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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