Donald Clark on scenarios

Donald Clark with an Oculus Rift headset on
Donald Clark – see if you can spot the subtle product placement.

I’ve taken a break from the Designing Predicaments series to attend LT2016 and travel to a client meeting. But this seems like a good time to link to a great post by Donald Clark on this very subject last month.

In case you didn’t see it, here are some of his main points:

  • Always consider scenarios – they’re not just for customer service training. In any training, if you ask ‘where and when will they have to apply this?’ you’ve got at least a rationale for a scenario. (Unless the answer is ‘never, they just need to be aware’ in which case you’ve got a rationale for an email!)
  • 80/20 rule Don’t try to build a scenario for every workplace activity, just the ones that ‘hurt’ – that are causing the organisation to lose money, reputation, time, prestige, whatever. Don’t do scenarios for simple step by step procedures where there’s no judgement involved.
  • Keep it real – but realism doesn’t mean expensive graphics to replicate every hair of the customer’s stubble. It means what are the real consequences of a decision? How would it play out in real life? If it’s a good decision, who benefits and how? If it’s a bad decision who sufffers. In particular how would the learner suffer if it was real?
  • Use simple tools – a flowchart drawn on a flipchart or a series of postits can show the outline. If you want to show someone how it feels you can prototype the scenario using something like Quandary which will give you a printed ‘text adventure’ or a functioning HTML text scenario. You can (and should) prototype like that before spending money on development. And if you attempt ambitious 3D environments you have to be prepared to spend a lot so it doesn’t look amateurish.
  • Transfer!One of the axioms of scenario building that seems to be overlooked is the importance of the debrief. They may have got to the end but do they grasp why the best choice was the best? Have you got them to think about similar situations they might face?

These are just a few hightlights – read the full article at

My series on scenarios starts here: Designing Predicaments and I’m always happy to work with teams and individuals who want to get started on scenarios.

Leave a Comment