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Your Questions Answered: 5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff

by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites

Yesterday, Angel Green and I hosted a webinar titled “5 Savvy Tips for a Successful e-Learning Project Kickoff.” The goal of the webinar was to provide specific actions you can take to improve the start of your projects. If you are interested in checking out the recording of the webinar, you can find it here.

In the webinar, we shared the following tips:

  1. Put down the binder and walk away from information.
  2. Avoid analysis paralysis.
  3. Get the right people in the room.
  4. Be ready to listen.
  5. Brainstorm, sketch, prototype, repeat.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to cover everything in a 45-minute webinar, and of course, we didn’t. There were so many great questions asked by the engaged participants, but unfortunately we couldn’t address all of them. However, as promised during the webinar, we wanted to be sure to provide answers to most of them. So, here goes!


  1. SAMFieldGuide3DBlogCan you define/review the SAM acronym?
    SAM stands for Successive Approximation Model, an iterative instructional design and development process. It's an advanced development approach we’ve used here at Allen Interactions for years that was created by Michael Allen. We have a lot of information on our website and in Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide.

  2. Would you consider virtual meeting being "in the room”?
    Hosting a virtual Savvy Start, the kickoff brainstorming meeting in SAM, can be tricky, but not impossible. If everyone can see the sketches, each other, and the prototypes, then you should be fine to proceed with a virtual meeting. However, make sure you inform the participants in advance of the need for them to stay focused and participate. Otherwise, your meeting will not be as successful as one that is in person.

  3. What kind of talent do you need on your team to pull off a successful brainstorming project kickoff meeting like a Savvy Start?
    At a minimum, you should have an instructional designer (ID) and a prototyper. These can be the same person – and often are. A project manager is important, but if this person is not available, or the Savvy Start is an abbreviated version, the ID and prototyper are the most critical.
  4. So at the beginning of the brainstorming meeting, are the expected behavior changes already identified, or do you work this out in the brainstorm as well?
    Yes and no. There may be SOME behavior changes identified and brainstorming these moments is a great starting point. But during the initial brainstorming, other essential behavior changes typically arise—these also need to be sketched and prototyped to ensure the training addresses all key performance moments.
  5. So how much content should a designer get to know before the Savvy Start?
    Angel and I address this point briefly in the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide, but you should know enough to be able to participate in the conversation. More importantly, you should know where to find things later versus becoming an expert on the subject.

  6. Do you ever do any other types of needs assessment (surveys, interviews) other than "getting everybody in the same room?"
    You certainly can (and should) conduct other types of assessment to support the design efforts. But, the purpose of the Savvy Start (“getting the right people in the room”) is to proof out the performance moments more effectively. More importantly, the brainstorming and prototyping that occurs in the Savvy Start provides direction on the type of questions you should ask. In other words, the Savvy Start gives you an initial design concept to “proof out” during additional discussions (surveys, focus groups, one-on-ones, etc.).

  7. Just to clarify, you are using SAM to facilitate these projects?
    Yes. Allen Interactions has been executing SAM for over twenty years. It’s not just what we promote, it’s what we do every day.

  8. What do you do if you get people in a room and you have one or two people who are stuck on their belief that the issue is X when in reality it is Y?
    Be happy! Just imagine if you would not have found this out until the end of your project. The time, money, and effort you have saved by identifying this early is immeasurable. Brainstorming the performance event and then sketching and prototyping out the event should provide the opportunity to highlight the real issue (or maybe find out that it really is X and not Y!).

  9. What if you are not a good sketch artist? My concern is that the vision that comes through your fingers onto a whiteboard may be very different than the one in your head.  I wouldn't want the client stakeholder completely misled by the lack of my fine art talent!
    The whole point of sketching is that it is rough and basic, not refined and exact. Everyone can sketch. Don’t worry so much if it’s perfect as long as it conveys the fundamental objects and their relationship to one another. During her upcoming webinar, Design Thinking for Instructional Designers, Angel Green will talk about the power of a sketch, and how to abandon the need for perfection as an instructional designer.

  10. Can you clarify/elaborate how to avoid analysis paralysis? This is a problem my team has frequently.
    The best way to avoid overanalyzing is to laser focus on the specific performance moments. And, when you get to these performance moments, be careful not to spend time thinking through all possible permutations of every potential scenario. In SAM, you continually analyze and evaluate throughout the phases of SAM as the instructional product is developed (from sketching through gold). 

I hope that the answers to these questions provide some insight into the benefits of being savvy with the way you start your projects. By avoiding excessive information early, moving past analysis, gathering the right people together, listening and brainstorming, and sketching and prototyping, hopefully you can get your learning and development projects off on the right foot.

For more on effective design techniques, join Angel Green for her upcoming webinar on Thursday, June 26, Design Thinking for the Instructional Designer. In this webinar, Angel will address ways to ensure that your projects include good design and how to effectively work with your team to build better learning events.

Webinar: Design Thinking for the Instructional DesignerSubscribe to the e-Learning Leadership Blog

Making e-Learning Success Through Failure
Can Design Thinking Advance Our Jobs as Instructional Designers?

About Author

Richard Sites
Richard Sites

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