“A foolish consistency,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” I have, it seems, a very little mind.
I adore consistency. And documentation, especially documentation surrounding expectations, enables a consistent approach, not only in training design, but also in working with training teams. If team members know the expectations, they also know what they need to achieve.
We use several documents to help us be consistent. They have a variety of names, but all go to the same ends.
Examples may include:
- “testing scripts” (a series of procedures for quality assurance staff to run down and check against);
- “definitions of done” (statements that must be fulfilled before a project is considered to be finished);
- or “technical specifications” (criteria that developers build to).
Combined, all work to ensure that the training product—be it an elearning course, website, instructor presentation, or participant manual, is consistent with the expectations of other team members, management, and stakeholders.
The idea is to widely share these documents. When designers and developers have the testing script that quality assurance staff will be using, they can make sure that the training materials follow testing standards as they are building it. This is good for everyone and helps avoid a common refrain: if I knew that the course needed to do that in that way, I would have built it that way from the beginning!
Consistency is good. Expectations are great. If I had to, I might say that you can build in places where variation would be allowed. For example, I might let a developer know they can’t change the font, but if absolutely necessary, they can add an extra page to manage the text. I might check with the stakeholders and see if it would be okay to update the script, should a voice-over artist use contractions, or whether the voice-over must be re-recorded.
This is a heavy burden, no doubt. It requires thinking through as much as possible before a project begins. Yet the upside is significant. By documenting expectations for training materials, and sticking to them as much as possible, you help everyone know what to expect, reduce surprises, and avoid re-work.
This often also has the very nice side effect of creating space and patience to deal with those seemingly inevitable deviations that appear in all training projects, no matter how carefully expectations are set.
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