Usually, a Review is understood to be to look at something again, to find any mistakes and to correct them, or to improve what might already be right. A Test can also be understood to check something again to find any mistakes, and to then accept or reject/rework the thing. Is there any difference between a Test and a Review?
Looking for synonyms for the word ‘Review’, we find – analysis, audit, check, inspect, report, revision, scrutiny, survey, test, and a few others. ‘Test’ is also among these, and it is going to be fun exploring the similarities and differences between the two. By the way, there are many kinds of reviews, as many as 14 different types (See: https://guides.mclibrary.duke.edu/sysreview/types)
Reviews are certainly done as a second (or further) look at something, but the interesting fact about a review is that it cannot be effective unless the reviewer has (prepared) another (relevant) view, and then does a re-view. It is important for the reviewer to have a (independent) view of their own about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of what they review, before their review can effectively add value.
Ideally the reviewer should have used the same inputs and prepared the same output as the work they are reviewing, and then compared the received output/document with what they themselves arrived at and how. As the reviewer matures in their experience, they may not need to go through the entire process every time, but they still need to have their own view of what and how the output should be made. Unless they have their own view before they look at the submission, they will not be able to hold on to their own (different) view, and in all likelihood, they will get ‘absorbed’ by the submission’s approach for ‘what’ and ‘how’. In the absence of this preparation, most reviews have only one or two of ‘what’ comments, while most comments are about how it appears – the layout, cosmetics, language, etc.
Reviews must examine the decisions made and principles used by the developer, while Tests compare functionality against the requirements. This also explains why Designs need to be reviewed, but Code/Output needs to be tested to verify adherence to design and fulfilment of requirements. Of course, sometimes the code also needs to be reviewed, but that is usually to provide developmental inputs to the developer. Tests focus on the specifications and requirements, but what should Reviews focus on? Let’s look at some phenomena found in reviews.
If you look at the kinds of comments that are reported in a review, you may find that most of the comments relate to what is common for the (that particular) reviewer to look for. For instance, when I did this analysis for my own reviews, I found that I was reporting mainly language (grammar, punctuation) errors in storyboards I reviewed. Also, out of these, 90% used to be about the use of commas. It was evident that ‘language’ was something I was focused on. Similarly, someone else may have their favorite aspect as length of sentences, or voice, or you-name-it.
Another realization that emerged as I saw the reviews done in various projects, was that as a team we ended up spending more project time reviewing and correcting what we were good at, rather than review and correct what we were anyway weaker at. Reviews had a tendency to go into multiple rounds of reviewing and fixing, with new corrections coming up at every iteration. This was not because earlier reviews were not complete, but because ‘lower level’ hygiene issues needed to be resolved first for a focused ‘higher order’ review to be possible.
Generally, I realized that reviews were also not planned for any specific aspects to be focused on by reviewers. Several different reviewers gained a reputation from their own unique strengths and were fed the deliverables for review without any focus(es) defined, assuming they would respond to issues of the kind they were known to be good at avoiding in their own output. In hindsight, this seemed a quality plan ‘taken for granted’, without considering the wastage of overlapping reviews, and the risks of reviews missing out focusing on objectives required by the customer.
Tests, on the other hand, are usually conducted with a Test Plan, with Test Cases and expected Behavior. Compared to a review, a test is more defined, focused, and consistent in its outcome when done by different testers on the same output. Creativity is best reviewed, and execution is best tested.
I finally learned to plan for reviews through multiple iterations, each time focusing on a set of aspects which I found most efficient and effective to review together in the same iteration. The aspects that Reviews should focus on are those that are defined in the Quality Assurance Plan and must match the relative importance among them as needed, expected, and required by the customer. This taught me how to build a development and review plan that assured quality. I called this a Quality Plan, or QPlan, which was published as a paper at the QAI Conference on Quality in 2001.
It is interesting to observe that REVIEW is a backronym… R.E.V.I.E.W.: Reconsidered Effective Verification of the Integrity and Excellence of Work. T.E.S.T.: Truth Evaluated through Systematic Trial.
Here, WORK is also a backronym… W.O.R.K.: When Outcomes Result from Knowledge.
It seems interesting to understand that if work doesn’t lead to any outcome, it is a waste of time. Also, if the work you do is not using your knowledge, then it is someone else’s work you are doing, usually as an assignment. This ties in well with the understanding of ‘karma’ in the Indian perspective.
Focuses on appropriateness of decisions and principles used in the process.
Focuses on the excellence of the product in meeting requirements and specifications.
Focuses on process
Focuses on product
When done by different reviewers, can result in diversely valuable insights
When done by different testers, will likely result in the same findings
Like ‘Analysis’, ‘Consulting’ is a term used with widely different connotations in modern business conversations. Like analysis, consulting is also a term that gets you thinking once you start trying to define it. I found it invaluable to spend some time unraveling “Consulting” and figuring out how to be a successful, respected consultant.
“The purpose of consulting is to help people solve problems and move from their current state to their desired state, which they may not be able to do by themselves as effectively, or as efficiently” – Krishna Deva
This paper discusses introductory answers to four questions:
What does providing Consulting Services mean?
When are Consulting Services required?
What does it take to provide Consulting Services?
Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?
1. What does providing Consulting Services mean?
There are many views on what consultants do and what services they provide. I thought it would be important to begin from the demand side, to understand what providing consulting services means to the customer. After all, that is the raison d’etre for consultants, and it should be the context in which everything else about consulting services gets defined.
In trying to understand what consulting services could mean for the customer, we need to consider the results – the deliverables and the outcomes – that the customer gets. The ‘how’ of consulting is also a component of what consulting services mean, but not from the customer’s point of view. That is more important for the consulting provider to know and be good at. More of the ‘how’ in later sections.
Let’s begin our exploration of consulting services by understanding the expected deliverables and outcomes of providing consulting services.
Deliverables of Consulting
The core of the deliverables from a consultant is usually a Report. The report typically begins with an “Executive Summary”, and contains the “Objectives of the Assignment” for which the consulting was undertaken, the “Facts and Data” that were considered, the established and credible “Bodies of Knowledge” that the consultant used, and the “Recommendations” of the ‘solution’ or ‘answer’ to the customer’s problem, or question.
Objectives of the Assignment
Facts, Data & Studies
Analysis (with ref to established bodies of knowledge)
The thinking and analyses done by the consultant is inherent in the recommendations, and we can say that the report is a result of the consultant’s thinking. Typically, the detailed analyses and logic applied is not elaborated in the report unless the solution is heavily research oriented, or if it is complex and difficult to comprehend.
I have also seen many reports of consulting assignments where the Consultant was expected to validate and coherently re-present the analysis and solutioning done by the customer. In such cases the Consultant is ‘used’ as a credible third-party offering recommendations on which the insiders want a stamp of external, neutral approval.
In every case, it is an expectation that the recommendations, if followed, will lead to the outcomes desired, and will not create any new or bigger problems than might already be there. If anything, the recommendations are expected to reduce current problems by leveraging on as many synergistic opportunities as possible.
Typically, the Report is not only submitted but also presented by the consultant so that all implications of the contents are grasped completely, and any follow-up questions are addressed responsively and coherently.
The deliverables can be summarized in one line as follows:
“A Report including the Investigation, Learning, Research, Analysis and Experience-based Advice that Solves the Customer’s target problem/opportunity.”
2. Outcomes of Consulting
The primary outcome for the customer has to be their success, once they implement the recommendations. Without this expectation of success being met, the customer would never value the consulting exercise.
Another important outcome of consulting is the reputation it creates for the consultant. For a consultant, their reputation is critical to build up, because their credibility is important for the recommendations to be accepted, as well as for growth in their engagements. For a consultant, the two important elements in their reputation are respect for their caliber, and appreciation for what they are able to bring as outcomes.
The two outcomes from any successful consulting engagement are:
Success for the Customer
Respect and Appreciation for the Consultant
2. When are Consulting Services required?
These are the four situations in which consulting services are sought by customers:
When the Customer doesn’t know what the solution is
When the Customer doesn’t know what the problem is
When the Customer doesn’t know how to implement the solution
A combination of the above conditions, in any proportion
It may be natural to jump to the conclusion that consultants provide solutions, but the truth of the matter is that consultants often need to be called upon when the problem itself is not known or identifiable. For instance, a client organization might be suffering dropping productivity for the last two years, and a few initiatives may have been tried out by the management but did not help.
This would be a good point to bring in a consultant with more/diverse experience in resolving productivity issues. The consultant would be able to assess and analyze the realities within and around the organization to put together and propose solution options to the management.
Consultants with implementation experience are also sought out when the solution may have been identified and even detailed out to some extent to give the client confidence that it will work, but they may lack the capacity and capability to manage the execution/implementation. A consultant in this case would be a good temporary addition to their workforce to see through the solution to its effective implementation.
In general, consulting services are called upon in a wide variety of situations. Consultants may be sought out for any of the following types of solutions, and more:
Designing solutions to problems Identifying the problem(s) Competition analysis
Formulating strategy Implementing new technology Managing functions
3. What does it take to provide Consulting Services?
Consulting services typically follow the lifecycle outlined below. The sequence of stages/steps may be somewhat iterative depending on the situation and the ease/difficulty in accomplishing each stage, but the stages are all necessary to go through for the consultant.
The lifecycle of consulting can be visualized like the Greek symbol for ‘sigma’ (see Fig. 2 below). Starting at the point where the arrow points, follow the shape clockwise through the stages a, b, c, d, and e. The description of each stage is in the paragraphs that follow the figure.
a. Understanding the Problem from the Customer’s point of view
Consulting begins by building a good understanding of the ‘problem’ which the customer has articulated. It is important to identify all the opportunities that are being missed, as well as their effect on the ‘pain’ that is being created by those. Typically, the ‘pain’ is voiced by the customer and evident from data points of the outcome(s) not meeting desired goals.
P.R.O.B.L.E.M.: Perceived Risk of an Opportunity not Being Leveraged to Enhance the Meeting of goals.
Understanding this ‘problem’ wisely is key to consulting.
b. Understanding the ground Realities
Diving deeper into the causes and data, the next stage after identifying the problem(s) is to understand the realities of the situations in the customer’s organization and environment that have a bearing on the Customer’s pain points. Getting rid of biases and building a rich fabric of evidence and data is critical to correctly understand the reality, and therefore all the possible causes that lead to the effects.
This stage involves investigating all potential factors and functions, meeting various executives to understand their perspectives and experience, as well as to gather and analyze data for all relevant measures.
c. Applying Design Thinking & Problem Solving
With a factual and unambiguous understanding of the problem and all the factors leading to it, this stage focuses on developing strategies and designing feasible solution options that have optimal impact and cost.
The steps typically follow this structure:
Here is where lies the first opportunity for innovation. The creativity applied in finding new possibilities and definitions of the problem/focus/opportunity should lead to identifying obvious as well as not so obvious problems.
Conduct Causal Analysis – Explore all possible Cause-Effect relationships
Research for new/more causes/opportunities – Critical Thinking
The findings of all research feed back into the earlier two steps above – Defining the problem, or Causal analysis.
Map and Correlate alternatives with impact areas – Develop Solution Sets
Going through the above steps helps in logical yet innovative solution sets, which can be compared for their respective benefits as well as costs and complexity.
d. Present Pros and Cons of Feasible Solution Options
The solution sets are presented to the customer stakeholders along with their pros and cons, and a Cost-Benefit Analysis for each solution set. Questions lead to refinement of the most suitable solutions.
e. Finalize the agreed upon Solution(s)
Build the Plan and complete the Consulting Report documentation for submission to the customer as the final deliverable.
4. Which are the Distinctive Skills for Consultants?
This section calls out the skills and competencies that are critical for the consultant to demonstrate, for any consulting engagement to be effectively executed.
a. Customer orientation i. Listening – to understand, appreciate the customer’s inputs and context ii. Emotional Intelligence – to sense and prioritize pain points and opportunities iii. Communication – specific, clear, relevant and up-front iv. Retaining the focus on problem/benefit
b. Domain expertise – deep, broad, diverse – know/find out everything that could be relevant to the problem context, spanning all necessary facts, concepts, processes, procedures and principles of the domain and related domains.
c. Teleology – Inferences and conclusions based on teleology, discerning the purpose (effect) of every piece of information (cause) in the knowledge-map. i. Critical Thinking ii. Creativity iii. Decision making
d. Communication skills i. Language – must be the same as that of the client ii. Written iii. Drawn – [ref books by Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin, Draw to Win, Show and Tell)] iv. Spoken – [ref Richard Chung (Compelling Communication-Oral Presentations)] v. Presentation – https://summaries.com/blog/the-pop-up-pitch
e. ICT – Mastery of the Tools of Expression Creativity has value only once it is expressed. Every creative person tends to be so because they master expression in the medium of their customer. When we are creating value for the customer, we need to master the medium(s) of creation that we (and the customer) choose to communicate in.
Mastery over communication mediums.
Written, Drawn, Spoken, Presented – Word, PowerPoint, diction
Email – Microsoft Outlook (or any other email app of choice)
Video conferencing – Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, etc.
Contemporary with, and ahead of others
f. Soft skills There are a host of soft skills that are important for a consultant’s success – focus, planning, patience, open-mindedness, etc. which are critical at various times, and a consultant picks the ones they need with experience.
Consulting is an immensely fulfilling engagement if it is done with integrity, sincerity, diligence, and also with curiosity, creativity, and passion. Consultants can be very influential in the trajectory of organizations and individuals. Consulting is one of the most respected professions, and gives you opportunities to study new and challenging situations, traveling and meeting people across the world. It is an engagement of responsibility and potential.
Two years into the pandemic, everyone’s wondering again and still about the Future of Work. Talks and webinars and conferences are being organized to understand what organizations and people are going through. With Wave 3 (Omicron) peaking, it is pretty much agreed that the resilience of humans has ensured that we found ways to continue to operate, and economies are reflecting this resilience.
The Future of Work seems to be safe. ‘Hybrid’ is what the consensus is. But it is increasingly becoming apparent that the pandemic is in for a longer spell than we had hoped for, and the question we now have to start thinking about is – “What is the Future of Growth?”.
This question gains significance because the fresh workforce which was recruited during the last two years would have never experienced ‘pre-pandemic’ work in offices, and some of these people would also be coming up for their first role change into a bigger role, maybe supervising people remotely. But what does that mean?
We need solutions for the new problems being faced today. Many instances of “I don’t want to attend meetings” are being reported. We need to address the root of the problem (meetings were not effective nor defined with required agendas), not try to replicate what used to happen. The new joinees have never experienced in-person meetings, or workshops where they could see their colleagues face-to-face, or eye-to-eye, nor do the old KRAs/KPIs make complete sense when used for determining promotions.
There are new questions that the #futureofgrowth will need us to think about, from everyone’s point of view, the subordinates’ and the supervisors’. The realization is stronger now of the social fabric in any organization. What is the social fabric made of, what does it enable or inhibit, and how can it be replaced with wholesome and productive mechanisms.
Some questions that may have interesting answers now…
Questions From the Subordinates’ Point of View
How will my performance be assessed?
How will my promotion be decided?
What is the extra I can do beyond what is assigned to me, and which will win me brownie points?
How will I Learn by Observation?
From where will I Absorb Tacit Knowledge
Who are the Leaders? From the Social Media universe, Influencers are the leaders, do they become organizational “Gurus” as well?
Interpersonal motivation – how and from where do I get it?
Questions From the Supervisors’ Point of View
How will managers develop subordinates?
How to assess the competencies of subordinates?
How to identify the potential growth areas for subordinates?
Situational Leadership? What is that going to be driven by?
How will coaching and mentoring evolve?
Challenges For Everyone
Many of the familiar ways of working no longer help in the new Organization Dynamic
Mastering/Leveraging New mediums of self-expression – text, voice, video, language
How will we learn emotional intelligence?
Many questions like the ones above are beginning to gain importance, and we will have to find new answers. It is an exciting future for sure!
Ethics in training and education carry a very different significance from ethics in say, selling groceries.
The biggest difference lies in the fact that in buying groceries, the customer knows what they are looking for, what they should get, and how to qualify it, whereas in buying training or education they do not know (beforehand) how to qualify or specify what they need or should get.
They usually only have some idea of the outcome they’re looking for, like getting a job, a raise, etc., but have little or no idea about what the training input should be like.
This lays the onus of ethics of training or education on the providers – the institution, the offering, the teachers, the trainers, etc. I share below some ethical values I have seen addressed by many providers. There will certainly be more that I will have missed. Please share those in your comments and feedback.
Ethics of the Training Organization
Training Organization will identify the most relevant and effective Training Needs for learners as part of a sustainable society
Training Organization will define curriculum that are relevant and efficient in helping learners progress towards their learning objectives and goals
Training Organization will make all efforts to keep every promise and commitment made to Trainees – before, during, and after the training.
Training Organization will ensure Trainers have the required caliber for the training delivery assigned to them.
Ethics in the Offering
The offering (training program/intervention) will be focused on takeaways for every participant that are relevant and effective in helping them move closer to their learning objectives as easily and efficiently as possible.
The offering will uphold all applicable Laws of Copyright and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).
The offering will focus on meeting every commitment made or implied to the learners.
Ethics of Trainers
Trainer will make all efforts to demonstrate relevant, current, ASKBs (Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, and Behaviors) for helping the trainee in meeting their Learning Objectives and Goals.
Trainers will make all necessary efforts to:
Appreciate the goals and learning objectives of learners.
Appreciate the trust and faith reposed in them by their learners, and never ever misuse it or betray the learner.
Identify the Training Needs of learners. Distinguish between learners’ needs, expectations, and requirements, and collate those that will benefit the learners the most in their context, while being socially sustainable.
Identify all subject matter that is relevant to meeting the Training Needs – research for the latest developments/implementations/developments in progress at the time.
Determine the facts and truth in subject matter. Share only what is unequivocally true with learners.
Develop the training strategies most suitable and efficient for learners – Presentations, Reading materials, Audio, Video, Activities, Debriefs, Simulations, etc.
Declare and clarify what objectives learners can expect to be met.
Use the training strategies to help the learners assimilate the relevant subject matter.
Involve every learner, and provide a safe and fair learning and assessment environment.
Give learners a sense of closure in meeting their learning objectives.
Ethics of Learners
Learners will engage and interact with the trainer, to enhance their learning experience.
Learners will pay attention and attempt to comprehend the experience they receive from the trainer/teacher.
Learners will diligently follow instructions of the trainer/teacher regarding their learning.
Learners will deploy their learning in endeavors which drive and support the sustainability of society.
If these seem to be too many, try going through them again and identify those which can be deleted as they may be redundant or unimportant.
Which of the following driving disciplines do you follow, or see being followed? Add 1 point for every check. (Points are for traffic that drives on the left of the road, else switch right with left)
Traffic on your right always has Right-of-way – in lanes, at a round-about, or at an intersection
At an intersection the one who reaches it first, gets right-of-way to cross it
Always overtake from the right
Don’t overtake a vehicle which is overtaking another vehicle itself, or if there is oncoming traffic
Distance from the vehicle in front of you should be enough to let you see its rear wheels touching the road
When going down an incline, shift down to the same gear you would use when climbing it
Instead of applying the brakes, try shifting to a lower gear and letting the engine do the braking (release the clutch)
Don’t ever switch off the engine to free-roll down an incline
Don’t drive with the clutch pressed halfway while cruising
Maintain your position in you lane and switch lanes carefully watching other traffic
You must not move to your right if a vehicle is overtaking you
Thumb rule for shifting gears – shift gears according to speed should be 16Xgear kms/hr, i.e. upto 16 kms/hr move up from the 1st gear, upto 32 kms/hr imove up from 2nd gear, upto 48 kms/hr move up from 4rd gear, upto 64 kms/hr move up from 4th gear, and upto 80 kms/hr move up from 5th gear (if there is one)
When facing oncoming traffic at night, never look at their headlights, instead keep your eyes to the left verge of the road you are on
Try driving with foresight of what others are going to do/doing on the road, and take proactive measures so they don’t need to change their path
These are lessons gathered over years and generations… If you’d like to add some points, please leave a comment.
If you got a score of:
More than 10
Bravo! Way to be…
Great, you must already be a driver blessed by others on the road
Hmm, you must definitely try more of these to get a better drive
Many years ago I had come across a truism I liked: “The riches of a person are reflected in how they spend their money, while their wealth may be measured by how much they have.”
There are many sayings I’ve heard about ‘the color of money is the same’ regardless of where it comes from, but over the recent years I’ve realized that the ‘quality of money’ can be established too. I did think of the sources of wealth, some honorable, some dishonorable. I thought of the names we give to sources of funds, and to heads of expenses. Nothing seemed to pass all tests until I hit upon a very useful test for the Quality of Money. The quality of money depends on what it is spent for, what it makes happen, or what causes it funds.
Spend vs Invest
When we speak of spending money in different ways, the question also pops up “Money can also be invested, how is that different from spending money?”. A simple difference to understand between spending and investing money is to see that money that is spent, is consumed, it doesn’t return in any way except to sustain the status Quo. In this regard, money is time, and vice versa. Money invested however, returns manifold, or should return manifold if the investment is accompanied by attention, industry, and doing what it takes to meet the objectives of the investment. In this way, money that is invested returns bigger, stronger, better over the time that we pay attention, are mindful, and industrious.
The Need and Money
In the bigger picture money gives us time, say by providing sustenance, shelter, and security for another few days/weeks/years, and we make our decisions of how to spend this time. If we are blessed with fortune and wisdom, we invest this time to return stronger, better, bigger. Which of our needs do we fulfil first with the money we have, defines a lot about the quality of money we have.
Mapping to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also gives some great insights into the quality of money that we spend or invest.
Examples of money spent or invested at various levels of Needs
Level of Need
Need for Self actualization
Practicing all what we are able to do, what we truly know.
In Self – mind, body, soul
Need for recognition
– Fees paid to enter competitions
– Self improvement – Excelling at meeting useful objectives
Need to belong
– Socio-Cultural alignment (lifestyle) – Fees for club membership – Attending social events
We can review the Quality of our Money, and what we are likely to achieve with it, by appropriately mapping our expenses to the needs, and classifying them as spend or investment. This review of what we are likely to achieve with the time and money that we expend, can give us insights into how we should change, if required, our spending and investing strategies.
It is important to note that Time is a significant factor that affects the quality of money. At different times, different needs become virtuous. The amounts of spend and investment at the various levels of needs will also change with time for each of us, across different phases of our lives – from child, to adolescent, to adult, with a family, through professional phases, etc.
All of us reach points in our life when we are faced with important choices to make. One of the most common enablers to help us make these choices is what mentors call our Vision Board. “Do you have a Vision Board?”, “What do you want to be?”, and such other questions come up in our discussions with friends, philosophers, and guides.
I present below, a few questions in a mind map that help us to feel, think, and set up a Vision Board for ourselves. It is a good idea to iterate through the responses you think of, and keep refining them as much as you like. The leaf nodes are indicative only, and you may identify them differently. The sequence is broadly from top down, but you can start at any point.
Once you’ve responded to these questions in whatever level of detail you think is appropriate, print it out and keep as a reference that you think over the next few days/weeks.
It is also a good idea (and good fun too) to review your Vision Board at least every year, and make changes you want. Look at the Vision Board not as written in stone, but as what encourages you to become what you want to be proud of.
I look forward to your comments and feedback on your experience of using this, and your suggestions for how people could benefit more from it. Thank you!
In these tough times, we see so much struggle around us. Our loved ones are struggling, our friends, our colleagues, many are struggling with what the pandemic is bringing about outside as well as within us. And we are struggling with them.
We get to hear of the shocking, the unforeseen, the unexpected, and the magnitude of the calamity reveals itself in new dimensions every day. The sheer deluge of information is often disturbing and unsettling, raising new and deeper questions as we read about happenings around us.
In this deluge we also hear of people’s response to the struggles they are facing. So many of those responses build hope in the future of mankind, but we read about many more people who are callous, mismanaged, self-serving, or shortsighted at best, in their behavior. It is very easy for us to lose sight of the goodness of our fellow humans in this deluge of negativity. It doesn’t mean however, that the good isn’t there.
Good has always been less seen, less heard of, less spoken of, in the clamor for attention by the common Bad. It has long been known, and we need to understand too, that Good loses to Bad because it isn’t loud enough, or juicy enough, or because Good doesn’t push itself ahead like Bad does. This is the truth of this age of Kal-Yug. It is also the reason why we need to pray for Good to emerge, for Good to be stronger, to be more prevalent, and to win over the world.
We need to be discerning in the attention we pay, and in the winds of change we blow with every action of ours. We have the power to cause Good, and to encourage goodness all around us. Our power lies in our resilience, and how well we recognize, protect, and encourage Good!
The last several years have seen the mushrooming of text-message or SMS based content being published on messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, etc., for consumption as learning material. This became especially evident during the last year when the pandemic locked us all indoors and such platforms were the quickest, simplest, and most widely available medium to reach more and more people, globally. Training on anything and everything has been offered, from photography, to performing rituals, to removing snakebite venom, to learning the scriptures.
As the explosion happened, so did the variety of styles and language and various other aspects of quality of content. It often surprised me when the content did not seem to acknowledge the needs or preferences of the readers. Having been in the Content design and development space for almost 30 years, I have become quite sensitive to these preferences, though each of us can choose which ones are important and which may not be for them.
Please have a look at these draft Standards to consider when designing, developing, and delivering Text-Message Based Content (TMBC). I will be delighted if you can share your opinion on what can improve these standards, and the overall communication through TMBC. If it is a medium, lets use it not just well, but in the best way. Please add your comments to the discussion in this post.
Each post should not be longer than 2-3 screen scrolls on a device. Long messages tend to be partially read, deferred for later, and get left unread.
Balance the content posted each day (by the learner time required), so that learners can manage their time better. Don’t have content which requires the learner to spend say 1 hour on one day and 5 hours on another day. (also note next point).
Sentences should usually be about from 20 to 30 words long. If your style is breezy, 15 words would be good. Sentences with 50 or more words should be avoided if possible. Throw in a shorter sentence now and then that refocuses, summarizes, surprises.
Indicate the time expected to be taken by each post or activity before the learner gets into the content, for better time management and selection of a good time of day when the learner may choose to devote their time to it.
Labeling is important. Title each post with meaningful labels, and maintain the clarity, consistency, and hierarchy of labeling.
A small visual map can be included at the beginning of each day’s posts to indicate which part of a bigger knowledge chunk will be dealt with that day.
Use short, simple words.
Have a consistent presentation mode/pattern for each info type that is presented, e.g. (this is only an example, the model can be redesigned to suit desired objective and nature of subject) – Concept – text – Principle – spoken audio – Structure – visual – Process – video, morphing through phases – Procedure – numbered list of steps, text, each beginning with verb-object, action, ending with the result
Never post or share politically or legally controversial content like debates, opinions, unsubstantiated facts, or misleading statements.
Never infringe on another’s copyright on intellectual property, and always acknowledge sources, provided you have permission where required.
The voice of the text content can be first/second person, as that is expected in a chat medium.
Write short, simple sentences, and this is even more important in TMBC as the medium by context expects less time focused attention.
The message to be delivered should be simply contained in short bytes.
Ensure all dates/times etc. are mapped to real time, and indicate time zones, as the TMBC may be consumed by learners globally. This is especially important when posts contain time sensitive information, e.g. dates, times, virtual meeting links which expire, etc.
Avoid texting jargon and abbreviations like ‘u’, ‘hru’, ‘atm’, etc.
If multiple language posts are to be broadcast, ensure each post is in only one language.
Embed links to media or documents that are too big to see natively in posts, but as far as possible, embed content that does not require linking out to a browser or another app. The learner is likely to get ‘lost’ once they leave the learning chat.
If you’re encouraging questions or sharing, provide a link to another chat where questions and sharing can be posted by learners. Maintain the content chat clean of any conversation.
Typical progression of content (information presented and built up for assimilation) could be as depicted in the sketch below, through the information types that are meaningful for the learner:
This anniversary comes around every year, and so many people share what they think independence truly means, and what we should do with it.
As I think of independence, it strikes me that just like the only Rights we have are what we Defend, we must realize the only Independence we have is what we Exercise! We may think of our independence as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, or freedom of action… in the end it will only be the freedom we choose to invest and manifest, that our independence will become.
If I were to list what my prayers for independence this is what they would be: I pray for independence to live my life the way I determine, I pray for independence in choosing how I make a living, I pray for independence in making lives for the people who need to, I pray for independence in choosing the struggles I wish to win over.
Today, however, is our day to celebrate the independence our great country gained in 1947, our independence to govern and administer ourselves, our independence to coexist peacefully with our neighbors, our independence to defend our sovereignty, our independence to choose what is best for us and to become the best.