Have a Happy SAM Year!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the time of year where you are either starting your resolutions, procrastinating starting your resolutions, or exclaiming your dislike for the nonsense of making resolutions. I’ll let you decide to which group you belong.

During the holiday season, it’s almost impossible not to reflect back on the past year and consider what you might have done differently. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, there’s always that moment on December 31st where it hits me: “Man, I really wished I would have done more or tried harder!” There’s just something about turning the page on the calendar that makes the thought necessary and unavoidable. But it’s too late to change what has happened. We can only hope and plan to do better.

If we are honest with ourselves, though, doesn’t it always seem like the same resolutions (or at least similar ones) come around every year? Lose weight, save money, exercise more…blah, blah, blah.

A simple web search will find plenty of reasons why we fail at our resolutions. The top reasons are:

  1. We go big—making goals that are never attainable.
  2. We expect magic to occur—setting unrealistic timelines.
  3. We have too many resolutions—choosing everything we can think of to change.
  4. We don’t change our environment—removing the temptations that hinder our goals.

On nearly every occasion I give a presentation or teach a workshop about SAM, I am told about the challenges, limitations, and failures of trying to implement SAM. This is almost immediately followed with the same questions: “How can I make a Savvy Start happen?” or “Why didn’t this go any faster than our current process?” or “When should I present the Design Proof?”
My responses are rarely about the process or components of SAM. Rather, they are about the same things that make us fail at keeping our resolutions.


Any attempt to change a process that is currently in use in an organization takes more than just having a new process to start. It takes planning, setting expectations, focusing on small successes, and integrating into the organization.

From my experience, people are often more excited about using SAM to produce engaging and performance changing learning experiences than they are at ensuring the successful implementation of a new process. Now, this is not a bad thing at all! Exuberance, energy, and excitement go a long way towards making any endeavor a success.

But just as with New Year’s resolutions, it takes a lot more to achieve the goal. So, here is my list of 2015 SAM Resolutions to help you make this year—and your instructional design projects—a success! (Do these one at a time, in any order. Don’t try to do them all at once!)

  • Cut back on pre-design analysis. Find some way to start designing instruction before you worry too much about the content that is needed. Remember, identifying the problem is the first step in building realistic learning experiences.
  • Schedule a mini Savvy Start. Attempting to get five or six people into a room all day (or for two days) is a daunting task. So schedule a four-hour brainstorming session with key stakeholders, managers of learners, and recent learners to brainstorm and sketch out a couple of interactions. You can worry about the rest of the instruction later.
  • Create an Expectations Document for all team members. Write up a list of things everyone can expect to see at each stage and send it to all team members in advance. You might already be doing something like this, so a simple tweak here or there to include prototypes or draft content may go a long way in shifting expectations of the team.
  • Plan a Design Proof. Let the team members know you will be putting together a rough version of the e-learning course for them to review before you move to development. Make sure they understand this is only a representation of the course and the “polished” version will be coming along later. This version is just to make sure that everything is on track.
  • Align the deliverables of SAM with your current process. Okay, this is actually a big goal. While it may not take you long to link the Design Proof with some type of storyboard you may currently use, it will help you see where other quick successes can occur the next time you start a project. It will certainly go a long way in helping your team members understand how SAM addresses many (if not all) of your organization’s expectations for learning and development projects.

Alright, there you go. You have a small set of realistic SAM goals for the year. You are going to start small. You have no expectation of overnight mystical changes. You will limit your efforts to one or two key events. And because you realize that no process occurs in a vacuum, you are starting the year with an appreciation for your organization’s current needs.
You can do this! I have faith in you! And trust me, I’ve seen this approach work on many, many occasions.

Happy New Year and best of luck making SAM a success in your organization!

(If things don’t work out, we’re always here for advice and guidance. Check here or the Allen blog regularly for your SAM boost as needed!) 

To learn more about SAM, check out Leaving ADDIE for SAM  or Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide.

About the Author

Vice President, Training and Marketing, Allen Interactions  Richard H. Sites is the vice president of training and marketing at Allen Interactions, where he leads the strategic vision of Allen Interactions’s custom development learning services, training and outreach, and authoring system, ZebraZapps. He also oversees the awareness of the company’s advanced design and development approaches created by Michael Allen: CCAF-based design and the SAM process for iterative, collaborative development. Richard has more than 20 years of experience designing and delivering learning solutions to support improved workplace performance for many Fortune 500 companies in both academia and private industry. He has held the positions of vice president, client services and studio executive for Allen Interactions’s Tampa studio. Richard travels the country speaking to groups and organizations on the value of SAM, the importance and power of engaging, performance-changing learning experiences, and other topics related to the design and development of high-quality training. He is the co-author of ATD’s bestseller Leaving ADDIE for SAM and the Leaving ADDIE for SAM Field Guide. Richard holds a doctorate of education from the University of West Florida along with a master of education and a bachelor of business administration. He is also a frequent blogger on the Allen Interactions E-Learning Leadership blog.  

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