Another Nail In The Coffin for ISD via ADDIE? Or Simply Another Alternative?

Much has been written in this decade about the death or dying of ISD – Instructional Systems Design via ADDIE: see the next graphic.

The April 2000 issue of Training Magazine didn’t start the whining and complaining about ISD; it only raised the complaints to another level of our consciousness.

A Curriculum Architecture Design client of mine, and project participant with a “Quality background” who tells me his copy of lean-ISD is dog-eared – especially those chapters dealing with Curriculum Architecture Design and those on Performance Analysis and Knowledge/Skills Analysis – sent me the following email (below) this past Friday.

We had been conversing about his latest challenge from his management and how he might use portions of both CAD and MCD methodologies and tools/templates for an accelerated/abbreviated approach to meet the constraints imposed on an enormous project with both high Risk and Rewards potential.

His frustrations have, hopefully, been lowered due to getting this off his chest.

Here is his email – note: slight edits have been made to protect the abused soul from further abuse…



I decided to develop my own training development process. It is called Curriculum Review And Polish (CRAP). It is where you take the ADDIE model and decide you don’t have time for the Analysis and Design so you just Develop, Implement, Evaluate. So the ADDIE becomes DIE.

Now understand the develop phase here is where you just develop a standard template where you can download all your existing material. The Polish is to pretty up the template. Add a few bells and whistles to existing content based curriculum. On the farm we called it putting lipstick on the pig.

I have been working on marketing slogans based on these processes. A couple of my early choices:

  • When you don’t have time for it to be done right just let us develop CRAP for you.
  • No need for analysis and design let us deliver CRAP for you.
  • Remember the P in CRAP is for Polish and we all know what happens when we apply Polish with CRAP.
  • When it comes to training don’t your valuable employees deserve CRAP.

Pls give me feedback if you think we could have enough material to copyright a process and write a few books. Maybe even come up with catchy sub-processes that will total up to something like the 7 Sub Process of Highly Ineffective Crap.


Coach Big Dog


Here is a graphic I created for both him and you to use as appropriate…


Thanks Big Dog for sharing!

The following summarizes the complaints that “The Attack on ISD” in the TRAINING MAGAZINE article back in 2000 brought forth – and my first response to each from an article I initially wrote and included my business partners as co-authors after they reviewed and critiqued my draft:

• ISD is too slow and clumsy to meet today’s training challenges
Yes, ISD’s pace is glacial in an Internet world demanding speed and adapting to constant change. Statements like “the analysis itself will take a month and a half” make our clients and critics lose patience. But ISD can move quickly, deliberately, and systematically. Our approach, and we are sure others’, is very visible, predictable, repeatable, and systematic (after hundreds of applications that prove it). It is “lean.”

• There’s no “there” there
This questions whether there is an instructional “technology” for training in the first place, because too often people have learned from “stuff” that was created in processes that didn’t follow the ISD-ADDIE model. We disagree. What did they “learn?” Did they become aware? Were they entertained and slightly enlightened? Were their expectations low in regard to knowledge or skills to be transferred? Do you want your airline pilot or surgeon to be taught in a non-structured, non-systematic approach?

• Used as directed, it produces bad solutions
Yes, too often ISD begins without a business purpose in mind, and therefore can be applied poorly. Or it overreacts to a fraud, like designing for “learning styles” (a concept easy to like but thoroughly debunked by actual research), resulting in wasted effort and time. Or it breaks the learning process into ridiculously tiny increments and forces unnecessary exercises and assessments.

• It clings to the wrong world view
It suggests that ISD arrogantly assumes a “stupid learner” that needs constant handholding in learning anything, and then designs instruction to the lowest common denominator. But that’s if the “product” was intended to teach to the lowest common denominator, either because that’s where the bulk of the learners were, and/or the enterprise simply couldn’t afford multiple versions, or the ISD’er didn’t know how to chunk it and create multiple entry points in the “learning process,” or the deployment method wouldn’t allow for that. We don’t think that “it” clings to the wrong world view.

While we disagree with most of these blanket statements, and because we know that not all ISD approaches and practitioners are truly alike, we know there is some truth in these for many of the ISD approaches we’ve seen in action, or seen in the results thereof.

One of the authors of this article has been in the T&D field since 1979 as an internal supplier, and then an external supplier, to fairly large enterprises. In total, the four of us have more than 62 combined years in this profession. Those complaints in “The ATTACK on ISD” resonated with us, too, because we’ve heard them before. And it wasn’t always done politely or nicely by those bringing these issues to our attention. Sometimes it can be downright embarrassing, and it can often hurt. The truth can do that.

Other similar issues brought to our collective attention by meaningful ISD customers over the years include

• Content of the product line elements (courses, CBT, OJT programs, etc.) may be redundant across programs while still leaving critical gaps in other important content

• It is costly to produce the T&D in the first place, and even more costly to maintain

• T&D is costly to deploy

• It is impossible to predict development schedules and costs and then predict return on investment (ROI)

• The look and feel of the T&D varies across the product line, and chunks of potentially shareable T&D aren’t designed with reuse in mind.

Again, we agree with much of what’s been generalized about the majority of ISD methods. But this attack on ISD presumes that there is only one ISD model/approach being used. That, of course, is ridiculous! In a department of 10 ISD’ers, we too often have encountered 10 different ISD approaches in use.

These varied ISD approaches are typically not predictable in terms of the quality of the T&D outputs produced, or their costs and schedules, and they are not in control. They are often not very visible processes for T&D management or for T&D customers. And therein lies the rub. Too much variation in the ISD processes being used, a bad thing we all should have learned from the ongoing global quality movement.

But we think that there is even more to complain and worry about than just these.

What Are the Additional Problems and Complaints About ISD?
We think that too often these typical complaints are only scratching the surface of the really big issues (problems/opportunities) that we ISD’ers, our functions, and our enterprise’s face.

We, and others, see those “bigger fish to fry” being

• Blanketing versus targeting ISD efforts – Too often the focus is on providing T&D opportunities for everyone. By not getting aligned with the enterprise leadership and working on specific, critical strategic and operational needs, sharing with the customer and leadership stakeholders, and forcing the tough decisions regarding priorities and resource allocations, ISD efforts and resources are wasted on low-value projects, with little chance for significant ROI for the shareholders.

• Performance Impact – performance is often understood in the most generic terms, perhaps driven by a generic competency model, which is true enough on the surface, but won’t get most people to superior performance levels. Generic models cause ISD’ers to create generic products, with little chance at real impact back on-the-job. Communications skills, presentation skills, or problem solving skills apply very differently for shop floor workers, their bosses, the sales force, the process engineers, the ISD’ers, and the company lawyers and accountants. One-size-fits-all products don’t have a prayer of impact compared to targeted content (with perhaps some shareable components/objects). The costs of lost opportunity of really impacting on-the-job performance, because the content and design did not focus ultimately on someone’s real job performance requirements, can be significant.

• Reuse of content – too often instructional content is not designed to increase sharing where appropriate, and for nonsharing when unique content is needed. Even in multiple targeted communications skills training products for varied audiences there are common content pieces/chunks/objects. The costs for not improving reuse capability due to how T&D gets designed; and to do so without “watering” the content down to some vanilla extract that again, doesn’t duly impact performance, are also significant and can result in significant additional costs to the enterprise. Imagine if your car didn’t share any components with the cars built by your manufacturer; you wouldn’t be able to afford it because their cost to produce it would be significantly higher. Remember the “platform” design approach that helped save Chrysler in the 1980s?

• Development – the costs for developing content are artificially too high due to a lack of available, or reluctance to use, standard but flexible rules, tools, and templates, and to employ a rationale content reuse strategy and approach. The end result can be redundant content that will cause higher “first costs” than necessary and will lead to higher “life-cycle costs,” some of which are explained next.

• Inventory – the costs for storing and retrieving content are too high due to lack of a rational, logical “Dewey decimal system” for products and their subassemblies, much like the bar coding SKU (stock keeping unit) schemes in place everywhere in our daily, personal lives. If content exists within your current, total product line, can anyone find it quickly for reuse or maintenance?

• Administration – the costs are too high for communications/marketing, registration, scheduling (for those T&D products needing to be scheduled), or ordering (for those T&D products that need to be ordered) because the product line of T&D for any target audience is overlapped, gapped, and a mess in general, and it is hard to present as a unified system of instruction.

• Deployment – the costs to deploy the T&D are often too high given the probable returns; and recently when the cheaper, total “e” learning strategy has failed to produce results (for the buyers) we now find ourselves back to a more blended approach, that still too often focuses on low-hanging fruit content that won’t move performance levels higher at an adequate ROI.

• Maintenance – the de-centralized ISD systems and processes that typically exist, including the lack of design rules and tools, and the lack of a rationale inventory scheme, will drive up the costs for keeping content up-to-date. But if the content isn’t really improving performance anyway, maybe it’s better left hidden with the hope that any subsequent effort may get luckier; just don’t share that with the shareholders.

These issues greatly impact the “life-cycle costs” for ISD products: T&D/learning products/
knowledge products (which we will refer to as T&D).

While there is “a bevy” of IT tools in the marketplace today to address some of these ISD issues (such as LMS, CMS, and LCMS) they are too often “open data warehouses” for data that you can configure anyway you want to. Again, this permits wide variation to exist, and can ultimately destroy projected ROI.

“Having it your way,” for each ISD’er with their unique approach to ISD, keeps the barn door open and the horses running free. The engineering community addressed this decades ago and “closed the barn door” with CAD/CAM systems (computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing). Additionally, standard parts inventories, design rules, and other tools and templates helped them speed design and ensure greater quality of those designs.

Life-cycle costs include “first costs.” T&D first costs include those costs incurred for developing T&D. And we mean “all costs” associated with T&D development. “All costs” are the incremental costs incurred for “having done something” and take away from the profit on the bottom line. Build it and they will come, but at a cost.

Life-cycle costs include the costs for administering, deploying, and maintaining T&D. These can be significant. And if your up-front ISD processes allowed you to inadvertently build redundant content, then the life-cycle costs multiply even faster and deplete the bottom line greater. Remember, a dollar not spent falls directly to the bottom line.

From a shareholder perspective, this is an ugly reality. It gets even worse if you look at “total” costs.

Total life-cycle costs include “all costs” paid for with shareholder equity that are incurred both inside the T&D organization, and outside the T&D organization for doing “something” T&D-wise. There is the overhead covering the costs for buildings and facilities, utilities, furniture, equipment, phones, etc. And then on top of that, there are the T&D management layers to pay for.

Then there are the “outside of T&D” costs to pay for all T&D participants and their management time, for any time spent in development, deployment, administration, and maintenance; as well as their benefits and all the costs of their management for when they are not doing the jobs that they are on the payroll to perform. There are their costs for planning T&D to meet their performance-related needs, registration and ordering, and participation via classroom T&D and/or via the Intranet.

These costs are incurred because someone made T&D available (inside or outside the enterprise), and someone from the enterprise participated. The shareholder/owners pay for it all. They demand a return, in the short-term, the medium-term, and/or the long-term. You would, if it were all your personal equity that’s being “invested.”

What Are the Opportunities In Addressing Those Problems?
Why address these obvious and not-so-obvious problems/opportunities? For a better return on investment and economic value add for the shareholder equity invested in learning. There isn’t any other “business worthy” reason to do so. If you aren’t sure, ask a business owner.

If you could use an ISD process to reduce cycle-times and costs while increasing quality, would that “ring your bell?” It’s the “better, faster, cheaper” goal-set from the quality movement, the new-engineering movement, and the new-finance movement, among other movements attempting to do smart things smarter.

It’s just simply time for ISD to catch up and benchmark these efforts to learn lessons from those who have blazed the trails. Many organizations have a significant opportunity in recovering and reducing resource expenditures for their ISD processes for producing T&D. They need to re-engineer their ISD processes.

We have. It’s reflected in our approach to ISD; proven in more than 200 projects since 1982.

Our efforts over the past 20 plus years to improve our ISD process were driven by the same need that has driven many businesses to first model and then re-engineer their core processes—to improve quality and reduce both cycle-time and costs. Many T&D organizations have undertaken efforts to re-engineer their ISD processes to make them common across the organization, predictable in their schedules and costs, and ensure that the T&D produced is effective. We began our quest in the early 1980s, and in 1989 coined the term “PACT Processes for T&D.”

The ultimate goal of the T&D and the ISD process is improved performance by the learners. That is how T&D product and product line quality is best measured. The ISD process goals are to create this quality T&D in a reduced cycle-time and at reduced life-cycle costs.

The T&D products must have the desired effect in terms of the incurred learning in the learning environment (whether classroom, CBT, or on-the-job) and, most importantly, the ability to apply those learnings back on the job. The ISD processes must get this job done quickly and cost-effectively.

What Is Our Approach For Dealing With Those Problems/Opportunities?
Our ISD methodology-set is labeled The PACT Processes for T&D . . . which we see as a “lean-ISD” approach.

The concept of lean comes from the M.I.T. study in 1990 that looked at the worldwide automotive industry and practices and compared them all to Japan’s lean production system, in the book The Machine That Changed the World. The lean approach is most prevalently applied to, but not limited to, engineering and manufacturing processes.

The goals in these lean applications are to
• Use the best of mass and craft production methods
• Reduce costs and cycle-times
• Improve product and process quality and customer satisfaction

The application of lean to the world of ISD should create a set of common, effective, and efficient processes for the entire ISD process that spans project planning and management, analysis, design, development, pilot-test deployment, and evaluation of T&D.

These lean-ISD processes would allow for

• Dividing the ISD project efforts across multiple T&D organizations, locations, and personnel while ensuring that all of the T&D pieces will fit together for a seamless learner experience (and for improved “back office” management)

• Planning and managing predictable projects with predictable schedules and resource consumption (peoples’ time and out-of-pocket costs)

• The development of both shareable and unique T&D Modules (T&D product subassemblies) that are components of a systems view of the entire T&D product line

• The reuse (with little or no customization required) of the T&D products and subassemblies for various target audiences from across the organization

• The involvement and collaboration of both upstream suppliers and downstream customers

The PACT Processes for T&D operate at three levels of design, much as many engineering design methods operate for any “engineered product.” We see T&D, learning (“e” or otherwise), and knowledge products for knowledge management systems (KMS) as “engineered products.”

What’s an engineered product in the more sophisticated engineering enterprises today? It is one that is designed to meet the customers’ functional requirements and uses, meet or exceed customer expectations, is robust to use and misuse (within limits), and is designed for lowering the “total costs to produce” over it’s entire life-cycle. It is designed for “the x’s” in the life-cycle.”

What are “the x’s” the life-cycle? They include

• Performance impact
• Manufacturability
• Reuse
• Inventory
• Administration
• Maintenance
• Discontinuance
• “Total” return on investment (ROI) and “total” economic value add (EVA)

The value for designing for the “x’s” includes

• Improved instructional relevance and job performance
• Reduced cycle-times and costs to produce instruction
• Increased common-ization of communications, language, models, culture, etc.
• Reduced cycle-times and costs to administer, maintain, and manage the instructional products, subassemblies and components (instructional objects)
• Increased shareholder value due to improved “total” return on investment (ROI) and “total” economic value add (EVA)

What is a non-engineered product? It is a “one-off” product design where the designer was not concerned with any or many of the “x’s.” It is more of an “artistic” effort than an “engineered” effort. Is it always inappropriate? No. Think of “chia pets” and “pet rocks” and “fad-du jour.” Think of some (not all) corporate communications, and local, short-term/low-impact issues. Think of fun stuff. Silly stuff. But don’t apply this artistic, one-off approach to critical enterprise needs. Not where health, safety, or the future viability of the enterprise and employees are concerned.

Our PACT Processes for T&D are for serious needs, not one-off communications. That would be overkill in the extreme. When appropriate, we apply the three levels of our engineering process for ISD.

The three levels of PACT are

1. CAD – Curriculum Architecture DesignSM – the rough equivalent of . . . Systems/Architectural Design
2. MCD – Modular Curriculum DevelopmentSM – the rough equivalent of . . . Product Design
3. IAD – Instructional Activity DevelopmentSM – the rough equivalent of . . . Component Design

Not all three levels are used in every ISD endeavor; as always, it depends.

1 – Systems/Architectural Design is where the entire product line is designed (based on appropriate analysis) to work as a system. It is at this level the product line is optimized and where critical trade-off decisions are made. Segmenting the system into pieces is but one end goal among many for the systems engineer; segmenting it so that it lowers costs over the entire life-cycle. Sometimes you need to actually invest more for your “first costs” to lower “total life-cycle costs.”

Systems design of a campus works this way; so does the overall design for the entire “product line” for an auto manufacturer, for a software applications suite, and for a set of curricula for the electrical engineers, etc. The original concept for a “curriculum architecture” came from the Information Technology world.

At the Bell System Center for Technology Education (BSCTE) in the 1970s, the IT representatives on advisory panels, providing a forum for the voice of the customer to the BSCTE development community, saw it desirable to create an architecture of courses to deploy awareness, knowledge, or skill-developing products for their key target audiences. They were simply applying a concept now generally known as “platform design” and “object oriented design” way back then to this world of ISD.

2 – Product Design is where a product, a subset of the system targeted for its predicted value or return, is designed and developed to work as a component of the system. Product design of a building works this way; so does the design of an automobile, a word processing program, and an engineering course on radio frequency.

3 – Component Design is where the subassemblies of the product are designed. Component design of a classroom works this way; so does the design of an automobile engine, the copy and paste function, and the overview of systems and products were radio frequency engineering techniques are applied.

What is the value of designing T&D products for the “x’s?” Or “e” learning or knowledge products? The same as for any other engineered products that have a reasonable “life-cycle” and little for those of a short life expectancy. In some cases, certainly not all, the value can be enormous. For some cases, it is negative; negative when the return is exceeded by the investment.


For the rest of the article, see ISPI’s Performance Improvement – August, 2002 Volume 41 / Number 7: Designing for the ISD Life Cycle  Wallace_et_al-2002-Performance_Improvement by Guy W. Wallace, Peter R. Hybert, Kelly R. Smith, and Brian D. Blecke. Members can freely obtain their copy – see Publications at:

And please note that my co-authors of this article are not the co-authors of the PACT Processes for T&D – which I began developing before any were on my clients’ staffs or were my employees or my business partners…despite “some claims” by two of them to the contrary. And any derivatives that they have created and may have claimed as their proprietary methodologies are “still owned by me” as the author and therefore the copyright holder of those concepts, models, methods, tools and techniques.

The PACT Processes for T&D/ Learning/ Knowledge Management are covered extensively in my award winning (ISPI Award of Excellence in 2002 for Outstanding Instructional Communication) book: lean-ISD.

I made the book available as a free PDF, as well as a set of tools/templates, in March of 2007 to enable potential users, who appropriately attribute the methods, models and tools/templates to EPPIC Inc. and me, Guy W. Wallace. It was not my intent to give up my copyrights or ownership of same.

I wouldn’t have done that to Bob Mager, or Joe Harless, or Geary Rummler. Nor should YOU!

Get your free PDF copy of lean-ISD and many other articles, presentations and tools/templates at: 

Use as needed, adopt or adapt, but always with appropriate attributions!!!

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