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3 Ways to Start Implementing the SAM Process in Your Organization

by , vice president - training and marketing | @rhillsites

Richard Sites, vice president

Over past couple of years, I have taught a number of workshops on SAM (Successive Approximation Model) and have given even more talks on the subject. In these workshops and talks, I always get the same basic questions, which I guess makes sense since I am talking about the same thing. But, the one question I can guarantee I will be asked is,  “How do I implement SAM in my organization?”

While I am happy to be asked this question, as I firmly believe organizations benefit from the efficiencies and improvement in quality gained in an iterative process, this is a tough question to answer! Truthfully, it is nearly impossible to answer even in a 2-day workshop, let alone a 90-minute lecture.  Since I do encounter this question so frequently, I have learned to focus my answer on a few key factors that increase the likelihood of success.

Angel Green and I often use the phrase “moving the needle” to describe the efforts when implementing SAM in an organization. By “moving the needle”, someone is making incremental changes that produce noticeable results.


Let me share some of these incremental changes with you.

  1. Start at the start.

    There is no better way to build excitement for the power of an iterative design than to kick-off with an active brainstorming and sketching session, which is called the Savvy Start in SAM.

    Sure, we recognize that you might face resistance when asking for the full amount of time required of a Savvy Start (as described in the book), but perhaps you can facilitate a one-hour brainstorming session on a single performance event or objective.  The energy and excitement generated from a robust brainstorming/sketching/prototyping event goes a long way to build credibility within the organization for a new instructional design approach. 
  2. Select a project that is reasonable in size to start.

    SAM is a powerful process that can handle even the largest learning and development projects. But, when it’s your first attempt at it in your organization, discretion is the better part of valor.

    In line with this approach, you may opt to pick a small part of bigger project to implement SAM principles and activities. Either way, make sure that you give yourself, and SAM, the best chance for early success.

  3. Find places in your process where you can add SAM principles and practices.

    Often the processes we use to design and develop learning events are a combination of ISD practices and organizational requirements. These processes usually look for the opportunity for approval and review, not for how a deliverable is created – giving plenty of ways to incorporate iterative design.

    For example, instead of spending a lot of time analyzing content, why not have a brief brainstorming, sketching, prototyping meeting with a small number of colleagues? Both of these strategies can help you create a design document, but by the process of challenging your design with others, you are more likely to arrive at a higher quality product.

As I mentioned earlier, answering the question of how to implement SAM deserves a lot more than a single blog post. So, if you’d like to learn more strategies for implementing SAM, please join us at the Allen Interactions User Conference in Chicago on September 22.

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Richard Sites
Richard Sites

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