Did You Hear What I Said?

I’m in the process of developing a new web app – it’s still a semi-secret, one which we’ll be unveiling in a few weeks. While we’re not ready to tell people about what it does yet, I do want to talk about how fascinating the development process has been – and how it applies to the work of educators and their partners.

When you design a new product, you have a vision in your head as to how it looks and what it does. But to turn that product into reality, you must communicate it to people who can’t see what you see. And to make things more challenging, your development partners – your designers, coders, and database people – don’t speak the same language as you and are not working from the same set of experiences. I know education, but I don’t know app development; they know app development, but they don’t have any experience working with educators.

To be clear, we have a great development team – I’ve really enjoyed working with them personally, and their work product is top-notch. But there are still, inevitably, misunderstandings. For example, I tried to push too quickly through the mock-ups, failing to appreciate that if those aren’t exactly right, all the actual working products will be wrong as well. And on their side, they simply don’t have the experience in education to know how things will be received (for example, calling everyone a “teacher,” when work-based learning is in reality handled by lots of different people (not to mention that people in the post-secondary world really don’t want to be called teachers).

To create a success product – one that looks like what I see in my mind – we have to work on a “continuous feedback” model. I send them written notes; their team reviews; we have a call to clarify points; they send mock-ups, to which I add my notes; we have another call to clarify the notes and direction; then they come back with a revised work product, which we then review again. It sounds like a lot of rehashing – but it’s essential to producing a successful app.

It occurs to me that the gaps in thinking, experience, and language I have with my developers are very similar to the differences between educators and their community partners. If you do much work with people outside your domain, you would probably agree. And when people from two very different domains try to develop a partnership, the potential for misunderstandings is significant – which in our world can potentially reduce opportunities and the potential for impact on students.

If you find yourself in this situation, I would encourage you to think about a continuous feedback model. Define your terms. Share the vision in your head and ask your partner to repeat back what they heard you say. Get things on paper. Ask your partner to review your plans, then talk about it. And before you go “live” (i.e. bring students into the mix) make sure you’ve both signed off on a concrete plan of action.

And by the way, in terms of our new product – if you’re at the National Career Academy Conference or ACTE VISION this month, stop by our table (NCAC) and booth (VISION) for a sneak peek – I think you’ll be glad you did!

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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