Technology Transfer via Training

Authored by Dottie Soelke and Guy W. Wallace for Guy’s Quarterly Newsletter. I no longer have the original newsletter but I have a later issue where this was republished.

See that Fall 2006 newsletter here (starting on page 15) – and/or get a 4-page PDF of just the article here.


In 1994, one of my long-term clients, from Eli Lilly and Company, (who had been a client at Amoco for years before that) asked for my involvement in a high-stakes effort.

Lilly had recently acquired an organization called Sphinx Pharmaceuticals, which had developed its own innovative approach to combinatorial chemistry. (Combinatorial chemistry is a technology used to accelerate the discovery of new drug compounds.) Combinatorial chemistry is so unconventional (in terms of classical chemistry) and the potential for discovery of new drug compounds is increased to such an extent that other pharmaceutical companies wanted to know more about Sphinx’s process. Sphinx had already been talking to several companies who were interested in entering into a technology transfer agreement.

Combinatorial chemistry is a new technology in and of itself, and courses have only recently begun to appear in university course catalogs. But no training existed for Sphinx’s unique approach, and Sphinx needed to demonstrate to potential buyers that the training Sphinx would provide would indeed transfer the technology effectively.

This presented a serious problem that merited immediate attention—Sphinx needed to build training for this technology transfer, and they needed to build it quickly. The training materials had to be finished very shortly after the technology transfer agreement was struck, and the initial estimate for the length of training delivery was 31 days.

Approach to Training Development

The urgency of Sphinx’s need combined with the uniqueness of the already highly skilled target audience meant that conventional training development techniques would not be suitable for this project. These needs prompted a search for a training developer with an accelerated training development cycle and reliable methods. We met both these needs.

Accelerated Training Development Cycle

Simply stated, Guy’s PACT Process for MCD shortens the training development cycle through the use of a standard, structured process; templates for analysis design and development; and teams. This use of teams distinguishes our methodology from that of other training developers.

While traditional analysis phases generally involve endless cycles of interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs), practitioners, and business stakeholders (all of whom may or may not agree on technical content), we use an immersion technique that typically involves intense three- to four-day team meetings in the Analysis and Design Phases. Because the Sphinx project called for such quick turnaround, we abbreviated our normal process and met for just two days in both instances. During both meetings, we isolated a group of 13 innovators/subject matter experts, practitioners, and business stakeholders in a conference room—first, to analyze the work and later, to create a high-level design.

The process is painstaking and it was compounded by the fact that our Sphinx team members hailed from three different locations—Cambridge, MA; Durham, NC; and Indianapolis, IN—each with their own spins on the combinatorial chemistry process. Nevertheless, by using this immersion technique, the Sphinx combinatorial chemistry process was formally defined, differences of opinion were resolved quickly, and a measure of consensus with regard to the work was reached all within the framework of the two-day meetings.

Reliable Methodology

Analysis Phase Overview

The PACT Process for MCD involves an Analysis Phase during which we model existing/desired performance and ferret out knowledge/skills that support that performance. Our Performance Modeling techniques allow us to analyze the client’s work accurately, regardless of our own subject matter expertise or lack thereof.

Guy facilitated a group of top-performing research chemists through an analysis of their innovative work even though members of our consulting team had no more technical knowledge than that which we acquired in high school chemistry. In general, our premise is that the innovators/SMEs own the Performance Model content and we own the Performance Modeling process.

Using our standard (but abbreviated) Analysis Phase, Guy led the Analysis Team to model Sphinx’s combinatorial chemistry process, defined high-level outputs and tasks for each phase of the process, identified enabling knowledge/skill requirements, and discussed the specialized needs and culture (Japanese) of the potential target audience.

As so often happens, the Analysis Team could not imagine how the fruits of their analysis labor would become a valid training design. At this point, we knew the analysis data was pretty reliable because the innovators/SMEs and practitioners trusted it enough to move on to the next phase.

Design Phase Overview

Using PACT visual design templates/tools, we then facilitated the team through a process of designing the training while making sure that all the content in the Performance Model and Knowledge/Skill Matrix was covered at some point in the course. This would ultimately serve as the foundation for Sphinx’s combinatorial chemistry technology transfer.

We began the design process by “chunking” the training into three major events.

• Event A consisted of an introduction to Sphinx’s approach to combinatorial chemistry and an orientation to this customized training process. This training event was delivered at the client site. 

• Event B was a detailed training curriculum that supported the technology transfer using several different delivery strategies. 

• Event C is an element of ongoing coaching and support. 

Within each event, individual lessons were then defined at a high level, classified in terms of communication type (i.e., information, demonstration, or exercise/lab), and grouped into modules.

Once again, we knew the training design was appropriate because the team was attempting to envision how the training design would evolve into training materials.

“The Rest of the Story”

Based on the success of the training design, Sphinx contracted with our team to continue with the Development Phase of the project.

Our team process always seems grueling while the meetings are in progress, and the Sphinx project was no exception. Even so, it was our intense focus during the two-day Design Team meeting (and subsequent, equally laborious Review Team meeting) that enabled the Development Team to move through the Development Phase much more rapidly than we otherwise would have.

Five of our developers used the divide and conquer technique as the Lesson and Module Specifications designed by the team guided us from the innovator/SME detailed content interviews through the completion of the first-draft training materials. (At this point, we did use the services of a training developer with a background in organic chemistry to help develop the most technical lessons.)

An issue the training design made visible was the need for a course map that could be adjusted in real time. The duration of each individual lab exercise was completely unpredictable, and the timing of the training delivery was, to some extent, dependent on their progress. As a result, we developed a “dynamic course map”—a calendar and magnetic preprinted lesson blocks on a whiteboard that the instructors could change when necessary.

We further accelerated the development process by incorporating Sphinx’s innovators/SMEs as part of the Development Team. Consequently, by the time Sphinx succeeded in striking a technology transfer agreement with a leading Japanese pharmaceutical company (with more than 40 years of experience in the prescription drug field), the training was ready for delivery.

Delivering the training was more difficult than we had hoped it would be. Differences in language, culture, degrees of technical expertise, etc., got in the way on a regular basis and Sphinx had to spend more resources during the delivery process than they had planned. However, the training is flexible enough and the Sphinx instructors, coaches, and supporting staff are skilled enough to make midcourse corrections when they were necessary. Most importantly, the technology transfer was successful and Sphinx’s client is happy.

To quote a source at Sphinx, the client “signed up for a Cadillac and they got a Lexus.”


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