Deployment Vs. Implementation – Is There a Difference?

Short answer? Absolutely there’s a difference; a very significant difference despite the fact that many in L&D and other business disciplines use the two words interchangeably. The difference leaves a gaping hole between a successful launch of “anything” and full adoption of “anything” into the flow of business operations. Many of us have plunged down this hole shortly after Deployment of a new enterprise business system…or a new product launch to the sales force…or releasing a new learning intervention to the workforce. Deployment aligns with a moment in time referred to as GoLive. The grand opening ribbon gets cut and the celebration begins…and somebody with a bull horn turns toward the Help Desk and screams, “INCOMING!”

Reaching Deployment [GoLive] – is not the end of the effort; instead, it marks the beginning of Implementation. Implementation is not the ultimate destination however. We cannot overlook the prized goal and most critical phase known as full Adoption. But still there is more. There must be steps taken to Sustain the state of Adoption. I realize this timeline lines up nicely with a new Enterprise Resource Program – ERP launch…or a Client Relationship Management – CRM system…or a new Electronic Health Records – EHR. BUT…and this is critical…these are all technology systems. What about the workforce user population that is supposed to leverage the power of these systems?

If L&D spent half the time enabling human performance at Point-of-Work in the operation of new systems as IT spends in fine-tuning and optimizing the systems prior to GoLive, think about how much more productive the workforce would be…with little to no learning curve to overcome…not to mention how the Help Desk would fare with 40-50% fewer distress calls.

Sounds like I’m dumping on L&D’s failing role in effectively training users prior to GoLive doesn’t it? Don’t go there. L&D is doing what L&D has done for eons…we Train. In another sense we DEPLOY learning. Without Implementation there will be no Adoption, and what is there to Sustain if we never implement effectively enough to even reach full adoption?

THAT is where the Training Paradigm fails; not L&D. We DEPLOY and then we move onto the next training project. We fail our workforce despite doing an amazing job of training. The training does not fail; knowledge retention fails. Where is this failure clearly obvious? Point-of-Work! L&D does not implement beyond the delivery of learning…does not go downstream to the post-training Point-of-Work where knowledge retention loss routinely takes no prisoners.

Let’s take a look at how a new system, a new product, or a “new anything” lands in the middle of a learning performance ecosystem where L&D is locked down into a training paradigm and sees deployment as the finish line. Again, not an indictment of L&D, just out-of-scope and out-of-reach for most L&D organizations and the limits of the technology utilized. Consider these definitions before I move on…

  • Deployment = Big gala GoLive party with clowns, 3-bite shrimp, face-painting, and possibly an open bar if the deployment is large enough…and IT has some budget left over…celebrating the system going live and delivered to the business. Training relaxes because they met the unreasonable deadlines to get everyone through the training gauntlet and the count of butts-in-seats matched the number of sign-on credentials issued.
  • Implementation = Reactionary damage-control and mad scramble by support staff, help desk, subject matter experts, emergency consultants, and on the rare occasion a few EMTs with defibrillators. Included are those in leadership who look back at Training with that look of disgust on their faces inferring we did a lousy job of creating a state of readiness in the workforce. Excessive finger pointing to place the blame on somebody…anybody else ensues. Slowly with significant errors and mistake isolation delays and redundant rework familiarity builds at the speed of a freshly planted corn field in a drought. The workforce learning curve is largely defined by trial and error learning creating unnecessary cost to the business.
  • Adoption = Users reach unconscious competency and can use the systems as a matter of routine without threats or bribes of earning blue jean Fridays. Using the system becomes as routine as sending an email…users don’t even think about which application to use, they just do it.
  • Sustain = L&D Resource assets (including training) receive the same urgency for maintenance and currency as IT showers on system maintenance, updates, upgrades, and post-GoLive tweaks to ensure system optimization. Protocols are in place to maintain ownership and currency of content via technology designed to track content development though the entire 4-phase process from pre-deployment to ongoing sustainability. FYI…that ain’t the LMS

Point-of-Work Paradigm Shift

Yes, the definitions above are a bit tongue-in-cheek, but when you consider much of the learning failures never happen until the Deployment gala event has been cleaned up. Even the technology L&D depends on is staged to accommodate everything regarding learning up to the GoLive event. When training completion data is in the bank, the job is done for the most part. Nothing happens to shorten the learning curve or divert Help Desk call volumes during implementation; in fact, L&D does not have an implementation role short of re-training the problem children and those who had a doctor’s note during the main event.

L&D should have a role in implementation at Point-of-Work and that can only happen if attributes of task-centric, roles-specific performance at Point-of-Work were identified in the front-end assessment before the first storyboard was created.  That assessment is not limited to training needs but is inclusive of performance needs in the workflow. A Point-of-Work Assessment – PWA is an approach I’ve developed in self-defense after surviving several chaotic post-deployment challenges up close and personal.

Assessment is only the first step however and is bundled in an evolved approach called DRIVER that provides a learning performance ecosystem-wide discipline that zeroes in on Point-of-Work as ground zero.

There is a technology component that should be investigated as part of the Point-of-Work Paradigm shift that provides workforce support right down into the actual workflow encountered inside the business application itself. In the workflow and in the system is where knowledge retention failures manifest and trigger negative performance results from guessing, relying upon tribal knowledge, relying upon outdated reference material, failure to find critical information in failed search attempts…and the list goes on. All of this happens at Point-of-Work.

With a little DRIVER intentional design…informed by the PWA discovery findings…and the right technology, knowledge retention issues are eliminated.

The Right Technology?

Digital Performance Support – DPS is making a big splash this summer by moving totally to the cloud and offered on a SaaS basis. IT involvement is minimized or eliminated altogether depending on the configuration that makes sense…again…a decision informed by the PWA. From capturing step-level workflow instructions, to distributed authoring, to robust content management, to system agnostic contextual workflow instructions…DPS is a game changer in the context of tracking lock-step with all four phases of launching anything from a training class to an enterprise business application.

Does DPS impact L&D? You bet it does, and in a good way because now L&D has a vehicle to engage within not only deployment, but implementation, adoption and sustain phases.

Does DPS imply evolved L&D skills? You bet it does, and the skills should have been a part of the L&D toolbox from the beginning were it not for the limited scope of the Training Paradigm.

Does DPS threaten current L&D roles? You bet it does, especially if L&D has no desire to be a better business partner and interact with the operations side of the business where we find Point-of-Work and should have been there in the beginning. L&D’s adoption of a Point-of-Work Paradigm is a budget-saving survival tactic.

Does DPS replace training? You bet it does, but not like…boom…training is obsolete…but in the context of what assets are used during training delivery that bring Point-of-Work context AND the DPS technology right into the classroom typically only requiring 50% of the time normally required to check off butts-in-seats.

Does DPS eliminate the hours of content development on systems workflows? You bet it does, in fact, if L&D builds their relationship with IT, the distributed authoring capability of DPS enables L&D to re-use the test scripts IT has to build as part of system validation saving up to 80-90% of the time normally spent building documentation the already exists. See ya later Captivate!

Sorry, this is becoming rant-like, but that kind of thing happens when I get on a DPS roll. This technology is the most exciting, game-changing software development to roll into the L&D camp in many years. Certainly, we have micro-learning, social learning, mobile learning…am guessing nano-learning is next but at the end of the day…it’s still learning no matter how sexy and sizzling…no matter how many badges we can earn and levels we can breach. None of those learning innovations carry through all four launch phases. DPS changes that.

Closing Thoughts

We cannot stop at Deployment of learning. We must reinforce learning at Point-of-Work with performance support to ensure successful Implementation. We must ensure full Adoption by intentionally designing assets to address ongoing moments of need as the system and workforce population evolves and matures. And we must build protocols that leverage technology to Sustain currency, rapid updates and maintenance of critical information resources.

Sounds like a project that never ends right? You bet it is, and that’s why DRIVER is a discipline and not a project-based process flow.

So where does that leave us? We have the knowledge. We have the technology. What I fear we do not have is the wisdom. Hang on…calm down…Wisdom is not lacking as a function of insufficient intelligence; rather, wisdom is limited by blind-spots. Paradigms do that sort of thing. Not the new paradigms but the old ones in which we find ourselves trapped.

Don’t forget, I’ve launched a new LinkedIn Group – POINT-of-WORK: Performance Support Solutions and I welcome you to stop by and sign up. The group is meant to by a community of practice around the performance support discipline.

Thanks for reading and take good care!


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist, Coach, Speaker & Storyteller
(317) 437-2555