About Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

Agile Fundamentals: Graeme’s DIY non-MBA, MBA continues…


AgileFundamentalsCase Studies

After a brief interruption of work (required to pay bills), I’m super excited to sign up today for the next component of my non-MBA, MBA.

This is my commitment to my own personal and professional development in 2018.

So far, I’ve dipped into Service Design, Project Management, Shoe School, and an online course called Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.

I’ll write about these last two soon, but for now, I wanted to highlight what’s next on my agenda:

I’ve been interested in Agile and Lean for a long time now. But other than some reading online, I haven’t had much of a chance to learn what Agile is all about.

One of the things I’m hyper-aware of these days is that – for myself at least – not only is all future work is likely to be project work but that much of this project-work is likely to reflect the following parameters:

  • Constrained budget. This is pretty much a given these days with any project. Small and lean is the name of the game.
  • Vague client needs. This is my experience working with government agencies and any large bureaucracy really. Academics and bureaucrats are masters at hedging their wants and needs so that they are vague enough to mean anything, but specific enough to hold you accountable when you don’t deliver.
  • Unclear scope. In other words, they think they know what they want. But they actually don’t. More accurately, they only know what they don’t want and usually after you’ve already built it. And this is despite what they wrote in the scope.
  • Fixed resources including timeframes. This means that there’s not enough of anything including time.
  • Everything keeps changing. Whether we like it or not,  most work environments are dynamic. Shifting goalposts, political manoeuvring, new data that only emerges once your work is underway, the list goes on…

I’m not expecting that a one-day course will solve all of these issues for me. However, I need all the insights I can get.

Does any of this sound interesting or relevant? If it does, then you might want to join me.

I didn’t really know what would happen when I started with my non-traditional personal and professional development journey this year.

One of the nicest surprises has been that I’ve made friends with the Executive Education team at Auckland University’s Business school.

And they’ve given me a discount code I can share.

Use the code below for 10% off and join me on the upcoming Agile Fundamentals 1-day course at the Auckland Uni Business School.

  • GRAEME10

PS the code will actually work on any of the short courses until December 31, 2018.

 

How do you write really good instructions? Lego versus Meccano


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If you’ve read Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, you’ll know that one of the questions that Sophie receives during her mysterious philosophical journey is this:

  • “Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?”

The writer didn’t ask why Meccano was the most ingenious toy.

And clearly, the answer has to do with the creativity that Lego inspires. But I also think part of the ingenuity of lego is to do with the instructions.

I should declare my biases up front. I’m 45 and I’ve been playing with Lego for a long time.

This includes for the last 17 years with three kids. Two girls and a boy. In this time I’ve tried a handful of Meccano projects compared with countless lego kits including Duplo.

Meccano, if you don’t know, predates Lego. My Dad grew up with Meccano before they invented Lego.

Think nuts and bolts and metal struts. Except now it’s plastic.

Meccano used to be the bomb. At least in 1950. Or something. But man… now Lego is the bomb. Lego rules over Meccano.

And not just in terms of versatility. I’m talking about how they write instructions.

Giving clear instructions is really hard. You’ll know this if you’ve ever had to follow anyone else’s.

First off though, you have to pitch your instructions at the right level. And that means you need to know who you’re writing to. The audience in other words.

Lego totally nails this. I have total confidence that if I buy a Lego kit that says for age 8 to 10 it will absolutely work for this age group.

The Meccano set my wife came home with the other day was for my son.

He’s just turned eight. Which seemed perfect because that’s what the kit said on the packet. For 8 years old.

Normally, he can concentrate for hours on stuff like Lego. And to give him credit, he persisted for a decent amount of time.

But eventually, he gave up in frustration. There were tears… there were raised voices… Crying etc.

So I gave it a go the other day. The outcome was basically the same.

Not only would I need four hands to complete the task, it was like I couldn’t understand the instructions and there seemed to be pieces missing or that didn’t match.

Comparatively speaking, there is no comparison. Granted, it’s not all about the instructions.

But if you want to learn how to write instructions, you need to go no further than the Lego best practice playbook which must read something like this:

  1. Understand the audience.
  2. Pitch the instructions at their level.
  3. Use colour, diagrams, images.
  4. Include all the resources the audience needs.
  5. Use words only when necessary.
  6. Love the product.

How Do You Save A YouTube Clip for training purposes?


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If you’re anything like me you would have wondered from time to time how to save a YouTube clip to your hard drive or to a USB drive so you can play it whenever you want.

Why not just stream it? Well… you might not have access to an internet connection when you need it.

Or, like me, you might be paranoid that the internet connection you’ve been promised will be patchy and fail at the crucial moment.

This paranoia is usually based on experience…

Here’s my solution:

  • Use free online youtube downloaders that convert the clips to MP4 files that I can save on my computer.

I’m not advocating any particular one, but you can generally find them by googling the following search terms or something similar:

  • “Free online youtube downloader covert to mp4”

Here’s an example website:

There are different file formats for video. I’m generally on a Mac and I like to use MP4 for video as it seems pretty universal.

Make sure that you understand any relevant copyright or fair use guidelines first.

If your organisation prohibits you from downloading youtube clips then this is for information purposes only.

You know… So you know how other people do it.

Enjoy…

 

Ray Dalio’s Principles For Success – Animated


Just watch. The link is for episode 1 of 8 episodes. Just under 4 minutes. I can’t tell if the other episodes will autoplay or not but you can always open in Youtube if not.

Total watching time for all 8 episodes is about 30 minutes. This is a masterclass in how you take a massive amount of information, e.g. Ray’s excellent book on principles for business and life, and then condense in a format that my kids can understand.

Do you have questions about micro-credentials and digital badges?


Micro Credentials 2

Further thoughts on micro-credentials and digital badges

A while back, NZQA were looking for consultation on micro-credentials. I wrote about my views here. These views haven’t changed drastically.

But they have continued to evolve and everywhere I go people seem to want to talk about micro-credentials.

Here are a few further thoughts.

What’s the difference between digital badges and micro-credentials?

At the moment I kinda use digital badges and micro-credentials in more or less the same way.

I see a badge as one element, perhaps of a series, that might go into a micro-credential. For me, a micro-credential is a kind of meta-badge that you get on completing the requisite badges.

Imagine a coffee card that gets stamped each time you get a coffee. And then when the card is full, you get the reward.

That’s how I use the words badges and micro-credentials.

What are the rules for badging and using micro-credentials?

One thing seems clear to me at the moment. And this is that micro-credentialing and digital badges are currently the wild west and people are still making up the rules.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the agency that handles quality assurance around qualifications – the NZQA – is likely to make up their own rules soon.

Others will make up their own rules too. You can follow others’ rules or you can make up your own as well.

I’d prefer to make up my own rules. Whether anyone pays any attention to anyone else’s will reflect the authority that sits behind the badging or credentialing body.

NZQA has had a monopoly on the old-fashioned kind of badging and credentialing when it comes to school-related training.

My prediction is that they will lose this monopoly and just become one of many players in the credentialing game. In other words, expect disruption and fragmentation here (as well as everywhere else).

In NZ, how should micro-credentials and digital badges interact with NZQA?

This is not advice. These are just my thoughts right now.

  • Badging and micro-credentials should be independent of NZQA unit standards and NZ qualifications.
  • Badging and micro-credentials should be aligned with relevant aspects of NZQA unit standards and NZ qualifications.

This arrangement would retain independence from government agency bureaucracy but allows for others to use badges as evidence towards NZQA accredited qualifications and standards if and when needed.

This shifts the burden of compliance to NZQA accredited providers whose core business is in assessing NZQA qualifications.

A good example would be with regards to cultural competency training and assessment.

Training and assessment by third-party providers such as iwi-based organisations could lead to digital badges and the award of a micro-credential backed by the tribe.

With some clever thinking, badges could also align with relevant aspects of key qualifications and or assessment standards.

For example, there are four adult teaching qualifications that all contain a cultural competency component of some kind. Currently, training related to this is generic and usually done badly.

An iwi-based model backed by a series of digital badges but aligned with NZQA requirements could provide a win-win-win solution.

How can we align digital badges and micro-credentials with NZQA requirements?

Again, not advice, but I would:

  1. Spend time mapping NZQA qualifications and relevant unit standards against the relevant outcomes. For example, the cultural competency outcomes relating to values, knowledge and practice.
  2. Spend money on graphic design for a smorgasbord of digital badges that look really great.
  3. Spend time finessing very clear and concise outcomes for the training that relates to each badge.
  4. Encode badge meta-data with these clear and concise outcomes.
  5. Trial all of this in real-time with non-expert but interested participants in a range of contexts including ITP, Wananga, ESOL as well as all the normal ones.
  6. Evaluate participant data and fine tune this for further iteration and roll out.

What are some good platforms for experimenting with micro-credentials and digital badges?

You can find a list here maintained by the Mozilla Badge Alliance. However, I like this one:

I’m using this at the moment to make a variety of “proof of concept” badges for a few different groups. I like it because it has blockchain integration.

Here’s a very basic example I made to illustrate how it works:

Awesome

How do I get started with digital badges?

You can have a look at how I got underway here:

  1. Digital Badges – Part 1: Getting Started.
  2. Digital Badges – Part 2: Earning Your First Badge.

What were your recommendations to the NZQA on micro-credentials?

Here’s my response in full to the NZQA survey on micro-credentials. The questions that follow are theirs but the answers are mine.

Views on Micro Credentials from the NZQA Paper

  1. Are the views expressed in this survey:|
    • My own personal views.
  2. Do you think that recognising micro­credentials within New Zealand’s regulated education and training system would be useful?
    • Yes, to a point. NZQA is historically slow to move from a provider perspective. Developing and using micro credentials is part of remaining agile in a very fast-paced business environment where training and/or recognition of competency is required. The danger of NZQA getting involved is that it puts the brakes on fast-paced innovation.

      Also, those involved in currently delivering (or wanting to deliver) the best, most well known or most useful micro credentials are unlikely to be interested in dealing with another layer of bureaucracy in the form of NZQA compliance. The best independent systems will have their own quality assurance processes already built in.

      However, there may be a legitimate place for micro credentials as part of RPL procedures in existing TEOs who which to use them as components or pathways inside larger credentials such as NZ Certificates, Diplomas and degrees.

  3. Is “micro­credentials” the most appropriate term to be used in New Zealand?
    • Yes. But it’s good to highlight the other terminology that is in use as you have in the white paper. People are confused easily.

      Digital badging is just another name for the same thing but points more clearly to the relevant platforms like the one run by Mozilla. These platforms, by the way, operate on their own rules outside of the educational regulatory compliance.

  4. How suitable are the characteristics of micro­credentials for the New Zealand education and training system?
    • Very suitable for some things. But it would be a mistake to apply some kind of blanket “across-the-board” rule for this. It needs to be case by case and fit for purpose-driven by business, industry, community, iwi or other groups who seek to create or leverage the benefits and opportunities.

      I think the burden of bureaucracy should be on the TEOs who want to use micro-credentials and digital badging as RPL or similar components of other qualifications.

      Then let business, industries, others and the market decide what is quality and what is not. Some will align with TEOs and others will not

      There could be discussions between the industries, businesses or community micro-credential deliverers and the TEO accredited providers… but it would be crazy to let increased regulation and compliance shut down an innovation like this.

      I’m in favour of an “unbundled” education model for this that would allow separation of information content, training delivery, assessment against standards and various forms of credentialing (both formal and informal). This allows individuals and groups to specialise.

  5. What additions and changes, if any, would you suggest to the characteristics of a micro­credential? Please explain the reasons for your suggestions.
    • Don’t let regulation and compliance shut down innovation and agility in business and industry contexts. Keep the rules to a minimum and keep the conversation going with providers who exist in the wider training ecosystem outside of NZQA.
  6. Do you agree that the recommended minimum credit limit of 10 credits is appropriate for micro­credentials?
    • I suppose. But only if you do away with the outdated requirement for 1 credit to equal 10 notional hours of training. This is old-fashioned thinking and a contradiction of any kind of standards-based approach to assessment and credentialing. If someone meets the standard for X with evidence, then they meet the standard X. They don’t need 10 or 100 hours of training if they already proved that they met the standard.
  7. What measures can you suggest to manage the possible proliferation and duplication of quality assured micro­credentials?
    • Learn from industry and business. This kind of learning is hard for government agencies because regulatory control allows for some courses, programmes and providers to succeed that should fail, and for others to fail that should succeed.

      There are already existing models that you could be looking at and trying to understand why they are successful. Microsoft is one but there are others. Are there a proliferation of providers delivering TESLA electric car repair certification?

      The test of a valid micro-credential should be whether it has a current or (guaranteed future) paying customer. No customers = no business model = failure = try something else as fast as possible that people actually need.

      Also, in the interests of staying agile, micro-credentials are unlikely to remain static. However, the effect of NZQA on a programme is to try and lock down how the information, training, assessment and credentialing works. This may have been useful in the past, and tools like the EER process force providers to examine if their services are still fit for purpose, but unless this is streamlined I think you’ll just get a micro-certificate rather than the kind of micro-credentials and digital badges that people are discussing internationally.

      For the existing successful micro-credentials at the moment, NZQA is actually irrelevant.

      But if you want to link these into larger NZ qualifications then the equivalency plans should work. In fact, why not just apply this same thinking to new or existing micro-credentials in NZ as well?

      As a business owner and entrepreneur, I cannot think of many good reasons creating an NZQA approved micro-credential if I already had access to a good market of people who would pay for it plus the backing of industry or other groups who would support a non-NZQA micro-credential.

      Perhaps accessing visa approval from immigration for overseas students could be one reason. But the nature of a micro-credential means that someone could most likely complete it within the timeframe of a tourist visa. Developing levers for NZ to bring in highly skilled labour in the high-tech industry could be a good use-case for involving NZQA if was going to result in work visas being approved.

      Another good reason for involving NZQA could also be in the interests of securing TEC funding for the micro-credential. However, TEC is already funding organisations outside of NZQA by working directly with employers (Employer-led workplace literacy) and some iwi (SAC funding).

      Extra NZQA compliance costs around “recognising” digitally badged training doesn’t add much real-world value that I can see. It just perpetuates the already entrenched “do-I-get-credit-for-that” mindset that so many learners have grown up with through the NCEA system.

  8. To what extent should micro­credentials be embedded into the New Zealand education and training system? Please explain the reasons for your view.
    • Here you’re referring to the system under the control of NZQA’s regulatory powers. Micro-credentials could be embedded to the extent already discussed above that TEOs can work to recognise them via RPL or other equivalency procedures in order for learners to use them as components bearing credit value in larger already established NZ credentials.
  9. Do you think that micro­credentials developed by organisations other than New Zealand tertiary education organisations should be recognised
    • Yes, of course. Some already are. But the burden of bureaucracy around recognition should be on the TEOs who want to use them as components inside their own courses. For example, if a university MBA programme is sending students to an iwi organisation for training purchased as part of the MBA, this training could take the form of digital badges or a micro-credential. But it should be the job of the university to enable the recognition to make the pathway work.

      In addition, given the nature of student debt resulting from university study and the fact that outside of key professions, many degrees are often irrelevant or become redundant once someone starts working, I think that we’ll see greater fragmentation of training and credentialing.

      I’d rather hire someone with the right attitude and a very focused skillset. This is a growing trend as the number of businesses signed here attest.

  10. Do you think that determining the equivalence to the NZQF of micro­credentials developed by organisations other than New Zealand tertiary education organisations would be useful?
    • Yes, but depends on what they are. Pick up the best and highest quality ones and weave those into our qualifications to create interesting pathways that better serve learners and at a lower cost.
  11. What challenges do you think recognising micro­-credentials as part of New Zealand’s regulated education and training system present? Please explain how you think these could be addressed.
    • We can’t even get people to understand how unit standards work. So people will misunderstand what micro-credentials are. They will also be confused about what digital badging is and other related processes and terminology.

      There needs to be discussion around digital badging platforms and how these operate differently to just creating smaller versions of things like the existing NZ certificates.

      There also needs to be a wider conversation about using micro-credentials outside of NZQA compliance and what the differences or advantages/disadvantages might look like.

      If you want to take micro-credentialing seriously, NZQA should also be part of the discussion around using blockchain technology in the creation of durable records of learning for things like digital badges and micro-credentials, especially where the ownership of the information sits with the learner rather than in a centralised database.

  12. Do you think that the proposed amendments to the Rules support the recognition of micro­credentials within the New Zealand education and training system?
    • Yes. Because this may open up new kinds of funded training for underserved groups of learners.
  13. Do you agree with the proposed amendments to the Rules?
    • Yes, but I can think of many examples where businesses, industries or communities may seek to set up their own micro-credentials outside of this system.

 

 

 

Project Management For Idiots: Part 2 – The Project Management Triangle


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Prior to my recent crash course introduction to project management at the University of Auckland, I had no idea what the project management triangle was.

It seems kinda basic now.  To be honest, I feel like an idiot for not knowing this despite having worked on a number of projects where this language is used all the time.

However, it’s also possible that my experience is typical for people like me who don’t have a background in project management but end up rising to the level of their incompetence eventually.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • The triangle models the constraints of the project.
  • Sometimes this is called the triple constraints of project management.
  • The constraints are time (or schedule), cost (or budget) and scope (or deliverables).
  • These constraints are areas where changes are introduced.
  • Together they determine the quality of a project.
  • The key is to balance these constraints throughout the project.
  • It’s an iterative process as changes are going to occur throughout the project.

This is part of a series I’m writing on the basics of project management. You can read the others here:

And it’s part of my self-imposed professional development for 2018 which I’m calling the NMBAMBA – The Non-MBA, MBA.

Any comments? Nope. That’s fine.

Project management for Idiots: Part 1 – Some Basics


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Here are five thoughts about project management from my recent course at the Business School at Auckland University.

  1. All knowledge work is project work.
  2. Tidying my room is not a project.
  3. Other people are necessary.
  4. There is a budget.
  5. There is a framework.

This is part of my non-MBA, MBA. It’s the second in my mini-series of project management.

And it’s “for idiots” because I’m an idiot for not looking into this seriously before now.

1. All knowledge work is project work

 

I kinda despise the term, but these days I’m a knowledge worker. At least until I run away to sea and join a band of pirates.

My job now is more or less digital and I often work with people who are geographically dispersed.

I’m not sitting on the beach in Bali sipping cocktails. At least not yet.

It’s a far cry from the couple of thousand hours of classroom-based training that I did through the late 90s and early 00s.

But here is my recent realisation – a pithy aphorism that I’m certain that I’ve plagiarised from somewhere:

  • All knowledge work is project work.

2. Tidying my room is not a project

Tidying my room or cooking dinner is not a project.

I’m might consider it to be a project, but it’s not. At least not in the language of project management.

It’s a task.

A task is the lowest building block of a project. A task typically involves one person, it’s just little and often the timeframe is short.

In other words, it’s just me.

Tasks require time management and projects require project management.

3. Other people are necessary

Project management implies other people. Other people are a necessary evil in project management.

For proper project management methodology to make sense you really need to be working with 6 to 12 people over 6 to 12 months.

Projects contain multiple tasks and project success is often driven by the actions of others.

4. There is a budget

A project has a budget and a good project manager needs to be across the budget.

This is another blindspot for me personally. I’m OK with basic stuff, but anything that starts to sound like accounting gives me an instant headache.

This is on my list of things to fix. I don’t need to become and accountant, but I’d like to understand how it all works a bit more than I do now.

4. There is a framework

Project management has a recognised framework from a recognised body of knowledge. I didn’t realise this was the case.

It’s a new discipline relatively speaking. But it’s highly formalised. The body of knowledge is about 1000 pages long.

I haven’t read it, but here’s a summary in three lines:

  • Organise. Why and who for?
  • Plan: timeline and costing
  • Control (paperwork) and Direct (getting people to do stuff). These last two are in parallel.

Thoughts…? Let me know in the comments.