The 80/20 Rule of Content Development

One of the links that came across my Del.icio.us feed this weekend was a little post about how to make a living at being a freelance web designer without having to be really good at design. The author wrote about the 80-20 rule — that basically getting 80% competent at being a web designer wasn’t really hard — but that last 20% to go from competent to awesome was really really tough, and takes a very long time.

With learning content so similar in every technical way to web content, the same rules apply, but as with everything in our trade, it’s got a little bit of a twist to it.

Keep reading for an example of real action items from a cursory review of existing content being modified for a new version of the learning content.

So no context is really needed here. I’m revising a course I built last year for the same internal client. Here’s the notes I took down of the high-level changes that need to be addressed.

Screen Details Level
2 Move navigation to the bottom, probably record how-to-navigate in Captivate Critical
Global Remove Articulate Logo Not Critical

It goes on and on for about 20+ rows, I won’t retype it all… you can view it here if you really want to. Of the changes spelled out, I’ve identified about three of them as “Critical” — these are the ones that will take the most time to produce, require the most “design” to get the message right, have the highest potential to need more rework because the presentation of the information can be so subjective and they have the most ambiguity. To the client and the project manager, these represent maybe 20% of the changes I need to make, but they’ll probably take about 400% of the time it will take me for all the other changes combined.

See, each change is equally weighted to the client, the subject matter expert and/or the project manager. But on the design and production side of things, we know that there are some tasks that take considerably more resources than others. The degree to which project managers “get it right” weighs heavily on their understanding of what things take more or less effort than others.

There’s another side to it, though. That 20% I’m talking about — a lot of it is playing right into my weak spots, which is visual design. I know a lot of graphic designers who dabble in Flash enough to be dangerous, and I know that many more technically brilliant people who can’t make something pretty enough for them to look at themselves (you know who you are). I’m a jack of both trades but a master of none, which is where I’ll bet a lot of you readers are, too.

I guess I’m not sure what this all means, but it occurred to me on the train this morning that as tensions ride high in project management of learning technology projects, one of the core reasons has to be how each team member weighs the level of effort on a given task — and that’s probably a good place to start having conversations about developing and designing E-Learning with your team. In other words, what does it take to build _x_? Because there’s nothing to technically building a simple click activity for a timeline… but if you want it to look right, consistent with the interface and the content — it may take a level of effort far beyond the basics of slapping the pieces together or using Articulate Engage. You may draft out the interface for about five hours for a 30-second piece of content, and only the last draft you make is useful.

And… it still might not be “right.”

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