5 Tips For eLearning Project Management Success Without Sacrificing eLearning Design

5 Tips For eLearning Project Management Success Without Sacrificing eLearning Design
Summary: 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 for successful eLearning project management without sacrificing design.

eLearning Project Management And eLearning Design: Better Together 

Learning content developers can often struggle with creating engaging, well designed, and instructionally sound content when constrained to hard deadlines. Multiple attempts at a concept or design are often required to fully develop the final outcome. We all want to foster creativity in our Instructional Designers and eLearning developers, but as project managers we must look for practices for successful eLearning project management without allowing schedule and cost overruns.

Project and program management practices within the learning field are becoming more common, but not yet pervasive as it is in engineering, IT, or manufacturing fields where projects have discrete and often immediately measurable outcomes Learning engagements differ from projects in the aforementioned disciplines in that the output is often less discrete and not always measurable at the time the work products are delivered.

eLearning project management success is not determined solely 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.

When initiating a new eLearning project 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?

Sounds like the proverbial moving target!

We can start our eLearning project management 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. This is not advice for 3rd party eLearning suppliers only; you should do this even if you are a member of an internal team!

2. Create An Integrated Plan

Don’t solely manage the Instructional Design and eLearning resources and tasks. Rather 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, Subject Matter Expert and stakeholder tasks required to provide content, review and sign off.

3. Include Task Details

You should be using an eLearning 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. You might specify that a designer work with the customer for 4 hours in 1 day to draft the course navigation requirements in detail with the Subject Matter Expert before commencing with Instructional Design. Understand the difference between effort and duration for your tasks and be specific about each.

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4. Try A Waterfall Or “Stage Gate” 

Structure your eLearning project in such a way that the review and acceptance of work products of the current phase are required before commencing subsequent phases. For example, create a specific agreement within the statement of work or project charter that outlines how each party agrees to proceed from one project phase to the next, but only when all activities and deliverables are complete in the current phase. Support that with the use of task dependences which define what predecessor tasks are required before a phase or milestone is complete. For example, 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. Perhaps the customer 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.

Knowing when designers and customers need time to be creative or incorporate design and conceptual changes to eLearning is essential. The job of the project manager is to plan and prepare for it. When done correctly, eLearning project management will not be a constraint. Instead, it will foster and promote the eLearning resources and customers to focus on the elements of design that create impactful and meaningful eLearning.