Tag Archives: Workflow Learning

El aprendizaje informal

Edición Aniversario N º13 // junio – julio 2006

“El aprendizaje informal es el camino hacia la productividad, agilización y la capacidad de crecimiento. También es un enfoque que respeta al trabajador y lo desafía a potenciar al máximo todas sus capacidades.”
Jay Cross


“El aprendizaje es una adaptación al cambio”

Jay Cross, mundialmente reconocido líder en Aprendizaje Informal, Workflow Learning, optimización del desempeño, y cultura organizacional, conversó con LEARNING REVIEW en una entrevista exclusiva.

Hablamos acerca del concepto de Workflow, sus beneficios y sus requerimientos. Nos adelantó, además, detalles sobre su próximo libro: “Informal Learning”, donde se replantea – como pionero dentro de esta temática- el concepto actual de aprendizaje.


Gloria Gery

Volume 44 Number 8 September 2005

In Her Own Words: Gloria Gery on Performance

by Tony O’Driscoll and Jay Cross

Fortunate are we who have been inspired by a true visionary. Gloria Gery profoundly shaped the beliefs and work practice us both. As Gloria moves on to developing schools in Nepal and tending failure-to-thrive babies in Romania, we want to acknowledge her work and share her a few of her insights.

Gloria has a knack for diving into a complicated performance issues only to point out what should have been obvious to the rest of us with concise, provocative, and often humorous language. Whenever we heard Gloria speak over the years, we’ve taken notes, and those notes are the source of the quotations that follow.

Our First Exposure

Tony: I ran across Gloria’s book, Electronic Performance Support Systems in early 1994. The first fifty-one pages obliterated all of my paradigms regarding the role of training in organizations. My synapses were rewired and my mental model of learning and performance was forever altered. Throughout my career, Gloria’s insights on performance-centered design and electronic support have continued to be invaluable. Had I not been exposed to her insights, I would not have had as much success in helping organizations perform more effectively.

Jay: The first time I heard Gloria’s name was a dozen years ago when my company’s chairman showed me a copy of Electronic Performance Support Systems and announced that EPSS spelled the death of the training industry as we knew it. Of course, that didn’t happen. The ideas were right but ahead of their time. Now, at long last, technology is catching up with Gloria’s vision. Her concept of intrinsic EPSS was the forerunner of Workflow Learning, and I was delighted when Gloria accepted our nomination to become the first fellow of the Workflow Institute. The first time I heard Gloria speak, seven years ago, she provided the mantra of my efforts, “Training will either be strategic or it will be marginalized.”

Now it’s time to hear from Gloria, in her own words. Our comments are italicized, the rest is pure Gloria.Systems Design, Training and Performance Support

In her early days at Aetna, Gloria saw workers struggling with arcane, data-centric mainframe systems. The default solution to their frustration was training and documentation. Training Band-Aids designed to camouflage poor interface design. Ironically, the training often cost a lot more than designing the application for performance in the first place.

Most of our existing systems were designed to function in a paradigm of scarcity where each organization unit developed process and applications based on its own history. This parochial approach to work system design has yielded an increasingly disjointed and unintuitive work context for the employee.

Most of our training is compensatory for bad system design and help desks are the balloon payment on poor system design. If we have to teach people how to use a system, it wasn’t designed right in the first place. Why do we have training that teaches useless jargon? Why should we have to live with error messages like ‘File sharing illegal error?’ Look at the evolution of a program like TurboTax. Simplify, simplify.

Learning must be reconceived to influence the primary purpose of organization: to perform effectively and efficiently. We must give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation. What workers need to do their jobs – information, rules, and knowledge – is often spread all over the place. Good design puts these things within easy reach and shows how to use them to optimize performance.

The emergence of a new discipline such as electronic performance support often starts when a few people are frustrated with the mismatch between their needs and traditional approaches to filling them. The purpose of performance support is to help people do what they need to get done, we need to provide whatever is necessary to generate performance and learning at the moment of need.

We don’t need new technology, we just need new thinking. We must fuse learning and doing to enable immediate performance with minimal external support.

On Getting to the Performance Zone

One of Gloria’s key concepts is the performance zone.

The performance zone is the metaphorical area in which things come together. It is the place where people get it, where the right things happen, where the employee’s response exactly matches the requirements of the situation.

In any learning experience, there is always that moment where you ‘get it.’ How do we accelerate people’s arrival at that moment? There are two contexts for doing this: in courses, or while working. Courses lack authenticity as they are separated from the work context. In too many organizations, users are bouncing between multiple systems to get one task done. How can we configure the interface layer to structure the processes and provide in-context learning because THAT is the teachable moment we are always looking for?

The goal of performance-centered design is to institutionalize best practice on an ongoing basis, all of the time, by the least capable of performers: to enable people who don’t know what they are doing to function it as if they did.

First Know the Work

About 80 percent of what people learn to perform effectively happens on the job and yet we continue to dismiss it as informal learning.

People don’t deal in subjects, they deal in work. The unifying schema or context for performance-centered design is work.

We must learn to look at the reality of people trying to get through the day. We must reflect deeply on the way work presents itself to the user and build our systems on the metaphors that are connected to the work context itself. The context is the workflow, and the content is what the user needs to perform work within that context.

Today our analytical approaches yield a sterilized view of work, not a real one. We have to understand the work that people do. Most of all, we have to be able to sit in the learner’s chair, to find out how the work comes at them. We need to understand what really goes on.

We need to put the real truth into our training. Courses are necessary but not sufficient. We must have a strategy. Architecture is a part of it. Courses are a part of it. But we must understand people, how they learn, how they collaborate, how inquiry teaches, how we learn from observing models.

Performance Support focuses on work itself while training focuses on the learning required to do the work. Integrating resources in the workplace is inevitable, and the need is urgent. Filtering resources so people get the tools and resources they need while actively working is the goal. Work process and roles are the primary filters. The mechanisms vary: portals, performance-centered workflow interfaces, enterprise applications, integration projects, etc, but what’s important is that performer be able to name that tune in one note, to perform in exemplary fashion.

The common thread for the learning and performance support communities is this: How do we get people what they need at the moment of need, and what form should it be in?

Learning’s New Role in Enabling Performance

As learning and performance come together to address the pressing issues of the enterprise, we must challenge our conventional wisdom about how we ply our trade.

We conceive of learning as an event in which we fill people up in advance with enough information to survive on the job. Instead we must emphasize learning as an outcome of performance, not a precondition to it, and we must strive to limit the amount of learning as a precondition to doing.

To do so will require that we act not on what we know, but on what is known. We must avoid defining the performance problem too narrowly to tackle what we already know how to do. We should focus on how we design a job for day one performance, not how we leverage technology to automate training

In our pursuit of solutions we have assumed that our future should be an extension of our past. What’s wrong with this scenario is that we are applying radically different technological alternatives to old frameworks without reexamining their underlying assumptions and structures.

If the effort to learn is greater than the time available at the moment of need, you will lose the employee. Instead of making an effort to learn, they will make it up.

We need to leverage technology to enable new learning structures, not automate training.

We should not default to prior mental models, but instead give up on the viability of the old point of view. The goal of establishing day one performance is not hard to do it is hard to get done. It will live or die on the political issues within the organization.

Workflow Learning

Many people have equated EPSS with Workflow Learning. While they are certainly kin, they are not twins.

How the context has changed… is changing… will either r

ender us irrelevant or make us more critical. How can we proceed to have more leverage in what we do? Workflow is one way for us to better integrate what we do with people’s lives. The computer-mediated context IS the workflow context. People are willing to accept less at the moment of need if it is focused and relevant.

One of the questions I hear is, ‘How is Workflow Based learning different from performance support?’ Well, this is performance support on steroids – magnified, with a much higher impact. The workflow is the context, the magic filter through which we will be able to filter content, against which we have to compare default tactics. There will always be instructor-led training, but there will be far less of it than the workplace learning resources.

Here’s a definition: Workflow is a sequence of activities that a person has to do to achieve defined desirable goals and results specific to the condition. Deliverables, solutions, decisions… Filters are needed to screen out the irrelevant and bring to the fore the things that are relevant. The workflow is the best default filter for all data. A fusion of learning and doing is on the way

JAY: A little while ago, I blogged that humankind is awakening to the realization that everything’s connected. The point of learning is to prosper within our chosen communities, to optimize the quality of one’s connections to one’s networks. However, many people have failed to change the default settings their personal firewalls came with, even though their factory-installed settings haven’t been upgraded since 1 million B.C.

Gloria thoughtfully replied, “Almost worse than the default settings that are millions of years old are the cultural, political, ethnic and religious settings we were given in our early lives. They, of course, reflect the biases of prior generations and, in my experience, no longer fit in a globalized world. They limit us from more than learning. Rather, they limit us as people interacting as humans with other people. Our networks must go way beyond the filters that sift out important other people — or have us judge them by trivial attributes.”

TONY: As we were chatting at the Workflow Symposium, Gloria commented she really believed that new technologies such as second generation portals and business process modeling finally provided us with the ability to enable the integrated performance at the workflow layer as she had had originally envisioned it more than 15 years ago.

Thanks to technology, the promise of Gloria’s performance centered vision moves ever closer to becoming reality. But the change management issues are where performance-centered design will live or die. My own goal is work tirelessly on these issues to make Gloria Gery’s performance-centered vision the status-quo in creating workware for the On-Demand Enterprise.

We sincerely hope that Gloria inspires you as she has us.

To sponsor a child in Romania, contact Global Volunteers at http://www.globalvolunteers.org/1main/romania/children/romania_children.htm

Examples of Workflow Learning and Collaboration

Want a peak at the future? Here’s my presentation at George Mason University a couple of months back (34 minutes). I’m the opening act for lots of interesting speakers. A panel session with Ben Watson, Harvey Singh, Duane Degler, Gary Dickelman, and IBM’s Michael Littlejohn discusses what comes next. (46 minutes).

Michael Littlejohn discusses the future of learning. (57 minutes). Gary Dickelman and Harvey Singh show examples of workflow learning (58 minutes). Ben Watson, Duane Degler, and I factor collaboration and meaning into the workflow equation (52 minutes).

Godfrey Parkin was in the audience and had this to say on his blog, Parkin’s Lot:

I have just spent a couple of days at a small highly-focused symposium titled “Innovations in E-learning.” It was put together by the US Naval Education and Training Command and the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), who have among the best and brightest training minds that the American taxpayer’s money can buy. They are not short of budget, manpower, or technology, and they get to mess with lots of experimental stuff. I decided to participate because the future of learning matters to me, and because a couple of my virtual colleagues were pretty much dominating the presentations in one stream.

For several years now, Training Departments have been transfixed by the evolving internet in the same way that dinosaurs were probably awe-struck by the approaching comet. So what does the future hold? I’m happy to report that learning will thrive, but trainers will have to merge back into operational roles. Oh, and Training Departments are dead, at least as we know them. As are Learning Management Systems and any other relics of centralized distribution of learning. Learning that is informal, collaborative, contextual, real-time, and peer-generated, will be the mode of tomorrow.

I was mainly interested in hearing what folks like Jay Cross, Clark Aldrich, Harvey Singh and Ben Watson had to say about workflow learning, collaboration, and simulations. However, in amongst their sessions was a real eye-opener from a VP at IBM. IBM used to be a blue-suit red-tie operation as monolithic as a bank, but it has been doing a lot of shape-shifting in recent years. These days any organization that is unwilling or unable to do that is unlikely to be around very long.

I recommend reading all of Godfrey’s post, including the numerous comments from others.


Internet Time Blog(s)
June 04-June 05

Blog roulette: Scroll down a page or two
and click open a random post.

June 2005
Radical Evolution
ISKME Follow-up
Workflow Learning Event in Retrospect
Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility
Tonight in San Francisco
Instructional Design Knowledge Base
Life’s Too Short
Learning Circuits Blog
Just Learn It
A Workflow Learning Pattern Language
They just don’t get it
Whiteboard videos
Chump University
Screencasting Del.icio.us
Thoughts from the throne
Useful Things
The Donald U
Popular Items
Recording of the CSTD Panel on the Future of Learning
Training Directors Forum 2005
Eulogy for Learning Objects
Training Directors Forum 2005
I’m in Phoenix. It’s hot out.

May 2005
Thoughts from the throne
Useful Things
The Donald U
Popular Items
Recording of the CSTD Panel on the Future of Learning
Training Directors Forum 2005
Eulogy for Learning Objects
Training Directors Forum 2005
I’m in Phoenix. It’s hot out.
Share examples of informal learning, perhaps win a prize.
Subscribe to Internet Time Blog
New Brunswick Reflections
What was the total training bill?
CSTD Symposium in New Brunswick
Flow Learning is…
To market, to market
Storytelling in Organizations
Natural New Brunswick
A great day
It’s a flat world after all, it’s a flat world after all….
Workflow Institute Newsletter
From Process to Practice
The Brain Lab
File under anachronisms
The daily stuff
Fast informal company
Informal learning is flat
No comment
Cool Company
Time goes by
Intuition at Work
A Sustainable Edge

April 2005
Hooray for the Right Brain!
Doctor, doctor
Stamps.com – a cautionary tail
George Leonard
Patterns, good and bad
Jack is back!
Intriguing visitors
Stranger Than Fiction, Fat Boy
Don’t trust your senses
TDF 2005
To every thing, turn, turn, turn, there is a season….
Future Salon
Dear Meetup Community,
Great little conference north of the border
What is Workflow Learning?
eLearning Forum Presentation
Learning Games
The Annotated New York Times
I’ll be brief
Yes!!!! We call in Meta-Learning
All alone

March 05
Tom Stewart
Extreme Learning: Decision Games
Break on through to the other side….
Transition: Emergent Learning Forum
Defrag or die
Johnny Appleseed
R&B and Workflow Learning
Innovations in eLearning Symposium June 7-8
The Varieties of eLearning Experience
Glad I don’t work there….
Workflow Learning in a Nutshell
Timeline of Knowledge Representation
Workflow at Warp Speed
Putting a Value on Learning
eLearning Producer 2005
More real dirt on eLearning (Replay)
eLearning Producer
The Greenwood Gazette
Learning Conversation
Unintended Consequences (2)
Blogger’s Genetic Heritage
Unintended Consequences
Training Conference TiVo
Google Maps
Briefs, not white papers
Not Your Father’s CFO
Talk Dirty With Me
Tid-bits from Training 2005
Two-day Setback in New Orleans
New Orleans

February 05
Leaves of knowledge
Training 2005, New Orleans
Parting shots from Abu Dhabi
Learning from the dunes
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
E-ducation without Borders
Meta-Lessons from the Net
Workflow Learning Gets Real
New White Paper Format
The Roots of Workflow Learning
Training Kills!!!
Cooperation trumps competition
Quotes from Defense Acquisition University
TechKnowledge ’05
Contemplative learning. And fraud

Jan 05
More on Mirror Neurons
Random learning
The Nerd Walk
Human Potential
A business with a clue
John Hagel, JSB, and the Speed of Innovation
Final Blink
What is this?
M-living: introduce me to your connection
Achieving Enterprise Agility
Being Amazon
Do you want to know a secret?
Emergent Learning Collaboration
Documenting lunch pictorially
Research on Informal Learning
Death, taxes, and Moore’s Law
The phylosophy of SPAM
Blogs, not books
Conference on Neuroesthetics
Please help
CSI for the FBI
Break on through to the other side
Thin Slices
Where I’ll be, Q1 2005, what I’ve heard
I read these so you don’t have to
Is this the Future of Media?
Logo of death?
Good Thinking
Divide & Conquer
The Emperor’s New Blogs

December 04
Self Esteem
Bloggo ergo sum.
The ROI Uncertainty Principle
Annual Cleaning
Pot calls kettle black.
Another view of Online Educa 2004
Who Links Here
Autonomic Decision-Making
First Impression
Online Educa, the New Learning Crossroads
God loves a clean desk
Confront Reality
The Business Singularity
Informal Learning
Live from Online Educa
Middle East eLearning Forum

November 04
3? ???????? ??????????? ??? ????????? ?????????? ?????????
eLearning-zine aus Deutschland
Keynote Address on Workflow Learning
The Changing Nature of Business
Internet Time Archives Keepers
Open Software at the Hillside Club in Berkeley
Stop Wasting Valuable Time
Service Innovations Postings
Google Scholar
Corporate Phishing?? Maybe not…
Service Innovations for the 21st Century
Service Innovations 6
Service Innovations 5
Stan Davis & “Offers” in Blur
Tim O’Reilly at Service Innovations
Service Innovations 4
Service Innovations 3
Service Innovations 2
IBM Conference on Services
TechLearn 2
TechLearn Day 1
New Yawk
The times, they are a changin’
LIVE from Accelerating Change 2004
Informal Learning
KM Blogs
Accelerating Change 2004
What happened?
Relections on KM

October 04
KM World 2004
The Emergent Learning Business Case
Training Fall 2004, San Francisco
eLearning Producer 2004
Kill Bill
Workflow Symposium D-1
San Francisco Walking Tour
Workflow Learning Symposium
Improv Learning

September 04
Where is this?
Future Salon
Digital Natives (Probably Not You)
JEDlet Journal
Today’s Gulf News
The Business Singularity (2)
Solano Stroll
Good Stuff to Know
The Business SIngularity
Au revoir Abu Dhabi
More eMerging eLearning
eMerging eLearning in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi — the Gala Dinner
eMerging eLearning blog has moved
Abu Dhabi
Halfway around the world

August 04
Wordless Workshop
Outsourcing Learning
Learning Outside the Classroom
Top of Mind
KnowledgeNet to become part of NETg
It’s More Than ROI
Miracles abound
Matching supply and demand
Dog wags tail, not vice-versa
A Parallel Universe
Pully, not pushy
Eats Re-boots & Leaves
It’s a Bugatti
Cool Conceptual Map
Internet Time Links
Yes or no, not maybe
Agile Development
The Future’s Ahead
Form Factor
Watch out for the big one!
The Real-Time Enterprise
Exploding the Enterprise
Teachable Moments
Christopher Alexander Group
What Counts?
Political Theater

July 04
The Nature of Order
Furl and Spurl
Blogger Experience, Housekeeping, Something New
Loosely Coupled
Eats Shoots & Leaves
Above all
Demographics is destiny
Are you setting the bar high enough?
Virtual Apps
Aerobic Learning
Work as a Video Game
Outsourcing Learning
Oracle and Macromedia, Sitting in a Tree
The Blogosphere
ASTD Silicon Valley
Performance Support
Kingsbridge Conference Center
Presentation in Silicon Valley this Tuesday
Presentation on Metrics this Thursday
First post via email
Internet Time moves back to Blogger!!!
IT Doesn’t Matter — Learning Does
All Blogging Is Political

June 04
Damn, damn, double damn
Multimedia Learning
Nonverbal Impact


Most blogs have dysfunctional DNA that causes them to throw out anything more than a month old, as if only this month’s ideas have merit. I periodically scoop items of lasting value from the blogstream here and pour them into our KnowledgeBase. Doing this manually is painful, so I’m investigating using a Jotspot wiki to keep up with things.

Today I updated the KnowledgeBase list of articles with these.

Extreme Learning: Decision Games, Chief Learning Officer (2005). Until recently, extensive experience was the only way to become an expert. It took decades to develop and hone one’s craft—you couldn’t teach it in a classroom. That’s about to change.

Meta-Lessons from the Net, CLO (2005). Before the dot-com bubble burst, enthusiasts loudly proclaimed, “The Net changes everything.” They were right. It has. In fact, the Internet is such a powerful metaphor that it has shaped our expectations of response time, around-the-clock access, self-directed action, adaptive infrastructure and other aspects of learning.

R&B and Workflow Learning (2005). Before long I was flipping through Rummler and Brache’s Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. Intuition told me it was time to dig into this book.Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. Intuition told me it was time to dig into this book.

Workflow Learning Gets Real, with Tony O’Driscoll, Training (2005). This same 80/20 rule applies to training. Ask workers where they learned how to do their jobs, and 80 percent of the time the answer is “at work.” Most learning takes place on the job, outside the purview of formal learning. When we do conduct formal training, 80 percent of it is wasted effort: Workshops progress at the pace of the slowest participant, content is dated, the learner needs little of what’s being delivered, the method of delivery is not tuned to the needs of the individual worker, motivation is absent, or timing is off. The half-life of newly learned material is three days; if learners don’t use it immediately, they lose it.

A Brief History of the Term eLearning and A Lesson for Portugal, [email protected] Formação (2005). People tell me I coined the term eLearning when I started writing about it on the web in 1998. In the spring of ’99, nine of the top ten links on Alta Vista for e-Learning connected to Internet Time Group.

What is Workflow Learning? (2005). Let’s look at that in the context of:
* Performance-Centered Design
* Exponential Acceleration
* Living Information Systems
* Dense Interconnections

The Roots of Workflow Learning (2005). I doubt this cast of characters had ever appeared beneath the same roof before. SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Saba, Docent, Click2Learn, Plateau, Knowledge Products, Siebel, Sun, Thinq, vCampus, and Global Knowledge (now OnDemand) all sat at the same table.

You may quote or reproduce any of these so long as you do not charge a fee and you give credit to Jay Cross and a link to Internet Time Group.

What is Workflow Learning?

If you prefer, this sixteen-minute presentation is online here.

Workflow Learning is the convergence of learning and work.

Let’s explore that thought along these four dimensions:

  • Performance-Centered Design
  • Exponential Acceleration
  • Living Information Systems
  • Dense Interconnections

Performance-Centered Design

Gloria Gery, a computer trainer at Aetna Insurance, realized that training was being used as a BandAid for poorly designed systems and went on to write a book about it in 1991.

In her own words,

We must give up the idea that competence must exist within the person and expand our view that whenever possible it should be built into the situation.

Performance-centered design institutionalizes best practice on an ongoing basis, all of the time, by the least capable of performers, to enable people who don’t know what they are doing to function as if they did.

The common thread for the learning and performance support communities is this: “How do we get people what they need at the moment of need, and what form should it be in?”

‘How is Workflow Based learning different from performance support?’ Well, this is performance support on steroids – magnified, with a much higher impact. The workflow is the context, the magic filter through which we will be able to filter content, against which we have to compare default tactics. A fusion of learning and doing is on the way.

Gloria was right on target but ahead of the technology required to carry out her vision. We were honored when she became the first Felloow of the Workflow Institute. Now Gloria has moved on and is caring for high-risk bablies in Romania.

Volunteer or donate to the Romania Volunteer Program.

Exponential Acceleration

Everything goes ever faster. Time itself has sped up. Let’s look at but one example, the shifting source of competitive advantage in business::

Companies used to compete on time-to-market and other measures of how quickly things were accomplished; everyone’s so fast now that sheer speed is no longer a point of competitive advantage. Companies began to compete on the basis of who could bring out new models fastest. Outfits that used to bring out a new product line every other year began to do so every other month or even continuously. The next competitve frontier will be ruled by organizations that can enter and exit business models most rapidly: time-to-morph the company.

Living Information Systems

IT is becoming interoperable, loosely-coupled, cooperative, user-controlled, and virtual, but the most important factor of all is that it’s becoming aware. Systems are transmitting meaning as well as information.

The advent of Web services and Service-Oriented Architecture will enable corporations to act as systems of interchangeable business processes:

Computers swapping meaning with each other will remove the human roadblocks to efficient processes:

This will decrease the biggest source of waste in organizations today: needless slack.

In time, processes will be on the lookout for process improvements 24/7:

Workflfow Learning results from optimizing the connections between people and value creation.

Organizations worldwide will be pulled into a single world network:

This network will become so valuable that there’s no escaping it. It will become the world’s digital nervous system. Oh, and we’ll all work there.

There’s always more at .

R&B and Workflow Learning

Fierce winds knocked down a power line in Berkeley in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Smokey the canine alarm clock insisted that I get out of bed at 7:00 am even though the lights weren’t back on. I lit a candle and stood at my drawing board mapping a simpler explanation of what workflow learning is all about. I thought myself a modern-day Abraham Lincoln, studying by flickering candelight and forced to heat my coffee water on the gas grill on the deck. Falling off the grid was like slipping into a sensory-deprivation tank. No interruptions.

Before long I was flipping through Rummler and Brache’s Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart. Intuition told me it was time to dig into this book. No, despite the fact that it has been out for a decade, I hadn’t read it before. My copy is from the library at the Haas School of Business.

What a wonderful book! This is a powerful tome, way ahead of its time: deep truth. Few of the concepts are new to me but now I know where they came from. The book is concentrated — every sentence counts. Yet it is also clear, even when hitting the heavy parts of organizational design.

Rummler and Brache (hereafter, R & B) apply a systems view to improving performance in business organizations. They contend that most managers don’t understand their own businesses. The managers may know their products and their customers, but they don’t know the processes where raw material is converted into products nor how those products are sold or distributed. In fact, they often manage the organization chart (a verticle slice) instead of the business (which is the value chain flowing horizontally).

R & B present a 3×3 matrix with Performance Needs (Goals, Design, and Management) along one axis and Levels of Performance (Organization, Process, and Performer) along the other. The bulk of the book explores each cell, e.g. Organization Design or Process Management.

I know this framework from piecing ideas together from other sources such as Deming, Forrester, Geis, Gilbert, Hammer, Keen, Kepner-Tregoe, Mager, Porter, Senge, Wiener, and, lately, Business Process Management. What I hadn’t seen was R&B’s wonderful synthesis.

Back to workflow learning. People ask me about the difference between workflow learning and EPSS. A key aspect is that workflow learning connects more directly with R&B’s process layer.

When we look beyond the functional boundries that make up the organization chart, we can see the work flow–how the work gets done. We contend that organizations produce their outputs through myriad cross-functional work processes, such as the new-product design process, the merchandising process, the production process, the sales process, the distribution process, and the billing process (to name a very few.) An organization is only as good as its processes.

The coming generation of IT, Web Services, enables organizations to connect performers directly to processes. The worker can monitor work at the process level as it happens. This used to involve huge delays, for example reading the report about how things looked last week. In the future, workers will get readouts of workflow status in near real time. This is revolutionary. The potential payoff is HUGE.

Study after study finds that among organizations that “manage the organization chart instead of the work,” less than 20% of workers’ and supervisors’ time is spent adding value to work product. 80% of work time is wasted on waiting, inefficiencies, busywork, and window dressing.

R&B tell us, “The greatest opportunites for performance improvement often lie in the functional interfaces–those points at which the baton (for example, ‘production specs’) is being passed from one department to another….”

A primary contribution of a manager (at the second level or above) is to manage interfaces. The boxes already have managers; the senior manager adds value by managing the white space bwtween the boxes.

Workflow learning connects worker and dynamic value chain. I’m parsing earlier definitions of workflow learning into a core definition, principles of best practice, the organization as ecosystem, and the future IT environment. There’s a pony in there somewhere. R&B have clarified my thinking.

I’ll close with a couple of zingers from Improving Performance:

Silo culture forces managers to resolve lower-level issues, taking their time away from higher-priority customer and competitor concerns. Individual contributors, who could be resolving these issues, take less responsibility for results and perceive themselves as mere implementers and information providers.

– – – – –

Evaluating training in a vacuum is a waste of time. A training program may have well-stated learning outcomes, appropriate media, excellent materials, and effective instruction. However, if the training addresses the wrong performance area, is not reinforced by Consequences and Feedback, is not supported by a well-designed work process, or is not linked to the direction of the organization, it is not worth the investment. With typical methods of evaluation, a workshop could win awards for instructional design the same week tha the company files for Chapter 11 protection. Performance impact evaluation, by contrast, does not allow a course to look good without its also having a significant impact on the performance of the business.

Amazon: Improving Performance

To recap, here is the typical, functional way of getting things done:

The danger in this is that optimizing the parts (the functions) does not optimize the whole (the organization) because no one is responsible for the flow of value between functions. Hence, we should focus on optimizing the performance of a value chain that cuts across functions (and both starts and ends outside of the organization.)

I.e., go with the flow.

Workflow Learning in a Nutshell

From MaxUse.

The Typical Approach: Learn First, Perform Later

The Learn First, Perform Later paradigm is plagued by long training times, performer confusion, frustration, mistakes and peer-to-peer interruptions due to requests for assistance—Performers can’t remember everything because real learning occurs on the job.

The Ideal Approach: Workflow Learning

Notice the clear advantages of workflow-driven learning—reduced learning time and overload, continuous on-the-job support, more accurate performance, and lower total cost of workforce support.

DISCLOSURE: MaxUse is a client of the Workflow Institute.

Tid-bits from Training 2005

My hotel in the Garden District. I now know the St. Charles streetcar line well.

My staple food.

Training 2005

Tony O’Driscoll

“If content is king, context is the kingdom.”

Often people need instructions, not instruction.

P8070038Tom Stewart, editor of Harvard Business Review and author of Intellectual Capital, delivered an awesome presentation. Noting that the hotttest business books, Execution and Who Moved My Cheese? were about coping rather than coming up with something new, Tom called for a rekindling of management ideas.

The overarching meta-challenge is SPEED. It’s 24/7. Tom described how designing a power chip for a new cell phone once entailed weeks of talking with colleagues and sketching things out. Now the chip designer feeds the specs into a databank of all past chips, tweaks a new design, and orders up a prototype chip that will arrive by FedEx the following morning.

To keep up to speed, decisions must be made in real time. Workers on the front line must be able to think strategically. (More readers for HBR!) Old-style training is insufficient; companies want the staff to deal with this year’s needs.

Three big pressures:

  1. The net, bringing buyers & sellers together. Things are fuzzy at the borders. Outsourcing leads to “who’s who?”
  2. The China price. Sorry, Dell, there are cheaper alternatives.
  3. King Customer. Car buyers dictate the price they’ll pay. Everywhere, customers are taking over the business.


Here’s a handy overview of Tom’s model of intellectual capital based on three types of eating establishments: Chez Panisse, McDonald’s, and Cheers.

  • For Chez Panisse, a person is the defining factor: Alice Waters, its founder/chef. This is Human Capital.
  • For McDonald’s, the formulas for consistency, cleanliness, and services rule. This is Structural Capital.
  • You go to Cheers because you have a relationship there; everyone knows your name. This is Relationship Capital.

Every organization has pieces of all three types of intellectual capital, but all lead with one. At issue is whether your strength is appropriate for your business? What is your value proposition from the point of view of the customer?

For the past 100 years, the function of management has been to reduce uncertainty. Managers lived by forecasts borne of cuase & effect, linear thinking, and rationality. These times call for new models. (I’m going to have to decipher some scribbles to complete this part.) Tom identifies four levels of decision-making:

  1. What do we know of the environment? Snowden
  2. Break the unknown into knowable and unknowable
  3. If in chaos, the best thing to do is to act. Put a stake in the ground.
  4. If in complexity, follow your current direction.

P8080059IBM’s Jenny Chow presented the Roadmap for Learning to a small but enthusiastic group.

Here’s a handy way to think about learning. “Embedded” is equivalent to what I’ve been calling “Workflow Learning.”


Instancy’s Harvey Singh demonstrates workflow learning to Andy Snider in the Workflow Learning booth in the expo.

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On to more important things. Here’s the French Market Cafe:

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Eating crawdads at Felix’s Oyster Bar with Tony O’Driscoll, Rebecca Strohmeyer, Astrid Mendosa, Saul Carliner, and Brenda Sugrue. Followed by a plateful of softshell crab. Yum.

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Workflow Learning Gets Real

I got a great Valentine’s gift today.

My wife Uta gave me a replacement for a purple shirt I loved but destroyed last week. My fountain pen had leaked during a flight to Washington and, once again mistaking myself for MacGiver, I tried to rescue the situation with pure Clorox: the shirt now sports an oddly tie-died collar and breast pocket, okay for Berkeley, but unwearable elsewhere. Great gift, but that’s not the one.

She also gave me a zany pair of boxer shorts. But that’s the gift I have in mind, either.

Someone called to tell me their organization was all a-buzz over the cover story of the February issue of Training magazine, a piece titled Workflow Learning Gets Real by Jay Cross and Tony O’Driscoll.

Here’s the really cool part: our article is the free download, so you don’t have to be a subscriber to get it. Naturally, I’ll save you the trouble:

Workflow Learning Gets Real

Given That… Workers in most American factories spend just 20 percent of their time making things. Supervisors spend no more than 20 percent of their time doing things that appear in their job descriptions. Knowledge workers spend just 20 percent of their time adding core value; the rest of the time they’re looking for information, re-writing reports that have already been written, trying to get their computers to work, or attending meetings.

And That… This same 80/20 rule applies to training. Ask workers where they learned how to do their jobs, and 80 percent of the time the answer is “at work.” Most learning takes place on the job, outside the purview of formal learning. When we do conduct formal training, 80 percent of it is wasted effort: Workshops progress at the pace of the slowest participant, content is dated, the learner needs little of what’s being delivered, the method of delivery is not tuned to the needs of the individual worker, motivation is absent, or timing is off. The half-life of newly learned material is three days; if learners don’t use it immediately, they lose it.

At the same time that… Networks are spewing tidal waves of information that workers must absorb to make sound decisions, yet their minds process no faster than in primitive times. As if speeding things up weren’t enough, the world is growing more complex. The collision of complex systems yields unpredictable results. A butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and causes three hurricanes in a row in Florida. Boundaries between disciplines crumble. We can no longer rely on specialists who “know more and more about less and less.” We must all be generalists who must know more and more about more and more.

It all adds up to… An era of real-time enterprise that will set the 80/20 rule on its head. Changes afoot in commerce, information technology, network interoperability, and how work is organized will wring much (though never all) of the slack out of work. After decades of job stress, frustration, wasted effort, and disengagement, we have an opportunity to rewrite all the rules.

The New Imperative

All humans are learners—and workers learn every day. If the training organization in every company evaporated into thin air or disappeared through a wormhole to teaching heaven, individuals would continue to learn.

We are not the reason employees learn; we are here to help them learn more effectively. But instead of helping them where they are, too often we make them come to a class or interrupt their work to engage in content they find frustrating. Traditional courses are an albatross around our necks, and if we don’t change our delivery mechanisms, we will be sidelined.

We are in the midst of the greatest migration of labor in the history of the world. Service work is crowding out manufacturing, much as manufacturing replaced farming in the last half century. We don’t mean service work as in hamburger flippers or janitors; we mean everyone who creates an offering that is consumed as it is produced. Doctors, lawyers, system administrators, and police officers are all service workers.

We are more accustomed to production workers who have job descriptions and follow a script. Future workers will be value-driven because there is no script. Everything will be improvised. Learning will be fused into work, delivered in small fragments (“right size”) on whatever device tethers them to the Internet (“right device” and “right place”) just when they need it (“right time”). In other words, we will have what we call workflow learning.

How does this vision of workflow learning differ from Gloria Gery’s concept of electronic performance support systems (EPSS)? The philosophy is exactly the same: performance-centered design. Workflow learning is networked EPSS, operating in an environment where the worker is plugged into the job and learning is delivered in small chunks as it is needed. Workflow aggregates at the work-process level, while EPSS largely compensated for poor application design. By moving up the value chain, we can dramatically increase workers’ productivity while simultaneously reducing their frustration.

HP’s Carly Fiorina suggests that the future will be digital, mobile, virtual and personal. John Chambers of Cisco asserts that Internet technology will change the way we work, learn, live and play. Terry Semel of Yahoo! contends that search, personalization, community and content is the future of the Internet.

In the not-very-distant future, workers will:

    •Have a unique, personalized view of their work, based on their role in the enterprise.
    •Have learning snippets embedded in work.
    •Be alerted when needed.
    •Directly connect to experts as necessary.
    •Have easy access to peers.
    •Have smart FAQs and simulations for guidance.
    •Be location aware (GPS).
    •Always be online wirelessly (ambient computing).
    •Have support for understanding work in its strategic context.

Networks Rule

Networks come in many forms: the Internet, intranets, financial networks, the human brain, social networks, communications systems, the central nervous system, and more. The value of any of these networks increases exponentially with each new member.

In The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life (Harvard Business School Press, 2004), Thomas W. Malone observes that all networks are alike in that they form and grow in similar stages. At first, nodes are unconnected. Then, when communication becomes feasible, they evolve into a hub-and-spoke arrangement around a single source of power. As communication becomes cheaper still, all nodes begin to take on power.

For example, early humans organized in bands of 30 to 40 people (larger groups would have over-hunted the local area.) When spoken language and writing came on the scene, kingdoms formed. And when printing and mass communication appeared, democracies replaced them. Similarly, business networks evolved from mom-and-pop shops to national chains to today’s decentralized behemoths. Computing evolved from standalone mainframes to client-server networks to the distributed Internet and what IBM calls On Demand computing.

Training is no exception to these network rules. In past times, training was individualized; people learned at grandma’s knee or in the studio of a master craftsman. With printing came instructor-centric schools. As we enter an age of informal and workflow learning, authority is less centralized than ever before. “Learning is best understood as an interaction among practitioners, rather than a process in which a producer provides knowledge to a consumer,” says Etienne Wenger, a social researcher and champion of communities of practice.

We’ve essentially outgrown the definition of learning as an individual activity. We’ve moved back to the apprenticeship model, albeit at a higher level. We learn in context, with others, as we live and work. Recognizing this fact is the first step to crafting an effective workflow learning strategy.

We humans exist in networks. We are part of social networks. Our heads contain neural networks. Learning consists of making and maintaining better connections to our networks, be they social, operational, commercial or entertainment. Rich learning will always be more than a matter of bits flowing back and forth, but the metaphor of learning-as-networking gives us a way to describe how learning can be embedded in work itself.

Several years from now, we’ll all be running personalized “workware.” Everyone will have a unique view into the enterprise, a dynamic display tailored to their role, background, access rights, and real-time picture of their piece of the workflow.

This personalized dashboard will provide both push and pull resources—that is, processes initiated by the worker and processes initiated by the system. If the worker hits a bottleneck in an unfamiliar process, she can call up a chunk of information or walk through a simulation of what to do. If the workflow hits a bottleneck, and the worker sees a better solution, she can push it back into the system.

We’re beginning to consider a new concept of worker. We think of a worker as the sum of employee and support systems, combining the strengths of each into a whole greater than the sum of the parts. We use the term dashboard because we picture the interface that appears on a phone, PDA or head-mounted display. Bear in mind, however, that this is a two-way dashboard. It empowers the worker to give as well as receive, to collaborate with other people and to be contacted by others.

Whither instructional design?

Business process analysts and modelers are already defining and developing the business infrastructure of the future. If you work for a Fortune 1000 company, you have a group that has described your business in workflow terms. This consists not only of defining a business process but also of defining the flow of artifacts (information, interaction, collaboration, communication) around the process.

The modelers’ work is similar in some ways to the work of instructional designers. Both analyze a situation and design a solution to improve it. However, there is an important difference: Instructional designers are well-versed in what it takes to motivate learners and change their behavior. Explore working with these people to understand the learning processes that occur naturally within the workflow and think hard about how to ply your craft to amplify them.
We’re going to need a much broader definition of design to support performance. How do we know how often and how much to support learners until we release control to them? What’s the smallest bit of information we can give employees to get them to this point? We can’t research each individual case, even if that’s the ideal solution; we need principles refined over time. In the meantime, training must align with other enterprise business units working on ways to streamline workflow and foster innovation: knowledge management, business process analysis, and organizational development.

The Potential of Workflow Learning

Like atomic energy, workflow learning has the potential to do enormous good or a great deal of harm. On the one hand, we could create dream jobs for the workers of the world: challenging work, tailored to the potential of the individual. By balancing workflow and worker, we can build what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called psychological flow into the learning and execution of work. But on the other hand, imagine Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss and his HR director Catbert at the helm of a system that monitors workers’ every move, reports comparative performance to the third decimal, and dishes out scutwork until workers burn out.

A future that belongs to that Dark Side is a very real possibility—unless we build dynamic, collaborative learning systems. People remain the most vital ingredient in business. Their skills, knowledge, and beliefs are assets worth developing.

With the right perspective and some hard work, the training and development community can make learning a true business process. Our results will become transparent to executives and investors. And we will change the world.

Jay Cross is managing director of the Workflow Institute (www.workflowinstitute.com). Tony O’Driscoll is a consultant and researcher with IBM’s Almaden Services Research group.