Let Me Tell You Another Story About Using Stories in Learning

This is not a long-story-short. Sorry.

If you were going to be starting a job as a Product Manager for a BIG firm, with over 500,000 products being managed closely or from afar (or on auto-pilot) – that are simple or very complex – that are priced between partial pennies – to multi-million dollars and tens of millions of dollars – that is organized into 5 Business Units each with many Product Families – that organize those 500k Products for their Originators and Re-Users – as that happened quite a bit … and made it even more complex … you’d have quite a complex story to tell in any Orientation or OnBoarding effort..

Now imagine that your job title had 8 major sub-functions that a single Product manager might own for a Product or a Product Family – or they could be responsible for one narrow slice of one of those 8 functions – or any mix of Products and Responsibilities that were deemed appropriate by one of the hundred or so managers of the 1100 people in the role of Product Managers.

After doing many analysis interviews with my clients, their client’s and stakeholders – to get set on the straight and narrow path for this massive project – as these were the people who managed the “reason for being” of the company – the Product Line – that either made money for the shareholders – or did not. – I was “duly sensitized” to several facts.

People in the jobs for a year to 5 years would ask me – the outside consultant/contractor – if what they told me was the job – and were they doing the job as I saw it – and what was the job – or not.

They did not know – and they were so afraid/worried about THAT that they were willing to share that with me. That they didn’t know if they were actually doing the job – or not.

And that was not a good thing.

The PM Novel

I had read Tracy Kidder’s very popular “The Soul of the New Machine” a few years earlier – this was consulting project work in 1986 – and so I decided that that is what many in the target audience needed addressed early in their Learning Curve – which was both steep and scary to all but the fool.

What they needed was something to demystify all of this variability and complexity of their real performance context – and to have that be boiled down to something digestible and understandable – so that they could figure that out – for their own widely varied context and then have them scale up and embellish with all the real details for their real world.

In reality they worked in a Product management Team – organizer one way or another – and were collectively trying to accomplish everything – one way or another – in the PM Model.

What they needed – was a 100 page year-in-the-life of 2 Product Planners working for one Product Manager and dealing with their manager’s peers, their won, the teams at The Labs, manufacturing, Sales, Service, Finance and Marketing – which represented the dozens and dozens of real organizations that they would need to learn about – a big-time moving target in the heyday of post Telecommunications industry deregulation of 1984’s MFJ – modified final judgement – as in what the US Federal Courts finally decided were the rules/criteria for AT&T going forward post their Divestiture rulings, and AT&T’s push-back – and what was the deal as the dust settled – only to be litigated some more – and changes began galore! Oh my.

My clients – the members of the T&D organization and our TAB – Training Advisory Board with high level Directors from each of the 4 – and then the 5 Business Units of Network Systems – to steer our efforts – to get ROI – and as Product Managers that’s exactly what they were responsible for bottom line, top line – and everything in between. They were the group – or groups – that decided – along with others like The Labs and Finance – which products would be brought to market, kept, pruned, and evolved – or not.

The PM job was pretty high Risk and high Reward for the shareholders, the executives, the customers and over 1 million employees across all of AT&T. So it got the full treatment of a CAD – Curriculum Architecture Design effort. It produced Content for the NS PMs – much of which was also very valuable to many other job titles across the spectrum – because after all – their efforts were THE main value chain of the the Enterprise – and well, their were 500,000 of them in reality. In the nitty-gritty of their real world.

So I borrowed their watch and told them what time it was. :)

I designed a game – a simulation exercise that had 5 Phases for the 5 Phases of the Product Life Cycle, of 5 teams of 2 people Learners/Participants – each acting in one of the 5 rounds within a Phase as the Product managers – or one of the other 4 Roles Sets – so they sat in their shoes and their team mates shoes bringing in goals and issues and plans and financials. They attended 25 Product Team meetings – and got a good overview of the process of the job across the life cycles for 5 products that in the end had a strange similarity to their own and the various mixes of component products and sub-assemblies and products and systems and networks – that they dealt with. But simpler. To focus the learning on something other than the current product mix – and focus on the process – the processes.

As they joked about me – coming in and figuring all of that out and providing them – the TAB – with a model of their organization with a Process Map – in a Performance Model format of how it it happened – the function of Managing Products – across the Product Life Cycle – from cradle to grave – as getting out of the business was just as important and potentially costly as getting in top the business.

We – my 2 partners and I – did the analysis, produced the PM Model and other detailed analysis data – and then I took to a design with tons of detailed design data – that is at one level – of the architecture – is represented by the T&D/Learning Path for that Target Audience – and dealing with the variability and similarities across 5 Business Units and within – and they signed-off on that T&D Path.

The Path was originally created in the 1986 project – and the following T&D Path of the Product Management Curriculum – is from the update effort of 1988/89. Besides the path all of the gaps were “specified” at two levels: Event and their Modules (think books and chapters).

There are 130 Blue Boxes (modular Events) on the Path.

60 Blue Boxes were gaps – that got prioritized.

They – the TAB –  prioritized the gaps – and left some with a priority zero: and those were the “U-OJT – “Un-Structured On-the-Job Training” – versus the S-OJT – for Structured OJT.

We used the following 6 Deployment Platforms (media and mode blends):

  1. U-OJT: Un-Structured OJT – nowadays known as Informal Learning
  2. S-OJT: Structured OJT: coached – either any coach, designated coaches, or certified coaches
  3. Readings: on paper, separate stapled documents, sometimes in binders or otherwise bound
  4. Videos: with Actors and without  (on VHS baby! Beta lost out.)
  5. CBT: Computer-Based Training (ala 1986/7 technology on the companies’ LANs (more than one))
  6. GP: Group Paced – Facilitator-led for large, medium, small sized audiences

Each level cost more and more – so they the TAB – reviewed, gave feedback (reinforcing and/or corrective feedback) and approved the Analysis Report data for every project – and the Design Document for each effort – of the MCD efforts – the ADDIE-like level of the PACT processes.

I did the next level of analysis and design and oversaw the development – of great folks like Mark Bade who wrote that article in the first graphic – for Chicago ISPI – for almost 60 of the modules built of the 80 gaps – many were 5-15 pages – and the big one (last box in the 1000 Series) was 8-days in length – the Keystone Course of this particular CAD effort – the one where everything comes together – so to speak – or not.

The PM Novel is the 9th box in the 1000 Series.

There was a ramp-up to the Advanced Organizer – which is the beginning of the middle of the beginning – of a T&D Path (Learning Path/ Development Roadmap, etc.) and Planning Guide – with that 8-day Event being the end of the end of the beginning – if you follow my PACT Process Path Logic and lingo (covered in many other past Posts).

Here is a Video (12 minutes – that overviews the entire Curriculum Architecture) that my client did (and gave me permission to use back in the day.

And that’s my story – and I am sticking to it.

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