Published on 2015/05/05
The EvoLLLution | The Journey of Launching a New Program
Successful program development relies on supporting experimentation from staff and faculty, and gaining a level of comfort with failure.

Program development is an important part of higher education organizations. It drives academic programming relevance across the institution and, as such, is a contributor to the institution’s long-term success. Of course, like most things that drive success, program development is not devoid of challenges—the three biggest challenges I see here are capacity, funding and commitment.

Capacity is often an issue as faculty and subject-matter experts are faced with competing priorities and the opportunity costs involved with embarking on development of new programs. Funding seems to always be an issue, whether it is release time for faculty or the investment needed to create the resources for the program. Finally, new program development cannot be taken lightly by anyone involved. This is where commitment comes into play. Everyone on the program development team needs to be totally on board for the project to be successful.

Overcoming these challenges involves DOING: active participation and focus. In the simple but accurate words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” The key words are start, use and do. There will never be a perfect time to start a new program. Doing helps you address the major challenges. Capacity issues will never go away. There will always be something else competing for time and resources. It is not until you start development of a program that you begin to see if it can really work.

Many will say, “What about planning, forecasting and budgeting?” I am not encouraging anyone to avoid planning; I’m simply suggesting that today’s leaders think about the program development process as a journey. Journeys are not devoid of planning but they do not rely on every aspect of the experience being planned out.

Others will say, “What if we start and fail?” I say, excellent! Find a way to fail faster! Find a way to recognize when you need to change course faster. This is what the journey is really about and ultimately helps you create a better program and become more innovative as an organization. Experimentation is critical to the development of exciting possibilities, and central to successful experimentation is the understanding that failure is a possibility. The key ingredient is the willingness to adapt and learn from the experiment, rather than dwelling on the failure.

Some will say, “What about cost and wasted resources?” I say, add up the cost of people’s salaries and associated opportunity cost conducting planning and committee meetings—all before a single action is taken.

Treating program development like a journey may be foreign to some and even seem a bit crazy. Your faculty and subject-matter experts will appreciate this fresh approach. “Doing” will expose capacity issues early on and allow you to react accordingly. A great way to learn if you have capacity issues is to establish the first set of deliverables and see if your people meet them.

Starting the journey adds clarity to what the real funding needs will be. It will open up opportunities for funding that you would not have seen if you were not involved in a program development journey.

“Doing” tests commitment like no other measure I have seen. It allows champions to surface and ideas to sprout that you may have never recognized or anticipated during the planning stages. There is something inherently motivating when you are doing rather than discussing possibilities.

Approaching program development like a journey will allow you to recognize if you have the ingredients for a successful program in a short period of time. The more you take journeys, the better you will become at recognizing when things are not going well and what you can do to adjust the course or, dare I say, kill the project.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” — Jack Welch

Is your organization taking journeys? Maybe it’s time to hit the road.

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