Five Ways For Projects to Fail

I just read a great article from Inc.com on why software development projects fail, or as the front page of their web site says “What can a walrus teach you about business?” The article gives five common mistakes that will doom any development project. It’s a relatively short article that definitely holds true for eLearning development. For those of you who haven’t realized it yet, eLearning development is software development. We may not all program in C++ or Java, but our development has a lot in common with traditional software development. If you are a project manager you owe it to your team to read the article.

I think my favorite mistake is number 3 in the article, negotiating a deadline. This is where the walrus teaches us a lesson. No, I’m not going to steal the author’s thunder, you’ll have to read the article to find out about the walrus. I’ll just say, I am the walrus. (OK, that really isn’t funny, but how could I resist?) The reason I like this mistake is because it is absolutely true. I hate giving solid dates for development projects because they are never accurate. Good estimates are possible, but only after detailed requirements and specifications have been drawn up and an experienced developer spends a lot of time mapping out the development effort. That process in and of itself will take time. Even then, stuff always happens that derails development.

In a past job I was asked why a development project would take months. I said because it takes months. Even if your deadline is next week, people can only work so fast. The only way to speed up the process is to hire more people. If your deadline is a few weeks and you only have one developer, I can tell you now the deadline will slip. My theory is that unless you have done development (a lot of development), you cannot estimate development time. Even basing your estimates on past projects probably won’t get you in the ballpark. Maybe the same zip code as the ballpark, or the parking lot, but not in the ballpark.

My favorite training related scenario goes something like this. A new course has been thought up by someone who is not a training developer, let’s say it’s a product manager. That PM says we need a training course so customers can learn how to use the new iWidget. The course needs to be a two-day course. It needs to be done next month because a customer will be testing the iWidget and we need to train them as part of the test. Said PM then asks me if I can get the course done. I say “of course”. The next time I’m asked I’ll tell the PM about the walrus.

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KnowledgePlanet Firefly Review

A few months ago I started a series of posts reviewing various eLearning development tools. Life and work intervened, so I haven’t been very diligent about getting the reviews out. I’ve got several posts started about various topics like mobile learning, podcasting, and personal learning environments, but I want to finish up some of the reviews first.

When I started evaluating tools, Firefly topped my list because I really needed a good simulation tool. Of all the tools and companies I looked into, KnowledgePlanet impressed me the most. They were one of the few companies that really seems to understand the instructional development process and the unique challenges of developing online training. They understand that developing online training is not just about converting classroom training or shoveling PowerPoint onto an LMS. They understand eLearning developers their particular needs. They have developed tools specifically for creating effective online training that have their foundations in instructional design, not programming. The tools didn’t always have all the features I wanted or needed, but I felt at the core, they understood online training.

KnowledgePlanet has two tools that I looked into seriously: Firefly Simulation Developer and Firefly Publisher. If I had my choice and money was no object, I would buy their products. However, KnowledgePlanet’s tools are very expensive, so I probably won’t purchase them at this time. I wish I could. I like the products, and the people I talked to. They were very helpful and informative without be overly “salesy” or pushy.

Firefly Publisher

I attended a webinar for this product, so did not try it myself. Publisher is a server-based development tool that requires no installation on the client computer. It is entirely web-based. I love web-based applications. I hate software licensing based on an installation. I loathe having to drag my laptop home from work because that is were my apps are installed. Web based applications offer several distinct advantages over traditional install-based apps, especially if your organization has very strict IT policies. For me it means the data is backed-up and if my laptop dies or get stolen (which just happened at my workplace), my projects are not lost.

Firefly Publisher was specifically designed for team based authoring, without all the overhead of a full-blown LCMS. It includes a lot of useful team based tools, like creating tasks and workflow management, but doesn’t burden you with a complex administration scheme or interface. It is designed for people who actually create eLearning, not people who manage it or administer it.

In the authoring tool market, there are great tools for individual developers and some good enterprise wide LCMS tools, but nothing in the middle. Firefly is that product in the middle. Small to medium sized organizations can really benefit from Firefly Publisher. The authoring environment is flexible and simple enough for novices, but robust enough for experienced developers.

Some of the features I particularly liked:

  • SME Review – You can have people review courses, but you don’t need a license for them. You only need a license for developers.
  • Task Management – A simple tool for adding tasks to screens, like “Replace graphic” or “redo audio”. It’s basically a “To Do” list for each screen, something I maintain manually now. You can run a report for an entire project to get the global picture.
  • Repository – All assets (text, audio, interactions) are stored in a media repository and can be reused.
  • Remote linking for assets – You don’t have store them in the library, you can point to a URL.
  • HTML Editing – Allows you to edit HTML, and won’t step on it. You can add HTML to the theme, so it’s available on every page.

The version I looked at didn’t have a PowerPoint import, but it was in development. It also didn’t support CSS, but you could put it in the HTML for a theme and it would work. So, even though the software had a gap (in my opinion), there was a simple work around.

My bottom line – I want this tool.

Since this post is getting long, I’ll talk about Firefly Simulation developer in the next blog post.

As always, please let me know if you questions, comments, or a different opinion.