Part One: Steps 1 to 3
For reasons, some more understandable than others, the several processes that make up the management of EdTech products and projects involve innovation at its core.
Most of the discussion taking place along a consultancy relationship will likely involve one of the four commonly accepted types of innovation:
- Product: Today, an EdTech product is a Data product. It is the only way you can realistically validate your product’s benefits, and the consultant’s contribution to the findings. Consultants —yours truly included—, can build fantastic narratives about our work and what we can deliver. Only clear goals tied to KPIs can distill fact from fiction. Therefore, an EdTech consulting project is a data an analytics project in a way.
- Process: A high-performing consultancy is one with a keen eye to point out inefficiencies, ideally to the point that fixing them would lead to cost-savings that by itself make up for the costs of the consultancy. This, unfortunately, is not always possible, in which case it does not mean the relationship is not bottom-line beneficial. Clarity, measurability and leadership buy-in do figure as must-have outcomes.
- Management: There are still a few unconvinced that something as intangible as “management innovation” should be taken seriously. If you ever come across someone like that, please show them how taking the time to understand and enhance trust, a common language and desirable behaviors has been consistently proven by research to increase organizational survival and growth.
- Marketing: Perhaps an area as critical to the EdTech and LMS space as it is misunderstood. In the age of content and social media, there is few distinctions between the everyday user experience and the company’s marketing and promotional initiatives. This is specially poignant for education companies, some of which (not many) realize that the most effective way to communicate how capable you are at teaching a skill online is, well, by teaching said skill online in highly capable ways.
The 10 steps in this series, divided across the common stages of a consultancy, should give you an idea of what to expect from your partner (be it the consultant or the EdTech innovator), how to make the most of it and avoid any pitfalls.
Spoiler alert: It all hinges on mutual trust.
First Stage: Setup
It is always advisable to begin with a clear set of rules, hopefully in writing, including rights and duties, to what each party commits and what it does not. Given the unpredictable nature of innovation management, the agreements should remain flexible enough. At the very least, it should include protocols for reviewing the agreement, either at agreed upon milestones or dates, or by unilateral request. This also underscores the need of a “golden rule”: The ability for each party to decide not to go forward once the deliverables of a stage have been met. No justification should be needed. This will help promote a healthier, more independent relationship.
1. Set the scenery
While having most, if not all, of the rules clear in the clear before starting, it is only normal that many circumstances only arise as the relationship moves on. It is fitting to think of your EdTech consulting contract or agreement as a software application. Get started with an MVP or Minimum Viable Partnership, and keep fixing bugs and adding “features-clauses.”
(Many argue that with technologies such as blockchain we will actually be able to “code” the contracts to automate its enforcement. That is, “code will be law.” Intriguing, right? But let’s get back on track.)
After all —and if met a consultant before you probably heard this already —: No plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy.
So the first step is about agreements, both the explicit and the implicit ones. As you hit the ground with actual work, elements of the relationship that will become essential will begin to elucidate: The focuses, drivers and motivators of each party; as well as the struggles and sources of conflict. A healthy dose of self-awareness and friendly
The prospects for EdTech project management are not always ideal. Both software development and education prove to be grounds for a diverse, often conflicting philosophies about what works and how to do the. Don’t let this discourage you. Keep the conversations pointing to commonly agreed upon indicators and clear measurements of progress.
Examples of “Scenery” outcomes
- A first-draft Charter, approved by all parties. Unlike a plan, a charter focuses on how things will proceed, rather than what will be done.
- A baseline of the organization status internally and on the marketplace. Focus on its profile as an EdTech innovator (a “Technology-centered SWOT” activity helps) and how it has dealt with technology trends in recent years.
- Supporting diagnostics: From third-party leadership and personality profiles, to a preliminary Design Thinking, Strategic Planning or similar workshops. (In which case, the deliverable is a consultant report.)
- Open Source Bonus: Discuss how the relationship and the resulting innovation will handle openness and public transparency. Pick up a book of The Open Organization and hold a workshop based on one of its chapters.
Philosophies matter. But only as they contribute to measurable progress. Whenever one of the people involved
In general, consultants have a broad skillset. Even within the EdTech space they can focus on many areas, usually corresponding to the essential supporting units in an organization, with Training or L&D (Learning & Development) gaining particular importance. It would look well if they include an upskilling element throughout the project, as it would reflect on the learning values of the professional and would lead to increased abilities for the organization.
The sooner the relationship is able to withstand open communication and debate without confrontation, the easier the rest of the process will be.
Examples of “Calibration” outcomes:
- A "Content\Topics Risk Analysis," outlining issues and forms of discussion that are or could start becoming a source of conflict, within a Risk Management framework: Description, Nature of the conflict, Likelihood, Impact, Severity and Preventive\Corrective\
- A "Soft Skills" Analysis for the people involved. An external evaluator can help. If the people are willing to commit to work on challenging areas that affect their interactions, it could become an opportunity to regularly hold them to their word. Amicably.
- Open Source Bonus: An "Open Source Personality Test." (Not that kind, even thought that one is a cool tool.) I dislike the notion, but I have to admit it exists: Open Source Technology means many things to people. It could help to build a workshop in which specific ideas, and ideology even, are contrasted among the team; and a common terminology and mindset are agreed upon.
3. Pace and Stride
It is worth stressing again that these stages do not predate actual product development work. In fact, they need actual progress and milestones to validate themselves. By the end of stage one, the goal is to have a "functional understanding" of how the relationship is going to play out until the end, in a way that leads to tangible results.
You've done the trust falls. Now it's time for the aerial circus acrobatics.
- Sample User or Customer Journeys. Narrative techniques are useful tools for long-term engagements, as they help tell gain context and chronological perspectives. Don't forget to add numbers to your story, and update the indicators often. This exercise very well be the most important outcome in Content Marketing-related projects.
- Marketing-to-Sales Funnel. It complements the Journeys, in fact it would be a good practice that the sections of the funnel are mentioned throughout them. But if a Customer Journey fills in the blanks, the Funnel is the loudest and most concrete expression of whether the consulting is working out.
- Open Source Bonus: Are you interested in promoting "Open Source Marketing"? If there is one thing everyone desperately needs is transparent information about whether marketing strategies and actions work (not to mention Open Learning Analytics.) Being able to openly share marketing actions, and report on their performance, would be incredibly beneficial for the community.