We read an article by JoAnn Hackos years ago that compared and contrasted technical writing as a cottage industry versus as a mass production model. We think her idea extends to learning and development organizations too.

The following table helps compare and contrast her two models.

Table 1. Cottage Industry vs Mass Production, by JoAnn Hackos [1]
Cottage Industry Model Mass Production Model

Dominated by a few craftspeople who know the craft and have great skill

Large, multi-disciplinary teams, less experienced individuals have roles

Work independently, isolated

Work as teams, collaboration

Slow training of few apprentices

Train many people quickly

Innovation is largely a matter of individual preference

Innovation is a matter of organizational decision making

Individual definitions of process, workers doing what they believe is valuable

Organizational standard processes and practices, enforcement of standards

Craftspeople can be independent and work alone with a few assistants

Everyone must know what everyone else is doing and work together

If your shop is small with low throughput of learning experience development projects, you may be in the cottage industry model and working it successfully. If your training product procurement or development is high throughput then you may need to use the mass production model to quickly scale.

We have seen some organizations that had a medium-sized team, and their leadership asked them to double their output and staff. The cottage industry model failed at that point. We have seen other organizations that had to triple the staff quickly. Again, the cottage industry model was not sufficient to support that speed of growth.

From the organization’s perspective, there is also increased risk in the cottage industry model if one or more of your key, highly-skilled craftspeople leave the organization.

The mass production model does not have to limit creativity. Think of the standards as similar to how an English Style Guide helps many training developers create a more consistent product or how a Code Style Guide helps many software developers create a consistent and readable code base.


1. Reproduced with permission from JoAnn Hackos, PhD.
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