Investing in your Single-Source Nightmare

September 3, 2009 Dawn Poulos

I recently read a terrific blog post by HBS Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter entitled “To Master Change, First Dread It.” In it, she argues:

A counter-intuitive tip for mastering change is to start by wallowing in the feelings of dread it arouses. The sheer nail-biting horror of it all. Get in touch with every negative aspect, all the things that could go wrong. Then figure out a way to get that negative force on your side. In short, Dream your worst nightmare and invest in it.

Nowhere in the learning industry today are stakeholders facing greater change than in the move towards single-source learning. The dream is grand one: content reusability, multi-modal delivery and real-time customization – all from a single source of enterprise content to meet the requirements of learners worldwide.

But what we often tend to overlook when launching these projects is that single-source is a paradigm shift for almost everyone involved, affecting directly and indirectly all aspects of learning production. Content authors, subject matter experts, instructional designers, management, and various stakeholders will all witness major changes one way or another. If we don’t invest in our stakeholder’s nightmare, we breed fear, the kind of fear that can bring any single-source initiative to its knees.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with some project leaders across industries that are in various stages of their single-source learning initiatives: I was interested in the change management issues they faced and what steps they took to effectively manage and overcome these potential obstacles. While you can read the entire conversation here, I’ve condensed this into sort of a job aid for single-source change management.

The Top Ten List for Investing in Your Single-Source Nightmare:

  1. Clearly set expectations that things are going to change: While the richness of the content will not change, its format, wording and structure will. Therefore, it’s crucial to communicate what changes to expect and the benefits of doing things in this new fashion.
  2. Educate your stakeholders: Each stakeholder needs to understand how these changes will affect them directly so they can effectively plan for addressing and controlling that change.
  3. Set aside pre-conceptions: Single-source is an evolutionary step for content development but will not be effective unless a shift in mindset takes place up-front. So be open-minded to the process.
  4. Invest more early on: Focus initial resources on planning content strategy, content design and content management practices within a single-source environment so that changes do not have an unexpected and negative impact.
  5. Give your content design breathing room: Designers need to go through transient stage when learning how to separate content from presentation, so provide the extra time they require up-front.
  6. Plan for content reuse: For content design, don’t think solely in terms of sentences and paragraphs but also in terms of “once it is written, how I am going to use for different outputs?”
  7. Identify shared content: Separate audience-specific content from content that can be shared throughout the enterprise, then make shared content context-neutral.
  8. Make content searchable: Speed to market will depend on the ability to quickly find topics for updates, course assembly and rendering to different outputs.
  9. Start with a high impact project: Make sure project provides many opportunities for content reuse and touches many deliverables so everyone can see the value.
  10. Market the advantages: For those people that will not experience the changes directly, make sure you market the benefits gained to them.

Are there any other best practices that can be added to the list?

About the Author

Dawn Poulos

Dawn is the main contributor to the Dawn of Learning blog and her writing is behind its success, driving readers back time and again. She is a proud vegan and health enthusiast and lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. She is an accomplished speaker and writer, having written numerous white papers and trade articles and speaking yearly at numerous tradeshows on the popular subjects of personalized learning experiences, cloud learning, content strategy, single source and XML.

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