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How to Design Training When the Product Isn’t Finished

Posted by Paul Sitter on 6/16/14 4:00 AM
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The most common complaint I hear in our instructional design workshops, from people working for technical companies, is “We have to design training before the software is finished!”

It’s always a challenge with unstable (changing) content, and a major frustration for those who have to design or deliver training around a product that doesn’t exist yet.

Having been a technical trainer as well as an instructional designer, here are some thoughts on how to handle that really uncomfortable situation:

1. Look at version 1.0. Is there a previous version of the software? If there is, and you’ve designed training around it, most of your work is done. Sure, you’ve got some updating to do, but your training is probably designed around the most common tasks performed on the software. Have those tasks changed that much from the previous version? If so, you can keep the skeleton of the previous version and concentrate on the changes. You will probably have to modify the presentation section, but the scheme for the application and feedback portions will remain pretty much unchanged.

2. Don’t worry about the 6th sub-menu. Software menus often have sub-menus to sub-menus, to sub-menus, to …well, you get the idea. When software is updated, the changes often happen in those sub-menus. If those areas are not visited often, don’t address them in your initial training. If the sub-menu item is something the target audience needs to know, but is not yet fully developed, distribute a job aid later, or refer to the sub-menu in an appendix to the participants’ manual which can be labeled “to be published.”

3. You are not the fountain of all knowledge. Even though you are a trainer, you really don’t need to have all the answers. There are some areas where you will not have the final, definitive answer, especially if the programmers don’t either. It’s okay to say that a particular area is out of the scope of this training, as it is still being developed, or is not a part of this training module.

4. FAQ. Do you have a Frequently Asked Questions page on your learning portal? Is it drilled down to course level? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you have a platform to introduce minor changes or additions to your hurriedly produced training product.

5. e-Learning. Is your course an e-learning tutorial? If yes, you have a single point of update when the software comes out in the final version. Proceed with the tips above and update when the course is finalized.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Not a bad motto for any instructional designer or instructor of training!


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Paul has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Throughout Paul’s career he’s had the pleasure of training for a variety of industries including sports, military, technical, aviation, and academia. Paul firmly believes with the right training and support, people can be competent performers in most positions. The organizational trainer is the key to providing that performance boost. In his spare time, you might catch sight of Paul on the sidelines of a soccer field, biking through Napa Valley, or spending some quality time with his family.

Topics: tips-for-trainers, instructional design

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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