At DSA, we don’t just teach the processes of innovative instructional design,
we actually do it, day in and day out.

Tips Newsletter – July, 2012

Procedures: A Recipe for Success

Here’s a Secret to Success:

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Darryl SinkI once bought a small Chinese Cookbook that made things easy, fun and allowed me to be a super chef without taking a single cooking class. Each recipe had, as you might expect, a list of ingredients, and the procedure for making the recipe.

OK, what was different? There was a photograph of the end product for every dish plus a section called “secrets of success”, which provided heuristics (rules of thumb), tips and tricks that only an experienced chef would know, and without which the dish just won’t turn out like it should. As an example, one secret of success for the Green Onion Beef recipe was to slice the beef while it is still halfway frozen. “The beef should be half-frozen before slicing so that you can easily slice it very thin. Slice it across the grain.” It allows the slices to be nice and smooth and not all wrinkled.”

What does this have to do with instructional design and development?

The format turns out to be of great help as you interview an expert (SME). It helps identify all that is important for someone to be able to perform most job tasks (especially those that are procedural in nature) and to have all the tips (secrets of success) that help users perform the tasks effectively and efficiently. When interviewing a content expert regarding a work procedure, either overt or covert, I like to add a question at the end:

Now that we have the procedure, what are the little tips and tricks that make the procedure lead to the results you really want?

In the case of our chef example, having the Secrets to Success for the Green Onion Beef dish made it taste great and look fantastic– just like the photograph that was provided.

I used the format from the cookbook with slight modifications in several instructional design projects involving procedures. I first used this approach for a Fortune 100 Company. The client asked me to develop an extensive guide to instructional design procedures with an emphasis on a team approach. The completed guide contained 24 modules. Each module in the guide had the same 5 key elements:

  • An overview and rationale
  • The objective of the procedure
  • The process/procedure step by step
  • Photographs, models, examples, or short video demos (think YouTube-type videos), checklists of materials needed, tools, etc.
Secrets of Success

According to follow up interviews with team leaders, the guide was seen as extremely helpful, and of special interest were the “Secrets of Session” sections. The first person we interviewed that used the guide with her team said, “ The Secrets of Success section contains the wisdom needed to make the procedures work really well”. I hope that you will give the format a try on your next procedures project.

Want to see an example? Send me an email with “Secrets of Success” in the subject line and I will send you one right away. By the way, I’ll also send you the recipe for Green Onion Beef.

See you next time,


Many more ideas and resources are available at the DSA Tips Archive; now searchable, organized by subject area, and by release date.