Today EMC, the company I work for, launched a new addition to our core product line, the Symmetrix V-Max system. The official launch site is at overtakethefuture.com, and a very good blog round-up of the coverage is over at the Storage Anarachist’s site.
As you can probably tell from the coverage, this release is a very big deal for EMC. Until today, information about the V-Max system was tightly guarded. So you have to wonder, how do you train the folks who need to be ready for such a big, secret release?
To find the answer to that question, I sat down with Nancy Gessler, who is the Director of New Product Readiness for EMC Education Services. She gave some great insight into what it takes to design and deliver education inside a big technical corporation. Here’s what she had to say:
Nancy, tell us a little about your responsibilities
My team develops and delivers technical training for our field employees and partners who are responsible for Presales, Installation/Integration, and Support for hardware and software across EMC’s product lines. Specifically we prepare the field and partners for launch readiness before a product is able to be sold. We produced almost 500 courses last year in support of approximately 170 launches.
Today EMC had a huge announcement about the Symmetrix V-Max. Can you talk about your role in that release from an education perspective?
Since Symmetrix is EMC’s longstanding, flagship platform, we needed to begin analysis and strategy very early. We knew there would be lots of folks that we would need to train.
This is considered a “complex” launch from the training perspective because it involved new hardware and software changes. Complex launches typically involve several different learning modalities and multiple training assets:
- eLearning accompanied by remote labs so students can get hands-on on the key software features
- ILT for installation because the hardware platform was brand new and they needed to see and touch it
- The inclusion of multi-media, whiteboard sessions, and video tutorials as an element of the eLearning assets to add additional value
A few days ago I posted about the importance of using a systems approach to instructional design. I would think there were some real system challenges in figuring out how to enable readiness for such a huge product launch. First of all, how did you figure out who needed to be trained?
Training has to be geo based, and the forecasted number of internal EMC folks to be trained was almost 1,400. That number includes “core” Symmetrix hardware and software resources. Because Symmetrix is a key platform, there are many folks focused on “affinity” technologies that will also take this training but are not part of the initial forecast. The PreGA training cycle began Feb 17 to ensure a certain percent of the population are trained and ready at the external announce date. It will continue to run through at least the end of May to accommodate the folks who need hardware ILT training and hands-on lab activities for software.
What analysis did you do to come up with the learning objectives?
We are very experienced with job task requirements for the key field roles. We examine the software and hardware changes that are planned and then cross reference that with the job task requirements to come up with the “draft plan of attack”. This generally happens early on so we can assess number of resources and timelines required for development, delivery and course production. This launch consisted of the following areas that required training (which post analysis were compiled into 13 separate development projects for our Symmetrix team):
- 1 Hardware Platform
- 1 Hardware Operating System
- 2 supporting software packages
- 8 “open systems” software packages
- 7 mainframe software packages
How many learning assets did you have to create to meet the objectives?
We produced a total of nine deliverables to support this launch – one instructor led offering and eight blended eLearning assets, along with lab workbooks for the hands-on lab activities that we will support remotely via a virtual data center.
Which internal EMC organizations had a stake in what was being taught?
As part of standard practice, our stakeholders are always involved with approving a training proposal which provides the details of the training deliverables – number of courses, modality, objectives and key topics, and projected length of the deliverable. We are dependent on Marketing to ensure any technical positioning is in alignment and we put the right “spin” on the technical details in support of presales activities. Since we are working with “versioning code” throughout the development lifecycle, we are dependent on Engineering for technical validation. All of our projects go through a comprehensive content review that includes the prior mentioned organizations.
When did you first learn of the project?
I had a general awareness for quite some time – more than a year, but concrete planning started around August of 2008 with an expected training availability date of late Q1.
How long did you have to complete the development & delivery of this instruction?
Training development started approximately November of 2008, but did not kick into high gear until we had working systems and code. Initially our folks worked with Engineering to get a sense of how a feature would work and how to get hardware and software up and running. There is a lot of time spent getting equipment and labs functioning before actual “training development” begins.
How many developers and/or instructors worked on the project?
There were 13 technical subject matter experts (SMEs), two managers responsible for hardware and software work streams, and three instructional designers aligned to this project.
What challenges are there when creating training for products that are not fully “cooked”, and are part of a secret launch?
The key challenge is how to approach the launch. Planning is extremely key. The planning phase is generally about 3 or 4 weeks for a project like this one.
A complex launch requires a thorough impact analysis of feature and function – there were a couple hundred features we had to analyze. This analysis has to be matrixed against audience job roles. Triaging feature and function and the impact to job roles provides the focus areas for key deliverables and how content will be chunked.
The next challenge is immutable deadlines, so we need to schedule timelines for the number of anticipated deliverables and how many SMEs will be needed to work in parallel. Then the issue of how to homogenize independently developed content so there is some amount of consistency across the deliverables.
Then the tactical phase commences – getting equipment, building an appropriate technical environment that will support development and to allow time for our SMEs to get experience with the hardware and software before actual development begins. Initial code does not have all features/functions working as expected so there is an iterative process that takes place across several code drops.
The people are an incredibly important ingredient to addressing the challenges of a complex launch. They need to have good technical breadth and depth and strong knowledge of the key and affinity technologies. They also have to be able to deal with uncertainty and complexity as while we are in the development process, code and other components are evolving.
This project is evidence that proper planning and strong resources can be successful when addressing a challenging and strategic launch as the Symmetrix V-Max Series proved to be.
Well there you have it….a working example of why you have to have a systems approach when designing instruction. I know for a fact my colleagues worked very, very hard…many nights and weekends…to get our company ready to introduce the Symmetrix V-Max to the world. Thanks Nancy for the insight into the guts of corporate education.