific areas such as Instructional Design, Media, and Development. Their core team comprises a couple of highly experienced Engineers with expertise in business management.

Our role is to work seamlessly as a part of our client's team to manage their end-to-end learning requirements and provide quality, unique, and project-specific solutions. This is the part that I like the most!

Understanding Client’s Expectations

The deeper the involvement, the higher the expectations!

Our client considers us as the Learning and Development experts and believes that their job is to tell us what they want to achieve out of a training. Our job is to lead, inquire, and present solutions for how we will do it, and most importantly the logic behind it! They set the task and we find a way to achieve their goals!

The writing was not so clear on the wall when we began the association. It took me some time to understand client expectations.

Communicating With The Client

The frequency and level of interaction with the client is always high in a dedicated team model. Frequent client interactions made me confident at communicating with them. Initially, I was apprehensive in putting forward my ideas in front of the client. However, soon I began to gain confidence.

I used ‘Counter the ANTs’ technique while entering into a client call. ANTs are Automatic Negative Thoughts that invade your mind with self-doubts and make you nervous. You need to counter the ANTs with the good old LOGIC as soon as the first batch of negative thoughts arrive.

Countering the ANTS!For example, if I have a negative thought that the client will ask me a question and I may not know the answer… I will counter it immediately with the logic… “you know the material in and out and you know why you have used an instructional strategy and that’s all that they can possibly ask!”

‘Countering the ANTs’ is a great technique to overcome nervousness. I taught this to many of my Psychology students, during my teaching days, but never thought that I will use it myself!

While communicating with the client, I always:

  • Summarize a discussion to validate my understanding,
  • Ask questions if I don’t understand something,
  • Use terms and language our client uses, and
  • Set expectations before I pull a trick out of my Instructional Designer’s bag.

The mantra is: Listen to the unsaid words... be in complete sync with your client!

Getting A Buy-In

A lot of our time and effort goes into gathering requirements and designing learning solutions for our client. Creating a wonderful presentation with a glorified eLearning strategy is one thing and to present and sustain through the discussion is another feat altogether!

Our client likes us to present learning solutions based on some learning sciences principles or theories. The mantra to get a buy-in is Follow the Logic, Make it Visual, and Always Be Prepared for Questions!

Whenever I am preparing to present a learning solution or training approach to the client, I keep in mind these three questions:

  • Why do it this way?
  • What are the other ways we could do it?
  • Why not do it the other way?

In one of my recent projects involving multiple Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), one of the Subject Matter Experts was not open to using storytelling or characters in the eLearning, while the topic was all about interacting and engaging people. He wanted us to follow a simple content layout approach for the eLearning with some click to reveal interactivities. After several rounds of discussions, he still remained reluctant to go ahead with the storytelling approach.

If I had to get a buy-in for the storytelling approach from the Subject Matter Expert group, I had to think ahead and prepare myself for their questions! Therefore, I spent an hour creating a couple of slides to answer those anticipated questions! I started with a scenario and asked the SMEs to put themselves in the learner’s shoes. I presented two options to them and asked which way they would like to learn. Here’s a screen shot of how I concluded that presentation.

Proposed eLearning Approach I

Result: Our client and rest of the Subject Matter Experts said in unison… "We agree to the storytelling approach!”

Funny but true, whatever I am doing now reminds me of my PhD guide’s dictums… follow the Logic, question everything you do or don’t do, critique your work, and analyze the loops and holes before anyone else does.

The mantra is still working!

Predicting The Client’s Behavior

The more you interact, the more consistent patterns you observe, and the better you can predict people’s behavior!

As a result of frequent interactions with the client, I have become more attuned to understanding their preferences, business goals, key values, and messages they want to convey through their learning programs. This enables me to foresee their review comments, terms and language that they like to use.

In a recent conversation with the client, they acknowledged and appreciated how my profound understanding of their work and business has made things easier for them.

Being able to predict your client’s behavior / preferences can smoothen the working, decrease the turnaround time, and increase customer satisfaction! So look for the pattern in their feedback and ensure that your client never sees the same mistake twice!

Identifying With The Client’s Business Goals

As a dedicated team, we are committed to our client’s projects and company in general.

I feel as if I have become a part of our client’s company and understand their corporate culture, management style, and project methodologies. Working closely with the client and interacting with them almost on a daily basis has helped us understand the company’s vision. I am always interested to align my projects to achieve my client’s business goals.

This reminds me of a discussion with one of the Subject Matter Experts, when I pointed out to him a change in the organization’s Product Development Process. I drew his attention to how it could impact certain sections of the storyboard, which had reference to the older process. The Subject Matter Expert was unaware of the new process being finalized and appreciated my initiative as it saved all of us a lot rework. I could bring up that point because I could connect the dots between how our client’s business processes are interlinked.

Maintaining Effectiveness And Motivation

Having enough time to get a hang of things is certainly an advantage of working in a dedicated team model. If you are working as an Instructional Designer on several projects for different companies simultaneously, delivery effectiveness, quality, and motivation suffers at times.

Working in a dedicated Learning ad Development team does not let you lose the task focus and provides the best results for a client in a project. Maintaining the quality has become our motto.

There’s a flip side to it, sometimes you may be sitting on the bench for a long time. The client’s busy schedule can be a bottleneck and may hamper a project’s progress, resulting in frustration. Lack of opportunities to learn new techniques outside your area in the project may make the work monotonous.

However, you need to maintain your morale and utilize this time for your personal development or continuous improvement activities for the client. We continuously strive to engage our client. For example, this month we plan to showcase new capabilities of our company to the client.

Remember, sustaining the motivation and maintaining the quality is the key!

Working Together

Great things are born out of close collaboration in a team. Working within the dedicated team you get the complete control over the projects and day-to-day communication. Brainstorming sessions within the team and with the client are common to get visible results and work more efficiently.

Our team has developed a great bonding as we share a common goal!

Contract renewal by the client at the end of a year is our reward and recognition for a dedicated client engagement. We are not working for the client; we are working with the client. We are entirely dedicated to achieving our client’s business goals and consider this cohesion and stability in our relationship a great asset.

We aspire to grow with our client’s growth.

The Dedicated Team right before entering a call with the client for one of the working sessions this week.

The Dedicated Team right before entering a call with the client for one of the working sessions this week. Picture Courtesy: Bhupinder

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