For new and beginning instructional designers, managing your training projects is an important skill to develop. Aspiring instructional designers often start by learning more about instructional design methodology and adult learning theory or experimenting with different development tools.
From there, I recommend getting to know the instructional designer’s role as project manager. You can check out this article for an in-depth explanation. The title ‘project manager’ might sound overwhelming, but managing your training projects is anything but! The more organized your training projects are, the more smoothly your project will roll out.
Here’s my strategy for managing your training project. This is a great starting point for beginning instructional designers.
The 4 Ws for Managing Your Training Projects as an Instructional Designer
When a new project opportunity rolls in, it can be so tempting to jump right in and start storyboarding, designing, or developing. However, if all you’re working with is the initial information from the training request, you could be wasting time!
More often than not, training needs will evolve from the first request to the analysis. Or, the training request will be such a broad topic that you really can’t get started until you’re able to meet with stakeholders and subject matter experts to nail down the desired outcomes.
That’s why I recommend setting up some important procedures for managing your training projects first. Start with these four Ws of training project management to gain information, make the best use of your time, and set yourself up for project success!
What Methodology Will You Use?
The first step to managing your training projects is to decide on a strategy. I’ll summarize three popular methods and give you some extra resources to explore based on the strategy that works for your project.
It’s important to first understand that there’s no one right way to project management. Here are some things to consider before deciding on a project management methodology:
- Project size
- Project delivery date
- Number of people contributing to the project
- Team’s typical project management style
Now, let’s take a brief look at some project management methods you might use to organize your training project.
When you have a set deadline from your company or a client or a shorter project that doesn’t require a ton of internal or client review, the Waterfall method might be a good fit. With Waterfall, you have several distinct project phases that culminate with finishing the course on or ahead of the deadline.
Using this method requires that one phase be completely finished before you move on. These phases are:
- Define Requirements
There’s not a ton of wiggle room for review, or you risk not meeting the deadline.
The Agile method is more flexible than Waterfall. The major difference is that instead of using a set deadline, you and your team produce the end product based on the length of time it takes to get the project done. So the timeline is driven by the work you do and how fast you do it.
In Agile, you work in sprints to finish smaller parts of the course before moving on to a new sprint. For example, we might have a two-week sprint devoted just to module 1 of training.
You’ll still cycle through the same phases as Waterfall, but the products are those smaller tasks instead of the whole course.
There are several natural points for client review built-in to the Agile method. So I also like this method for use with stakeholders that tend to be more hands-on with their quality assurance.
Wagile is just a hybrid method that combines Waterfall and Agile. You might have a set due date for the project, but you still divide the work up into smaller sprints.
There are many other project management styles and considerations. Here’s a great resource with more information on successfully using Agile, Waterfall, and other project management methods.
What Project Management Tool Will You Use?
Once you’ve settled on the right style of managing your training projects, you’ve got to find a project management tool that will help keep you on track. Project management tools are apps or software you can use to organize your project tasks, keep track of files, and keep your team on track.
If you’re working with a larger company, they may already have software that everyone uses (and is already paid for). When in doubt, go with a system that your team already knows how to use!
On the other hand, if there’s no system in place you’ll need to pick a good one! I’ve got some free options for you to explore.
Free Tools for Managing your Training Projects
Trello is an easy-to-use, all-purpose tool for remote or online project management of small to medium projects. Trello’s interface allows users to easily see different aspects of a project, tag other team members in notes, and upload files. The best part is that Trello automatically sends an email notification to your colleagues when you tag them in a card. So that’s one less step for you!
If you’re starting to dabble with project management and need a good starting point, Trello is definitely my first recommendation. You have the option to start small with basic features and build into something more elaborate once you get the hang of things.
If you like the idea of Trello but you need something that’s more robust with more reporting options, swim lanes, sorting options, points, etc, Jira is a great choice with a lot of features.
The standard Jira interface is geared towards developers. Nevertheless, you can customize your Jira board to work for your specific project.
Setting up Jira for the first time will take longer than Trello. However, once you’ve got your template set, it works very similarly. Team members are tagged in tasks that they can push through to the next step when they’re done. No need to use outside tools to notify their colleagues or send files.
Both Trello and Jira are owned by the same company. Trello was acquired by Atlassian so it’s no surprise both offer features that I really like.
If Trello seems too simple but Jira provides more features than you need, Kanban is a great happy medium. It’s easy to set up, like Trello. However, it allows you to see multiple projects all on one screen (whereas, in Trello, to see a new project you have to navigate to a different board).
Kanban and Trello have two main differences: one is that Kanban doesn’t support assigning a task to multiple users. This might not matter to you, but I personally like the ability to tag multiple team members on certain tasks. I find it’s especially helpful after I’ve reviewed and made changes to a deliverable, so the person who originally worked on that task can see the finished product.
The other difference is that Kanban’s free version is very limited (2 boards and 2 users). Unless you’re just doing a trial or you have a very small team with limited projects, you’re probably looking at a small subscription fee.
Who Manages the Project?
On to our third W! You’ve identified an appropriate management style as well as a tool that will help you stay on track. Now you need to decide who is going to be responsible for managing the project.
As the instructional designer, this might be you! If there’s a project manager for the client or department requesting the training, they might take the lead or share responsibilities with you. It’s also possible that one of the stakeholders will want to oversee the project.
The project manager will be responsible for organizing the project management tool, checking in with the team, and making sure deadlines are met. Even if you’re not acting as the official project manager, I recommend continuing to monitor the project management tool and deadlines.
Ultimately, the timely delivery of the training will reflect on you as the instructional designer. I’ve been in situations where a project lead wasn’t providing source files according to the agreed-upon timeline. In this case, they had other projects come up outside of our training that took priority for their team.
I’ve also been in situations where the client, stakeholder, or SME kept adding things into the project scope after development had already started, which would inevitably keep pushing back the timeline. Sometimes you can’t avoid on-the-fly additions, but they can impact the delivery of the project.
Unfortunately, if either of these happen to you, it impacts your other projects! That’s why it’s good for you to be prepared, as the instructional designer, to make project management decisions so you can keep ALL your projects on schedule.
What Status Meeting Cadence?
We’ve made it to the last W for managing your training projects. What schedule will work best for you and your team for status updates?
Regardless of whether your team is remote or on-location, it’s important that you meet regularly. And not just at the beginning of the project to discuss training needs! Email is a great way to communicate, but a successful project requires some kind of status meeting schedule.
During status meetings, team members provide updates on their deliverables and make sure they’re sticking to the timeline. More importantly, I find that status meetings provide me with guaranteed opportunities to check in with the subject matter expert or other stakeholders.
Sometimes, content questions pop up after your training analysis meeting. Or, stakeholders request edits that require clarification. Sending an email requesting more info may seem quick and easy, but not everyone is great at responding to emails! When I have a regular meeting scheduled, I know I’ll have another opportunity to request information I need to make sure I’m delivering high-quality training on schedule.
This also keeps the project front of mind for everyone involved. Regular status meetings can prevent any important pieces from falling through the cracks.
If you’re using Agile, you could easily plan to meet at the end (or just before the end) of each sprint for a check-in. Some smaller teams prefer to have weekly or bi-weekly meetings on the calendar to ensure everyone has protected time.
Pick a schedule that works for your team and send out calendar invites for the duration of the project!
Wrapping it Up
Like I mentioned earlier, I totally understand if project management was the last thing on your mind as an aspiring instructional designer. Now you know how important it is! It’s time to use the four Ws to get started.
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Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.
I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.
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Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.
Teacher, Future Instructional Designer
I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!
L&D Project Manager
The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!
Future Instructional Designer
If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!
Future Instructional Designer
I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).
Future Instructional Designer
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Krista Johnson Awomoyi
Freelance Instructional Designer
I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.
This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!
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Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.
I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!
Freelance Instructional Designer
My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!
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I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.
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Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.
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Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer. She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program. It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.
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