“Scaffolding” is a term often used in education, but in our experience, rarely followed to a significant extent. Scaffolding allows us to grow a student in capability by starting easily and providing progressively more intricate and involved exercises. This approach actualizes Lev Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development.
When training clients, we must first assess the capabilities of our audience and then set the levels of scaffolding in our lesson plans. We also need to be able to have some level of customization per individual (“differentiation” in education lingo) because people learn at different rates.
One of the best examples of scaffolding occurs in sports, where players will focus on drills that exercise important and fundamental skills. We also see even the most advanced players warming up with drills before a game—do we see project managers doing this?
To scaffold a project management trainee we might do the following:
- Work breakdown structure for a wooden pencil increasing to work breakdown structure for a medium project
- Statement of work for the pencil to statements of work for multiple contractors
- One stakeholder to 10 to 20 stakeholders
- And so on
One of the greatest offenders in scaffolding is mathematical teaching at the advanced level. A survey of books on topology, for example, suggests we jump from extremely elementary material to advanced material with very little scaffolding between these extremes. We know scaffolding and we use it with our clients. Even a more advanced user can benefit from some quick exercises!