How I Track Re-usable Video Assets In Online Learning Projects

I have a tracking problem with regard to my list of video assets

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bento-template-exchange

By using Bento, Filemaker’s personal database product (it’s Mac only, but Filemaker Pro  is their flagship multi-platform database product that will do the same thing–and more), I recently solved a growing problem I was having about tracking my ever growing list of video titles across the similarly growing list of online courses into which I embed those titles.  (By the way, here’s a link to the Bento template exchange site that I alluded to in the video above.  That’s where I submitted my database structure as a template you can download for free.  It has to go through a review process but, once approved, you should be able to find it with the title Video-Module-Course Inventory Tracker.)


Bento DB Template For Videos-Courses Assets Tracking (v-1.0)|580.32 kB|downloads: 689
This is the Bento DB template mentioned in the post about How I Track Re-usable Video Assets In Online Learning Projects. You must have Bento 4 installed for this to work. Simply doubleclick to extract the template from the zip file; then double-click the template to populate it into your Bento installation. I use this DB to associate video titles with course titles so I can quickly see what related courses and course modules need to be updated when a video changes. You can customize this for your needs. Keep in mind, Bento is Filemaker's personal DB for the Mac platform. If you need something for Windows, you may want to look into Filemaker's Filemaker Pro product.

Here was my problem in a nutshell:  As you know I make videos that show people how to do stuff with software.  That’s sort of my thing.  Some folks call these training videos.  (We can debate the merits of “training” vs. “information” another time, but suffice to say that I prefer to call these videos screencasts or “how to” videos.)

Each video can be — and often is — used in one or more course modules that I create for my company’s customers.  These modules can, in turn, be re-used in one or more courses.  The subject matter usually pertains to showing learners how to use some software or website.  The thing is, when that software or website undergoes a new release, it usually includes new feature sets.  Those new features usually trigger the need to change one or more screencast videos… which are related to course modules… and ultimately to courses.

With literally hundres of videos I’ve created over time, I needed a reliable way to quickly check which modules and courses were impacted by one or more videos.  The reverse was also true: if a course or module needed to be updated, I needed a way to quickly determine which video titles were involved.  It turns out, I wasn’t the only one who had this problem.

linkedin discussion about managing courses and modules

What software do you use to manage course updates?

After checking my network, I was surprised to find that there weren’t a lot of hosted or off-the-shelf software that was specifically designed to help with this.  There were some decent suggestions that included fancy spreadsheets, CMSs (Content Management Systems), LMSs (Learning Management Systems), Mindmaps and student grading/attendance software.  And, while helpful, they really were still short of that fingertip solution I needed.  So, I figured it was time to just make a custom solution from off-the-shelf database software.

I started with MS Access, but… well, crap.  It was a pain in the ass.  I spent more time thinking about the tool than the solution I was trying to design.

So, after a little time-off hobbling along again with my handy-dandy (increasingly unruly) spreadsheet, I took a look at Filemaker’s Bento personal database software.  At $50, the price was right, it was pretty much drag-and-drop (that’s more my speed for creating databases), and the moving parts were light enough that my feeble mind could wrap itself around key concepts:  libraries, collectionsfields, and related data.

The video above shows the general structure of my tracker database and how I use it on a day-to-day basis.  Depending on the size of your video titles, you may find that a more powerful database might be better suited, in which case you might want to take a look at Filemaker Pro.  In fact, my requirements may demand that soon.  But for now, Bento’s doing the job nicely.

Check out the video video and feel free to download my template; let me know if it ends up working out for a solution to a similar problem you might be having.

Stop! Before You Start Anything This Year, Get Your Fix.

The 5 Steps to Helping You Get Your Personal Fix


5 Steps To Help Write Your Purpose Statement (v-1.0)|972.99 kB|downloads: 1515
From The 5 Steps to Helping You Get Your Personal Fix. Use this workbook to help you focus your business, content creation or "Digital Know-how" strategies.

unlocking the worldIn the world of nautical and aerial navigation, mariners and aviators commit to a regular activity throughout their trip to determine something called a position fix.  Or, quite simply, a “fix.”

In a nutshell, a fix is an hourly reading mariners and aviators take to determine their true geographic position.  (As opposed to a calculated/estimated position.)  But, rather than rely on instruments inside their ship to determine this position (called a “dead reckoning” position), a fix involves a special type of procedure that uses referenes outside the ship to determine position.  For example, celestial bodies, mountain peaks, light houses, sea buoys, satellites, etc. would all qualify as reference points for a fix.

The point here being that these professionals knew how important it was to occasionally — and regularly — employ a disciplined approach to comparing the ship’s position against outside reference points to confirm whether or not they were still on the course they initially intended to follow (called a flight plan or intended track).

In a similar way, personal purpose and values statements can serve as your flight plan.  And, by periodically revisiting the plan and comparing it against external / objective reference points (e.g., business metrics, market dynamics, competitive positioning, SWOT analyses, and so on), you basically give yourself an opportunity to plot a personal position fix to make sure you’re still on track with your intended plan.  Or, if not, then to determine whether or not a course correction — or plan adjustment — is required.

The PDF above is a free ebook in which I outlined the steps that can help you or someone you know focus and articulate their own fix, or statement of purpose.

Let me know if you find this helpful.  And, by the way, provided that you don’t change any of its contents, you’re otherwise free to pass along copies of the document above to others.

May you have a focused and prosperous new year!  🙂

Ocean Marketing and the Avenger Controller Disaster: What Now?

nuclear explosionConsider this scenario:

You’re a small business owner.  You hire a marketing/PR consultant to manage your brand.  Later, you find that your brand’s name is being mentioned all over the social web.  Huge, right?  That’s great!  🙂

🙁 But, on closer inspection — and as your gut tightens — you discover that words like “moron,” and audacious phrases like “…sperm in your daddys balls (sic)…,” as well as off-color references to “…you’re the douchiest (of customers)…” were being ascribed to your marketing consultant in communications with one of your customers.

That scenario, believe it or not, actually played out this week with as much bewildering trance as watching someone chew sand while immolating himself even as your brain screamed for him to STOP!

ocean marketing - avenger

(Read the whole sad story about “How to self-destruct your company with just a few measly emails” here.  Or, google “Ocean Marketing fiasco OR debacle”.  It’s a pretty huge topic right now.)

What would you do?

I mean, after you fired your marketing/PR consultant?  How would you go about picking up the pieces and recovering your brand?

That question came up as a thread in discussions with colleagues in my social marketing sphere.

Brainstorming For the Benefit Of Messrs. Dave Kotkin and Mr. Chiullan

Without rehashing all the sordid details about the sequence of events, I’ll just direct you to the VentureBeat article via the link(s) above and instead jump to some thoughts my colleagues and I discussed about damage control.  And, dare I say:  there’s potentially an opportunity being missed here; even in the wake of this nuclear mess.

First, it’s worth listing for you some of the players I’ll reference:

  • “Customer Dave” – the kindly customer whose polite email inquiry sparked the whole thread.
  • Paul Christoforo – the boneheaded “marketing consultant” from Ocean Marketing whose hamfisted SERIES of responses to Customer Dave fueled a fire that eventually went nuclear.
  • Dave Kotkin – the reportedly kindly founder of a game device whose business judgment — or lack thereof — found himself at the center of the scenario I outlined at the beginning of this article.
  • Moises Chiullan – the new marketing consultant brought onboard by Mr. Kotkin to manage the fallout.  (And, I’ll add, that by initial accounts seems to be doing a decent job — definitely a hell of a lot better than that “other guy.”)

There are a few more names worth mentioning in this whole bewildering story, but I’ll only make reference to the four folks above.  (Click the link above to get the whole story.  You’ll want to pull up a chair and get a cup of coffee when you read it.  It’s a bit involved.  But, I promise you, you’ll be enthralled, albeit, in a watch-the-man-kill-his-career sort of way.  You’ll want to read it all, as well as the updates and perhaps even a few of the referenced links.  Tip:  If you’re a social media or business consultant/trainer, you may want to bookmark these articles.  It makes a great case study.)

Suggestions For Next Steps

So, my friend Kathi (founder, KruseControlInc) wondered outloud if Mr. Kotkin’s brand can recover in the wake of Mr. Christoforus’ inelegant series of responses.  As my friend Kathi correctly puts it,

“…(Mr. Kotkin) seems pretty sincere and transparent… but this couldn’t be the first time Christoforo acted like this, eh?  Time should help them and if their customers are like Customer Dave, maybe they’ll look past it because the (game) controller is so awesome?”

ocean marketing - avenger

I think Kathi is right.  By even Customer Dave’s account, Mr. Kotkin’s game device is actually a desirable product, despite the shipping challenges the company had been experiencing.

[Via Customer Dave.]  “…It’s truly a shame because I think this device is great for gamers with disabilities and problems… I’m really gonna feel bad if I think that sick children may somewhere down the line have fewer Avenger controllers because I got into a pissing match with a sad old man… As much as I hate this asshole (in reference to Mr. Christoforo), I still WANT (Mr. Kotkin’s) product and think it should be out there…”

In my response to Kathi, I shared my thoughts about how I believe Mr. Kotkin can recover.  Moreover, there’s probably an opportunity for him and Mr. Chiullan to improve the company and their brand.  It begins, first and foremost, by making things right with Customer Dave.

Thank Customer Dave for bringing to light a very very weak and blindingly incendiary link in their company’s whole customer lifecycle.  Pay Customer Dave for his troubles, reimburse the charges on his order, ship the device to him free of charge, whatever it takes; make him whole again.  Then go further….

Once Customer Dave has been made whole, offer to bring him “inside” as a consultant.  Or, better yet, bring him in as a member of a newly formed customer advisory panel.  The purpose of which should be to give feedback and guidance on customer service improvements.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chiullan should send a series of timely press releases that coincide with key milestones in the company’s genuine attempt to improve customer service:

  1. (Timing: Immediate.)  Announce the formation of the advisory panel (or announce the retention of Customer Dave as an external consultant.)
  2. (Timing: About 3-5 days later.)  Inform the public about specific and measurable feedback received from Customer Dave and/or the advisory panel.
  3. (Timing:  Another 3-5 days later.)  Subsequently announce the specific changes that have been made (or will be made) based on the customer advisory panel’s feedback.
  4. (Timing:  At about the same time as the previous step.)  Give video testimonial from Customer Dave and/or other customers about their candid and truthful assessment of the action steps Avenger has taken since the nuclear ground zero that was Paul Christoforo.

There’s clearly much more that can be done here.  But, wouldn’t you agree that it’s not a hopeless situation for Mr. Kotkin?  He can, in fact, recover if he takes genuine steps now to make changes while keeping the public informed about the steps he is taking?

What other guidance would you add?

For Messrs. Kotkin and Chiullan:

I say this with no sarcasm and with genuine sincerity — your situation is tough right now.  I truly hope you do recover, especially since Customer Dave’s account of your product testifies to it filling a very much needed niche.  You clearly have a fan in Customer Dave.  I have to believe there are more.

I respect the initial steps you’ve already taken to course-correct.  And, I truly believe it will benefit you further to give voice to your customers.  Over time, I think you’ll find that if you give them an opportunity to contribute in building the “new” company, they will undoubtedly help support that which they help to create.

Good luck.  And, if you’d like to brainstorm a bit more, let me know and I’d be proud to make introductions with some of the professionals whom I consider friends and experts who are more skilled than I in public relations and social marketing.

Best wishes.

Include a SWOT With Your New Year Business Planning

swot-strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threatsAs the year winds down and we each get geared up for the opportunities in 2012, now’s the time to update that business plan — assuming you haven’t done so yet.  Even if you don’t have your own business, it’s still immensely helpful to take a milestone assessment of your department, company, team, or what have you, as you plan budgets and resources for the coming year.  This is when a SWOT analysis can help.

What’s a SWOT?

A SWOT analysis is a structured group activity that’s useful for identifying the internal and external forces that drive your competitive position in your market.  In the case of a department, committee, team, group, and so on, a SWOT can be used to assess your group’s positioning within the larger organization.

Procedure:

  1. Define “SWOT” for your meeting participants.
  2. Analyze the internal environment.
  3. Analyze the external environment.
  4. Clarify ideas.
  5. Narrow the list.

Step 1.  Define what “SWOT” means for your meeting participants.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

  • Strengths identify any existing or potential resource or capability within the organization that provides a competitive advantage in the market.  For example, an organization might define its capabilities as having a strong distribution network, intense employee commitment and loyalty, increasing profit margins, and so on.
  • Weaknesses point to any existing or potential internal force which could serve as a barrier to maintaining or achieving a competitive advantage in the market.  For example:  lack of clear company strategy, lack of training opportunities for using new technologies, inability to rapidly indoctrinate new employees, and so on.
  • Opportunities are existing or potential forces in the external environment that, if properly exploited, could provide a competitive advantage.  For example: high customer satisfaction ratings, raving fans, proprietary technologies, and so on.
  • Threats, meanwhile, have to do with any existing or potential force in the external environment that could inhibit the maintenance or attainment of a competitive advantage.  Here, examples might include:  a new competitor, a recession, rising (or even lowering) interest rates, tight credit lines, etc.

The thing to notice from the definitions above is that Strengths and Weaknesses are inward looking.  You generate ideas and gather feedback within the context of your organization or company.

Meanwhile, Opportunities and Threats are outward looking.  That is, what’s happening in the environment that will (or can) affect your organization or company.

Step 2.  Analyze the internal environment: Strengths and Weaknesses

In this step, ask your participants to identify the strengths of the organization (or department, etc.).  Questions you might consider asking include:

  • What strengths are unique to our (company, organization, department…)?
  • What differentiates us from the competition?
  • What is it that we do really well?

Next, ask participants to identify the weaknesses.  Questions to consider include:

  • What knowledge do we lack?
  • What skills do we lack?
  • What systems do we need to change?

Consider also discussing any case studies, white papers, lessons learned, client projects that went particularly well, as well as those that didn’t go particularly well.

Step 3.  Analyze the external environment: Opportunities and Threats

Reminding participants of the definition you gave in Step 1, ask them now to help you list opportunities.  Questions to consider include:

  • What additional services can we offer existing clients?
  • How can we engage our highly satisfied customers and raving fans to expand our offerings?
  • What new markets are we positioned to enter?
  • What new markets are we positioned to create?
  • Are there any service offerings we have that can be leveraged to appeal to different generations?

Finally, ask participants to do a similar exercise in identifying threats.  Questions to consider here might include:

  • Who are our closest competitors?
  • What new companies are poised to enter our market?
  • What environmental or regulatory issues might affect our industry?

The resulting list might look something like this:

swot analysis

Step 4.  Clarify ideas.

Review each idea within each of the domains; ask clarifying questions while discussing the underlying drivers of each idea.  It will help to ask members who presented an idea to help clarify and explain to the rest of the team what they meant about that idea.  Remember, the goal in this step is to clarify.  Avoid debating or championing the importance of any particular idea.

Step 5.  Narrow the list.  (If needed.)

This step will likely require the use of some kind of facilitative “narrowing” technique to help combine similar ideas.  One such technique could be your own variation to an approach I wrote about previously on using Post-It notes to help gain meeting consensus.

The goal here is to reduce the quantity of ideas listed under each domain without (and this is important) outright discarding any one idea.  It’s important that each participant feel that her/his idea was included.  It’s also unnecessary to discard ideas, given the easy techniques available in the Post-It notes article for combining, voting and narrowing.

By now, you can see that conducting a SWOT analysis with a group can be a bit time-consuming.  Due to this fact, you may want to conduct the SWOT over a span of time (over a span of days, for example).  You might also consider focusing on the internal dimensions with one group, while reserving the external dimensions for another day with another group.

SWOT is also a technique that can help sole proprietors and small business owners conduct business planning for the new year or new quarter.

Is this something you’ve done before?  What other planning tools do you typically use to prepare for a new year?

How to use post-it notes to gain meeting consensus

While brainstorming story themes recently with a client, I employed a brainstorming technique I had used numerous times before.   It makes use of Post-it notes to gain consensus in meetings where you have three or more participants.  It can also be effective in meetings with strong personalities; those with passionate agendas.

Though I used it recently in a meeting related to an eLearning / video project (which is why I’m sharing it here), you’ll see that it can effectively be used in many other business scenarios.  In fact, I wrote about this technique a couple of years ago in a similar article for BusinessCasualBlog.com.  It continues to gain a high number of hits on that blog, which tells me it’s an oft-searched for topic.  So, I figure I’ll share it here with you, as well.

Beyond Brainstorming

decision-making mindmap

If you’ve ever participated in a brainstorming session, then you know how quickly a group of folks can fill up a series of flipcharts or the white space on a white board.  Like you, I’ve participated in meetings where we successfully whittled the brainstormed list down to a prioritized short list.  Then, yet further to actionable tasks. That’s the ideal result.

That said, I’ve also been in meetings (too many) where, at the end of it all, we concluded with nothing more than a lot of great ideas on a bunch of flip charts.

It’s for this latter set of managers that I’m sharing this post.

What follows is an eight-step consensus-building process I’ve used successfully in meetings to get down to a short list of prioritized and actionable ideas after having begun with a long list of brainstormed ideas.

Now, I can’t take credit for this. It’s something I learned from others, and I doubt any of us know who started the whole thing. But, it’s worth sharing. If for nothing else, then maybe I won’t have to waste my time sitting in on too many more fruitless brainstorming meetings in the future.

So, if you learn something new here, then pay it forward. Pass this information along.

The tools

What you’ll need: Post-it notes, markers, flip charts (or white board), pens.

In anchoring a starting point, let me begin by assuming you’ve already generated a long list of brainstormed ideas.  Then, with list in hand (or strewn on flipcharts across multiple walls), do the following:

1. Group and categorize the list of ideas. This is an iterative process where the facilitator goes down the list of ideas in succession. With each list item, the group is asked if there is anything in the list above it that might make for combining or grouping. Some things to keep in mind:

  • To facilitate a smoother round, each idea should be given a letter label. (“A,” “B,”, “C,”… and so on.)
  • Avoid using numbers.  A numbered list often conveys a sense of implied rank ordering or prioritization.
  • When you combine ideas, cross out the letter (not the idea) of the list item being combined. Then, write it’s letter next to the line item to which it is being combined.

Sample Brainstorm List2. Clean up the list. Usually, the brainstorming session itself, and Step 1 above, will have taken a bit of time. The flip chart will be messy, the group will have felt like they’ve really worked hard. (Which is why some unskilled facilitators allow the meeting to adjourn immediately after brainstorming or after the grouping step. Fight this temptation.)

Instead, put everybody on a break while you (or a co-facilitator) clean up the list by re-writing the resulting grouped line items onto a clean set of flip charts.

After you’ve created a clean list, give each line item a new set of alphabetic labels. (Again, “A,” “B,” “C,”… etc.)

Conduct a weighted talley using Post-it notes.

And herein lies the crux of this process.

3. Count the number of items in the list and divide by three (3). Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, we have a list of eight items, as the image above shows.

Dividing by three (and then rounding), we end up with the number 3. (Well, 2.67…, but practically speaking, let’s round up.)

By dividing the number of line items by the number three, you’re defining the number of “votes” each member will get in the next step. (Note: Don’t get hung up on why we’re dividing by three. I’ve heard this referred to as the “N/3 Method.” It’s largely arbitrary, but generally it gives a result that reasonably assigns an “appropriate” number of votes for each participant.)

4. Distribute Post-It notes. The number of Post-Its you give out to each participant should equal the result in Step 3. So, in our example, (after rounding up) you would give three (3) Post-it notes to each participant.

5. “Pick what you like.” Instruct each member to write one letter, from the list, on each Post-it note. Each letter represents a unique line item from the list. And, no duplication of letters is allowed. In other words, no fair stacking your votes. (Unless, for some reason, the group agrees that’s okay… remember, the key thing here is to get the group to agree to the process. If they agree with that, they’ll go along with the results.)

Sample rank order during brainstorming6. Rank order. Once each participant has had an opportunity to write a letter on each of the Post-it notes they’ve been given (three in this example), instruct them now to focus on the letters on the Post-it notes, and the idea that each letter represents.

Challenge them to rank order each Post-it note by placing a number next to each letter. (1 = Lowest in their set. And, in our example, 3 = the highest. Clearly, if the result of Step 3 above dictated 5 Post-its for each participant, then 5 would then be the highest rank.)

Sample brainstorm list result using post-it notes7. Reveal their weighted tallies. After each member has had an opportunity to complete their rank ordering exercise, instruct them to all come up to the white board at the same time (or, if it’s a large meeting, then in smaller groups of 6 to 10). Have them place their respective Post-It notes next to its corresponding line item on the flip chart.

Note: This is a powerful step. It psychologically reinforces the “wisdom of the crowd.” Each participant is less likely to challenge the resulting tally since, by their participation, they’ve agreed to the process that is currently at work. And, therefore, the results.

8. Sum and prioritize. Once all participants have had an opportunity to place their Post-it note on the flip chart, you or your co-facilitator should then tally the numbers (on the Post-it notes) associated with each line item. Write the sum boldly in the margin next to the idea to which it corresponds.

The result is a prioritized list: those ideas with the highest sums (e.g., D, E and A, in our example) are assigned the highest priority.

But wait, what if there’s a tie?

Look at items B, C, and F in our example. Notice the Post-its associated with each of them add up to 3 on their respective lines. That’s not a problem. You can either follow the same steps as above or modify the steps slightly using a simple tally with a simple show of hands while focusing on only those line items that require tie breakers.

Of course, this may be moot if the goal was to prioritize and, say, identify the top 3 items from which to develop action steps and assignment of responsibilities.

Summary

What I showed you here is a basic technique that many trained facilitators may be familiar with. (While not all may do it exactly this way, each has a similar process for achieving group consensus.)

But, if this is new for you, and it helps you at your next meeting, then remember to pay it forward. Pass the information along to a friend. By doing so, you and I may be saving each other from another dreadful “go nowhere” brainstorming meeting sometime in the future.