eLearning Project Management & Design
eLearning designers need time and freedom to design, but project managers want to closely define project dates and costs. The two do not need to be at odds. Here are some thoughts and tips to manage your next eLearning project without sacrificing design.
eLearning project management is essential to a successful program launch but content developers often struggle with creating engaging, well designed and instructionally sound content when constrained to hard deadlines. Often, multiple attempts at a concept or design are often required to fully develop the final outcome. While we all want to foster creativity in our instructional designers and eLearning developers we do so without allowing schedule and cost overruns.
Project and program management practices within the learning fields are becoming more common but not yet pervasive as it is in engineering, IT or manufacturing fields. In these industries projects have discrete and often immediately measurable outcomes. eLearning projects differ from in that the output is often less discrete and not always measurable at the time the work products are delivered.
Successful outcomes from of an eLearning project are not determined by the number of minutes of eLearning produced or employees trained. Rather it requires that an engaging curriculum be developed that drives learning via employee engagement. This is accomplished through a mix of instructional and aesthetic design, module development and user acceptance activities. In such a project the customer may initially dislike the prosed template, use of space, animations or even use font. Often stakeholders assess these design elements concurrently; before, during, and after the design and development phase.
More often than not customers and stakeholders are looking for a definitive due date and not to exceed cost estimate. How then should an eLearning team commit to this? How should we achieve these outcomes with such diverse inputs?
eLearning project management sounds like a moving target..no?
We can start to manage eLearning projects to a discrete outcome by starting with discrete inputs to the project. This is done in a number of ways:
1 – Develop shared accountability – Start your project by first creating a strong set of agreements that hold your organization and the customers accountable for the outcome. This could be outlined in a statement of work or project charter as set of assumptions
2 – Create an integrated plan – Don’t solely manage the instructional design and eLearning resources and tasks. Your plan should manage all resources with an integrated project plan. Such a plan will contain the design and development tasks as well as the corresponding customer, SME and stakeholder tasks required to provide content, review and sign off.
3 – Include task details – You should be using a project management tool to create your project plan. Within that plan identify key decision points, milestones, and detail both the duration and effort for making those decisions. For example, set aside 8 hours over 2 days for your customer to review a course mockup or template. For example, specify that a designer work with the customer for 4 hours in 1 day to draft navigation requirements before commencing with instructional design.
4 – Try a waterfall or ‘stage gate’ - Structure your project such that the review and acceptance of work products before starting the next phase of the project. For example create a specific agreement within the statement of work or project charter that outlines how each party agrees to proceed from one phase to the next. Support that with the use of task dependences which define which tasks are required to complete before a phase or milestone is considered done. You could indicate that the design phase is complete only when all design templates, fonts, etc are reviewed and approved by stakeholders. Only then can development commence.
5 – Allow for flexibility (within a framework) - Due to the subjective nature of content development and module design the work product at the end of a project phase could miss the mark somewhat. Customers may make a late request to add a critical requirement which requires some parts of a module or curriculum be revised. To combat these scenarios build your plan to have ample customer review and developer rework time as the project progresses. Done correctly the earlier phases will have more review and rework built in with later phases having (and needing) progressively less.
Project managers must recognize when designers and customers need time to be creative. eLearning project management is about planning and preparing for it. When done correctly project management will not be a constraint but instead foster and promote the eLearning resources and customers to focus on the elements of design that create impactful and meaningful eLearning.