The 2019 Training Industry Conference and Expo (TICE) is in the books. We learned quite a bit from our peers and vendors. As I ponder all that I learned, I am left with the conclusion that we still are not 100% sure how to gain organizational alignment around agile development in ADDIE-focused organizations. In addition, we still have heartburn around how to effectively measure what we do in a way that matters to the business we support.

After listening to some great discussions on both of these topics, here is a culmination of my takeaways and some steps on how to make what I learned actionable.

In learning and development, when we rapidly prototype designs or use agile or waterfall development, we have the opportunity to create learning experiences in a way that allows us to iterate and act on what we learn in real time throughout the learning and development process. This process is one of continuous improvement in real time: learning and development Kaizen.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for improvement. It is a continuous process of analysis, experimenting and flexing to adapt to a change. This process was originally applied to manufacturing, but if we use it in our field, we will become better at what we do.

Kaizen is about spending time developing our work in progress instead of spending time documenting processes. It focuses on collaboration with people instead of on tools and processes. It means we can respond to changes more quickly, and we don’t necessarily have to follow a step-by-step plan. It means we can fail fast and fix fast.

As you begin to explore the concept of Kaizen and apply it to L&D, here are some steps that can help.

1. Begin With a Single Area of Focus

This step is especially important if you need to negotiate buy-in from people who are used to doing things a certain step-by-step (read: ADDIE or process documents) way. Changing everything all at once is a change management nightmare, but if you can negotiate a pilot for one area of focus, and you are successful, it will be much easier to apply it to other areas.

2. Don’t Do It Alone

By bringing your team, stakeholders and SMEs on board for the initial project and including them in the process and execution, you can create success and early adoption. As you do so, do not be quick to toss out any ideas. Listen without judgement as ideas evolve, and be open to discussing anything. You may be surprised at some of the ideas that can work.

3. Speak the Language of the Business, and Don’t Forget the Strategic Plan

You have to speak the language of the business to bring your stakeholders on board. Words matter, and your business partners speak the language of the strategic plan. Set clear and measurable goals and objectives that you can define in the terms and numbers of the business plan. Track your progress using your stakeholders’ words, and change and adjust as needed. Consider using a balanced scorecard approach to support this process.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Scrap It

If, at the end of the day, your pilot does not enable work to happen more effectively or impacts another area of learning or the business in a negative way, it’s OK to go back to the drawing board. Remember, Kaizen is about change for the better. It is a way of thinking that becomes a culture. It’s about helping everyone look for ways to improve and about making iteration part of the way you work.

5. Remember That You Are Learning, Too

Embrace the spirit of Kaizen, and be willing to iterate for the greater good. This approach is about more than activity and change. It is about improving and learning along the way. Let’s remember why we do what we do: We are lifelong learners.

6. Celebrate Success

Kaizen for L&D, illustrated