I was reminiscing with a colleague about a project we dubbed “Swamp Thing” because every time work approached completion, the learning team would be asked to tweak part of the content or design. The project requirements weren’t especially onerous; the execution, however, took on a life of its own. I came on board when the team was completing rewrite number 24.

The root cause of the project’s longevity turned out to be simple: the focus was on ideas and wants, not on true learner needs. While the SMEs and learning team members had good information to share, the project discussion focused on what the ideal look, functionality, experience, and color scheme should be. I brought the meeting to a halt with one simple question.

“What concrete benefit do these suggestions bring to our learners?”

The line between content excellence and project expediency is easily lost when project focus shifts from documented learner needs to subjective ideas or wants. Learning professionals who fall into the habit of accommodating preferences can find themselves locked into a cycle of endless rewrites, with no forward motion on a project.

I worked with the design team to put “Swamp Thing” to rest in a matter of days. Three months later, a new Leader asked for a rewrite of the entire learning curriculum for that line of business. Our SME immediately turned to the Leader and asked “Would that really benefit our learners? Why don’t we do a review first to identify the content that really needs an update?”

I felt so proud, I wanted to stand up and cheer.