By Carol Haig, CPT, and Roger Addison, CPT, EdD

Matt Donovan

This month our guest is Matt Donovan, executive director of Option Six, a division of General Physics Corporation. Located in Bloomington, Indiana, Matt,, leads a group that provides consulting services and creates and develops training and non-training solutions. Assembling skilled teams to work clients’ problems, Option Six’s great strength is their successful application of performance improvement processes in a wide range of industries.

Readers may know Matt from ISPI’s annual conferences where he has created, managed, and facilitated the University Case Study Competition. Matt graciously contributes the foundation for building the case, the Adaptive Business Case Framework, to the TrendSpotters Open Toolkit (TOT). Here at TrendSpotters Central, we are delighted to have Matt with us because, quite frankly, we want to know how he constructs this extraordinary event so we can apply his model to our own projects.

Genesis of the Adaptive Business Case Framework
When Matt set out to create the Student Case Study Competition, he used the 10 Standards of Performance Technology for the case study scaffolding. His goal was to create an event in which a case study provided a learning experience for students in Instructional Technology or Performance Improvement graduate degree programs. The case was driven by the competitive business needs of the featured organization. The event was to enable students to demonstrate their skills and newly acquired knowledge, stretch out of their comfort zones, and receive feedback on their performance from practicing professionals.

How to Use the Adaptive Business Case Framework
Complete four steps to populate your case with information:

  • Position the Organization with a focus on its business, and drive the entire case development from a competitive stance
  • Map the Organization to show how it architects its strategy using tools such as Brethower’s Total Performance System (Addison, Haig, Kearny, p.103), Rummler’s Anatomy of Performance (AOP), or Kearny and Silber’s Business Logic model
  • Engineer the Tension between the organization, its operating environment, and its business strategy, using lagging indicators
  • Create the Assets that will provide the clues, in the form of leading/lagging indicators, that learners will uncover

Cases built from the Adaptive Business Case Framework are particularly useful for teaching about systemic organizational issues. This model puts real business challenges in front of learners and enables coaching for improvement. The model changes the case perspective from a focus on lagging to leading indicators, making the resulting case a vehicle for moving learners out of their silos and into the larger organizational arena.

Adaptive Business Case Model

Success Story
The University Case Study Competition will be in its fourth year at ISPI’s 50th Anniversary Conference in Toronto in 2012. The Case Competition is an event unique to ISPI. It features teams of students from several participating universities, their advisors, and a select group of ISPI member judges. The student teams work on the case study for 12 weeks prior to their presentations at the conference. Their case solutions and supporting materials are reviewed by the judges in advance of the conference and are then presented live to the judges and conference attendees. Students answer judges’ questions and receive additional feedback and suggestions on their proposed solutions to the case. The winning student team receives awards and recognition, and all participating students are showcased as emerging professionals.

Matt frequently hears from participating students who describe great success in applying what they learned in the case experience to projects at work. Other students report a change in their career focus to the performance improvement arena. And, new universities regularly express interest in fielding a team for this competition.

Advice to Users
Matt suggests that constructing a complex business-based case study is best done in modules. Readers will find that the Adaptive Business Case Framework is scalable and suited to intricate business-driven cases as well as mini-case examples for workshops or specific skill building. Matt recommends:

  • Begin with an organizational analysis (see the TOT for helpful models and tools)
  • Construct the “story” for your case in the context of the organizational analysis
  • Set a time frame for the entire experience

Links to the Performance Technology Landscape
The Adaptive Business Case Framework includes these principles of Performance Technology:

R Focus on Results – Start with the results in mind by identifying the purpose of your case
S Take a System view – The model takes a systemic approach to include the entire organization
V Add Value – Feedback from practicing professionals adds value
P Establish Partnerships – Partners include team members, judges, faculty advisors, case facilitator

Application Exercise
Come to the 2012 ISPI 50th Anniversary Conference in Toronto and attend the University Case Study Competition presentations and feedback sessions. You will see the Adaptive Business Case Framework in action, learn along with the participating student teams, hear from practitioner judges, and come away richer for the experience. Remember, only ISPI has this event. Don’t pass up the chance to see it live!

Current Business Trends in Client Organizations
We asked Matt what key trends he is seeing as he and the Option Six team work with their clients. Significantly, the current tight economy and general careful scrutiny of resources, including people, have made it clear how critical it is for employees to know how their business operates and how their organization generates revenue. It is no longer possible, Matt observes, for employees to coast along without being able to make the decisions that will drive business success. To do this well, they must understand the business that they are in, regardless of their role in their organization.

The trend Matt has identified can be seen in a range of businesses. It is important for Performance Improvement professionals to understand the business and the context in which they are working.

Addison, R., Haig, C., Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture—The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer.

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