Taking the Agile Learning Plunge

When Rapid Design for eLearning found its way into my vocabulary, I loved it and all the derivatives like rapid prototyping, etc.  And soon, I started seeing agile this and agile that.  It seemed that agile was everywhere I looked.  When Michael Allen published his book, LEAVING ADDIE for SAM, I was intrigued and participated in an ATD sponsored webinar.  It made a lot of sense to me and “I bought into the concept”.  Or so I thought …

I joined a project that was already in-progress and had to “hit the ground running to get caught up to speed”.  The element of urgency was the anticipation of a post FDA visit following a consent decree.   If you’ve experienced this “scene” before, you can relate to the notion of expedited time.   As part of remediation efforts, training events needed to be conducted.  I learned during a meeting sometime my first week, I was to be the trainer.  Okay, given my instructional design background and classroom facilitation experience, that made sense.  Sure, in a few weeks when we have the new procedure in place, I’d be happy to put the training materials together, is what I was thinking.  Wait, what, in two weeks?  Are you kidding me?  I’m not the SME and I don’t even have the software loaded on my laptop yet.  Well, some cleaned up version of those words was my response.

My biggest challenge was to get out of my own design way

I’m classically schooled in *ADDIE with 30+ years as an instructional designer and very comfortable with how to design, develop and deliver training.  All I needed was more time; more than two weeks, for a process that was changing daily!   And then I found myself thinking about all the buzz for rapid design and prototyping I had been reading about.  

*ADDIE = Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate: a project management approach to training projects.

In theory, I totally bought into it. But this is different I argued with myself.  This is compliance with a quality system for a company that is undergoing transformative change as a result of a consent decree!  Furthermore, I teach GMP Basics and conduct Annual GMP Refreshers several times a year. My GMP dilemma challenged the very essence of my “learned” compliance beliefs about following the 1st basic GMP Work Habit – “thou shall follow written procedures” otherwise, it’s a deviation. 

Are we really planning to deviate from the SOP while under a consent decree?

While it was the intention of the business unit leader to deviate from the approved set of work instructions, a planned deviation would not be appropriate in this case.  I mean we were talking about a corrective action for a consent decree item.  Were we really considering a PLANNED DEVIATION to intentionally teach unapproved procedures and then submit the documentation as a completed corrective action for the CAPA to the agency?  I was truly baffled by how I was going to pull this off in two weeks.  I’m not a magician, I can’t pull this rabbit out of my laptop is what I was thinking when I left the VP’s office.

Yet on the other hand, how could I teach a work instruction that was known to be broken; was being re-designed and not yet finalized?  The instructional designer side of me screamed – how can you teach flawed content?  That’s wasted training that results in scrap learning. How is that training going to be effective not to mention having to explain a failed effectiveness check during the post inspection?

And then, it hit me!  I was so focused on WHAT I NEEDED, that I was missing the urgency of the learners’ needs. Julia Lewis Satov refers to this situation as ‘agility by fire’ – “the ability to move quickly but not easily, and still excel”, (p. 50, 2020). It was time to put theory into practice and take the agile learning plunge into the realm of the unknown.  If I could come up with a way to document what we were doing and get it approved, then I could reconcile my GMP dilemma and satisfy my instructional designer. 

 With a little help from my validation colleagues – the training implementation plan

Validation engineers use protocols to capture their “change in process” work.  Whether it’s experimental batches, 3 batches for process validation or **IQ-OQ-PQ protocols for equipment qualifications.  They are validating the procedure or the new process before it can become the standard operating procedure by developing the plan, developing acceptance criteria, managing deviations and capturing the results.  So why couldn’t I borrow the concept and adapt it to my situation?

**Installation Qualification, Operational Qualification, Performance Qualification

The purpose of the initial training session was to test the new sequence of steps and confirm the robustness of the software responses for each field entry and then make correct decisions where needed.  The learners were still in compliance with the quality policy for complaint handling and were still meeting the intention for Medical Device Reporting requirements.  They were essentially testing the future “how-to steps” for the proposed new work instructions.

Agile QT’s processing their learning experience

I did not copy and paste the validation protocol template. I did, however, include a please pardon our appearance while we are under construction” paragraph in the training plan to document the departure from the current set of work instructions.  This protocol-like section also included our intentions for the outcomes of the sessions. We also stipulated that required SOP training of all affected users including the Qualified Trainers, would be mandatory once the finalized set of work instructions were approved.

Anybody want to play in the sand-box?

By shifting the prioritization away from perfectly designed classes with pristine training materials, I was able to diagnose that the need was to get the learners into a live classroom. But first I needed a small group of super users who wanted to see the database software in action and “play in the sandbox”; the training materials could follow afterwards. 

It didn’t take long for them to find me.  These “learning-agile individuals” wanted the challenge of not only learning something new but seemed to thrive on the idea that they would be managing their part of the training implementation plan.  They were not at all worried about the lack of available training materials for themselves.  They allowed the learning experience to occur spontaneously.  Their ability to learn new knowledge and skills did not get in the way of previously learned skills. They embraced the changes rather than resist them.

A new breed of SMEs as Agile Qualified Trainers?

I shifted my role to facilitator and allowed these learning agile SMEs to navigate the software screens and then work out the explanation of how to complete field transactions.  In the Center for Creative Leadership “Learning Agility” white paper, authors Adam Mitchinson and Robert Morris explain that learning-agile individuals understand that experience alone does not guarantee learning; they take time to reflect, seeking to understand why things happen, in addition to what happened”, p. 2.

“SMEs are true front-line and onsite educators” says Satov.  Every organization has employees who are brimming with intelligent and diverse ideas and are eager to share their talent producing work deliverables. “[…] Our focus must shift to finding and developing individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant, and learn new ones that are”, (Mitchinson and Morris, 2014, p.1).

We documented these sessions as training because we all learned how to navigate the screens; albeit it was learning on the fly.  We recognized that learning the software was the goal.  Developing the process steps and eventually the work instructions was the secondary goal.  This training documentation became the qualifying evidence for their train-the-trainer knowledge transfer.  And collectively they decided what choices end users were to pick from the drop down tables.  

Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice? You decide.

1 + 1+ 1 is more than 3

I shifted my role again to become a scribe and worked on sequencing these pages for the next round of end-users. To my surprise and delight, my new breed of Agile QTs volunteered to paste screen shots into participant worksheets so their “students” could take additional notes.  Together, we all collaborated to meet the urgent need of the end-users. Each of us in our niche roles experienced first-hand the value the others brought with them to that room.  And in that time away from our regular job tasks, we became more valuable to the organization.

The learners were paired up with their Agile QT for guided instruction of real entry into the live system.  The following week, the department was able to go live with a project plan that focused on a series of interim roles, changed roles and transitioning responsibilities within established roles.  The project launched on time to meet commitments promised to the agency.

Why are they thanking me?

It was an energizing and empowering learning experience for the super-users. A truly collaborative experience for the SMEs and the biggest surprise of all was that they thanked me.  Me?  I did not deliver the training; I was not the SME, nor did I provide perfect training materials.   If I had pursued my classically trained ADDIE approach, we would have waited for the perfect SOP to deliver those sessions and woefully miss FDA committed timelines. While I’m not ready to throw ADDIE overboard yet, Satov makes a compelling plea, “move aside elite and long-standing establishments of formal education”. 

My lesson learned was this: when the demand is for speed and the content design is not the key focus, I need to give up control to the true onsite educators and focus on facilitating the best learning experience given the daily change challenges and system constraints. Satov would agree, “the role of learning is to capitalize and create the architecture of the hybrid-mind”.  Is this “learning on the fly” or agile learning in practice?  You decide. But agile instructional design is here to stay if QA L&D is going to keep up with the fast-paced, often reactive, and regulated world of the Life Sciences Industries. – VB

  • Allen, M. Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An Agile Model for Developing the Best Learning Experiences. ASTD, 2012.
  • Mitchinson, A & Morris, R. Learning Agility. Center for Creative Leadership white paper, 2014.
  • Satov, JML. “Agile by Fire”, Chief Learning Office, July/ August, 2020, p. 50.
Need to expedite a CAPA remediation project? |Looking for a facilitator/ quality systems project manager to align your SMEs for collaborative deliverables?

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Is Your Quality Training SOP Sufficient?

Is your response, “Yes!” or is it “Yea, I think so. How can I be sure?”

  • Are you trying to explain what you do for training or describe how your site handles the Quality Training System?
  • Who is your audience?
  • Who are the procedures being written for?

There shall be written procedures even for training!

Step back and take a big view of training from start to finish. There are three distinct segments: (1) preparation, (2) delivery, and (3) measuring effectiveness. To some leaders, the idea of creating more than one training procedure for these three segments is baffling.  Training isn’t that hard. Why are you making this so complicated, they ask?  The simpler the process is, the easier it is to follow and administer, is what they are really thinking.

Yet, training root cause analyses involving operator or human error often yields some contributing factors around how the individual was trained.  On the Job Training is not that simple after all and requires more than a check on someone’s to-do list.  Find out why in the e-Book, Training Root Cause Analysis. In spite of this, the level of detail in Training SOPs is always a concern for both SOP Author and Approver.    

But SMEs like KISS for Training

From an end-user perspective, I need enough detail so I can accomplish what I need to do without over-complicating my task, stay within compliance, and be effective as a qualified trainer. Since most Qualified Trainers are not full-time training professionals, the training procedures become their how-to tools not just a bunch of QA or HR rules about training. Without defining what your program includes and how to execute it, Qualified Trainers and other SMEs will conduct their training delivery assignments in a manner that is as simple as possible and may not be 100% compliant. Administrative procedures are not for them, they argue.

It takes 6 elements to make a training system robust

The big view of training may have 3 Big Blocks (preparation, delivery, and measuring effectiveness), but it takes 6 elements to execute it well.   They are:

  • GxP and Training Curricula
  • Planned OJT for Procedures
  • Use of Qualified Trainers
  • Employee Qualification and Training Effectiveness Measures
  • On-Going GxP Refresher Series
  • Training Documentation Process
6 Elements of a Robust Training System

For each of these elements, there needs to be a set of “how-to-execute” instructions. However, it is not enough to describe what these elements are. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation and inconsistent documentation or no documentation at all. For example:

  • Are you documenting on-the-job training; every time or just select sessions?
  • Does your organization complain about over-allocated curricula?
  • Do they understand the documentation requirements for your LMS?
  • Does your training document explain how to conduct OJT? You’d be surprised just how many different techniques SMEs have for conducting OJT on their watch.
  • Can anyone who has a signed training record be a department trainer? If yes, you need to upgrade your criteria and create a process around nominating and qualifying SMEs for OJT. Training is on the top 10 list for inspections.

So how is this not complicating Training?

The debate for the 1 All-Encompassing SOP (standard operating procedure) vs. multiple tailored work instructions will always bring comments after the latest version goes into effect. This includes non-QT end-user feedback criticizing how complicated and confusing the procedures are!  When pressed further for specifics, most admit that they just want to train themselves and not deal with the documentation requirements. So, addressing one set of concerns can actually create more complaints around the very changes. See the table below for pros and cons.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 10.23.53 AM
Pros and Cons for One AP Training SOP vs. Smaller, Multiple Work Instructions

Remind me again who these procedures are for?

The real question is to what level of detail is appropriate.  And the answer lies in the culture of the department and the company’s history with the FDA.  I once worked in an organization where the procedures were stripped to bare essentials, even the definitions were removed!  A recent warning letter left battle scars for the General Manager.

But seriously, how much is enough? Another way to answer this question is by looking at your document control hierarchy of documents.  If your site differentiates between SOPs and Work Instructions, the need for detail can be relocated into a suitable work instruction that is designed to provide detailed how-to steps.  AKA Level 3 type documents.  Refer to the diagram below.  The SOP (Level 2) can then provide a broader high-level overview addressing “the what” without getting encumbered into the “how-to execute” steps.  Some document pyramids include a Level 4 in which much detail can be used for training purposes.

A screenshot of text

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Referring to Document Pyramid determines level of appropriate detail

Back to the opening question

While addressing ease of navigation and use concerns is laudable, it is not always realistic to satisfy all users.  You need to explain what your Training “Program” contains, a high level policy that answers “the what”.  But you also need to describe how your training is conducted.  Ask yourself the following two questions:

  • Does the “Training SOP” contain many pages detailing steps for each of the 6 elements?  This is an indicator that you need to consider some Level 3 Work Instructions.
  • Do you have too many standalone task-focused SOPs (or Level 3 Work Instructions) that could be grouped into a few larger processes?  Recall the 3 Big Blocks of Training

From experience working with SME teams, three “how-to” procedures are usually sufficient: preparation process, delivery and documentation process, and measuring training effectiveness process.  So the next time you find yourself in the level of detail discussion, consider which of the levels (1,2,3,4) is the best place to park your “detailed” content. – VB

Who is Vivian Bringslimark?

Think your Training SOP could use a makeover? How about a document review?

Interested to see how the 3 Big Blocks of Training and the 6 Elements of a Robust Training System all interface with each other? Send your email request above.

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.