In this editorial, Life Cycle Engineering PM Tara Holwegner highlights workforce development in the digital transformation era. She advocates for a tailored learning ecosystem with early human-centered design (HCD) integration. Delivery systems include online platforms, microlearning, and gamification. Launch/Growth focus on expanding through action plans, social learning, and communities, emphasizing continuous HCD application for a dynamic workforce.

The Essential Connection between HCD and Early Product Lifecycle

There has never been a more exciting time to be in product management for workforce development. The convergence of digital transformation, IoT, AI, and predictive analytics presents opportunities for innovations that can optimize system performance, automate repetitive tasks, and deliver data insights to support operations. These innovations are disruptive, but their promise is bright; they stimulate career growth and create novel career paths. Consequently, they strongly compel organizations to cultivate a learning ecosystem of products and delivery systems to upskill, reskill, and develop their most critical assets – their people. 

A learning ecosystem is an organization-specific endeavor. To be efficient, it should include quality off-the-shelf and existing company assets, like online course libraries, SOPs, job resources, tracking – something you’d see in a commercial learning management system (LMS) that you can customize (like Docebo). 

To be effective, it should also demand new products be developed to bring the current and prospective workforce in line with where the organization wants to perform in 3-5+ years. This includes assessments, forecasts, change support, certifications, innovation programs. (An example of a product portfolio with content and workforce development action plans tailored to the industrial workforce is the LCEsmartr Playbook.)

To manage a successful workforce product portfolio with this type of mix, it’s essential to focus on human-centered design (HCD) principals, especially during the early phases of the product lifecycle.

In this article, I want to talk about what HCD/early product phase integration can look like, using my experience implementing such products in industrial environments. If that isn’t your sector, don’t worry – you’ll find industry agnostic take-aways to apply to your own product management efforts. 

Ready? Let’s jump in.

Conception and Planning – HCD, Analytics, AI for Product Planning

During Conception and Planning, we’re looking for product-market fit. Here, the product users are your learners; your customers are industrial managers and operational program leaders. For product managers focused on workforce development portfolios, this means connecting learning goals, content objectives, and delivery modes with business needs and operational goals. 

At this point in the product lifecycle, HCD principals like empathy compel product managers to understand business challenges, performance issues, and the learner’s experience. It’s time to collaborate with experts, sponsors, and the learners (i.e. users) through conversations and iterative reviews to ensure the learning product is relevant to the workplace, and to confirm it can achieve defined objectives and goals.

It’s also essential to take into account:

  • Users’ work environments
  • What results users can realistically expect from the product/application
  • How long it will take to see results from their efforts

For the product ecosystem to establish credibility and trust, it should be evident how users can tie real-life achievements back to the learning product or experience. Landing this initial trust creates a loyalty and affinity that can energize the product through launch and growth phases.

To ensure your product can successfully reach the Maturity phase, use learning analytics during the Concept and Planning phases. This helps to identify current and future skill needs and performance trends.

For icing on the product cake, add an AI co-pilot as a product feature to support workforce development. This allows for personalization – providing user-specific feedback, recommended action plans, and interactive guidance for development.

Design and Develop – Online Learning Platforms, Microlearning, Gamification, AR/VR

In the Design and Development phases, we consider all input from Conception and Planning to determine the best product delivery system for your users. Online learning platforms (Examples: ToolingU-SME, Udemy-like, LinkedIn Learning platforms and big commercial LMS) offer global reach, enterprise dashboards, and broad pre-fab assets, useful for simpler topics your users need to remember or understand. These pre-fab assets can be fun to mix-and-match with your custom products for a blended portfolio.

Microlearnings are TikTok-like, single point lesson product assets perfect for learning discrete tasks. In the industrial environment, it’s fun to produce electronic work instructions as microlearnings using your own experts (EWI). Your workforce stars become “famous,” and their knowledge is captured for the up-and-coming workforce. When you combine EWI with remote expert support and/or mixed reality (Taqtile is an example), the experience becomes an individual coaching exercise personalized to the user’s needs. This product modality is effective if you’re aiming for more advanced learning, where users have to execute a complex procedure or evaluate performance. Throw in gamification relevant to work goals and you have a winning product landscape!

Launch/Introduction and Growth – Action Plans, Social Learning, Communities

In the Launch/Introduction phase, we expand the product footprint and brand affinity by prompting users to “test out” action plans. Action plans are optional projects where the learner can apply new skills, and document and share their progress. 

Programming personalized action plans into your product enables interactivity. It allows users to use social platforms and collaboration tools to pose questions and seek feedback, encouraging peer-to-peer and novice-to-expert learning. This type of interaction can create learning communities that discuss how the product has produced results across an enterprise. And voila: success stories! 

The Learning Path of the Future

With so many different directions that workforce development can take, getting the right product mix can seem daunting. However, by prioritizing learning best practices and HCD early in the product lifecycle, you’ll be well positioned to select the right mix of technologies, products, programs, and systems to drive through a lifecycle of launch, growth and maturity. 

In conclusion, the best news is this: any product supporting workforce development aims to grow a more dynamic, adaptable, and prosperous workforce – one that learns from experts and from each other. Good luck – your efforts will be rewarded!

About the author

Tara D. Holwegner, CPM, CPTD, PMP, CMRP, is the Product and Intellectual Property (IP) Manager at Life Cycle Engineering. Tara transforms LCE’s reliability and asset management IP into market-leading products that accelerate a customer’s ability to meet performance objectives. You can reach Tara at [email protected].

About the speaker
Tara Holwegner CPM, CPTD, PMP, CMRP Life Cycle Engineering, Product and Intellectual Property Manager Member

Tara Holwegner is an award-winning product manager with a focus on developing and managing digital and traditional products and services that ensure excellent customer experience, meet revenue goals, and drive organizational performance. She also has a passion for business transformation and support organizations undergoing a change to increase adoption and proficiency. As a content generator Tara publishes in industry articles/blogs, produces videos, presents at conferences, and successful practices with professional communities

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