The Top 9 Avoidable Implementation Mistakes In Education

25 November, 2018

Photo of Woman Teaching

A quick thank you for all of your comments on  The Visible Learning Revolution article, I am glad you enjoyed it. This week I thought I would look at some of the implementation mistakes I have seen in education over the years.

“90% of plans fail to reap rewards because of implementation problems.”

We all want to get it right. Unfortunately having great ideas is the easy part. 90% of plans fail to reap rewards because of implementation problems. These pains are not easy to avoid.

To turn implementation into more of a science look to these 9 avoidable mistakes. And make sure you have mitigated against them.

1. Forcing

Implementation rarely works when forced. Sure you get the right nods and waves, after all you are the boss. But do not mistake those nods and waves for blind compliance. Under the surface all may not be so responsive. Human brains are designed to take the easiest path.

This is not one of change of habits and complex actions so frequently demanded of implementation.

2. Buy In  

So I don’t want to force, I’ll sell the idea to them. Sure you want to sugar coat new actions but selling is for vendors and the market place. People see through the smokescreen quickly and you are back to forcing before you know it.

Buy in has to go much deeper if it is to have any traction.

3. Assumptions

“For successful implementation it is vital that every assumption is fully understood”

Assume nothing, de nada, zero. Think parable of the sowers. Even on rich, organic , fertile ground people will misinterpret, tell you what they think you want to hear, misdiagnose key issues. For successful implementation it is vital that every assumption is fully understood.

What one person says is their truth. If many say it may be the wisdom of the crowd. Search for the evidence.

4. Timescales

Harvard Business School ran a test simulation of 279 companies to deliver an IT project on time, to cost and at desired quality. All failed the first time and when they ran it again all failed again.

Analog Clock Sketch in Black Surface

In virtually every case they ran into problems of schedule overruns, threw more resources at it and underestimated the time of deployment of said extra resources.

5. Clarity

The old cognitive load chestnut. It is easy to underestimate how long it has taken us to develop an idea to an actionable plan. Even then it may not have been sufficiently stress tested and combed to achieve excessive clarity.

The result is garbled sentences, multiple instructions and stream of consciousness thinking. You have all been there and heard it. If eyes role or faces go slightly blank or twitchy you will have floundered into that trap and overloaded those you are supposed to be leading.

6. Performance vs Development

“Improved performance should follow well targeted development but performance pressure will always trump development.”

It is sometimes better to be in one mode or the other, rather than walk the tightrope of twin drivers. Improved performance should follow well targeted development but performance pressure will always trump development.

If you are trying to reconfigure systems, change deeply engrained habits or lead on empowerment and diversity you will almost certainly have to sacrifice short term performance. Kotter (Acceler8) and the leading change guru is unequivocal on this in 99% of circumstances.

7.  Opportunity Cost

The, often misunderstood, economics maxim. Opportunity cost is not just the alternative utility you have to forgo when choosing one thing over another.

It is the fact that you simply cannot even attempt any of the other alternative actions whilst you have your chosen one on the boil. Any attempt otherwise will confuse and negate efforts on the one thing you are attempting. Prioritisation in this case is not a list of things to work through, it is a protected space.

8. Perception vs Reality

“There seems to be a natural disposition to doing at the expense of planning..”

When Descartes wrote “I think therefore I am”, it had nothing to do with implementation projects. Objective evidence must be sought at every stage. By objective we are looking at measurements and not the views of vested interests. Triangulate if you have to.

By each stage here I mean design, input, process, outcomes and impact. There seems to be a natural disposition to doing at the expense of planning, yet great design will massively improve your chances of successful implementation.

9. Why’s, What’s and How’s

Some people want to know why first, some people want to know what first and those you can trust most, how? Know which each person needs and give it to them. Otherwise they lose focus. And the one thing great implementation needs is focus. The human brain will keep having thoughts, some of those thoughts lead to nagging doubts. Nagging doubts attract more nagging doubts. Before you know it motivation is lost or confused.

So there you have it. Not an exhaustive list but worth having it there at the back of your mind before implementation is attempted.

Osiris Educational is the UK’s leading independent training provider for teachers.

We work at the forefront of innovation in education providing pioneering, challenging and effective training solutions in teaching. We use the best and most renowned trainers to help teachers improve their ways of thinking and approaches to teaching.

To find out more about us, please contact: or call 01790 755 787


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