Managing eLearning projects can be hard work. As an eLearning project manager (PM), I confess there has been more than once I’ve thought of running for the hills, leaving my team to sort the fun of Subject Matter Experts, stakeholders and endless feedback cycles.
But I’ve yet to abandon ship completely. Managing any bunch of projects is like juggling plates – you drop one, your attention is diverted, and then another one goes. It’s a constant effort therefore, not to drop the first one.
Successful eLearning projects
An eLearning PM knows what’s involved in successfully delivering a project; he/she knows what they have to do. Scoping, pricing, resourcing, scheduling, communicating, monitoring, troubleshooting, and reviewing. To help manage all the steps, there’s a process in place – a fairly robust one – that lays down the rules of engagement between provider and client. The steps are clear, the interim deliverables are explained, client expectations are set and the design team is fired up and ready to go.
So what makes managing this so hard?
A senior staff member once said to me:
“But surely you have the process down to a tee now, we need to run things like it’s a big production line.”
I confess, I haunted him with the words ‘production line’ for months!
But I think herein lies the issue – words like ‘creativity, imagination, trust, innovation’ don’t fit that well with ‘production line’. In trying to develop individual eLearning that’s human, designed for real people, and build client relationships along the way, there’ll always be a bit of flexibility required in the process.
Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into
Positioned in between a professional client and a team of highly skilled designers, an eLearning PM needs to see, and value, all the different perspectives. There’s sometimes a need to referee in order to keep a project on track, facilitate a bit of give and take to reach the common goal.
I confess that sometimes I’ve only had myself to blame for my PM stress levels. In order to meet client expectations – a tight budget and aggressive timescales – we’ve put ourselves under pressure with promises to deliver. Despite a shortened schedule, we still always work hard to ensure that quality doesn’t suffer.
But most PM stresses come from delays. We do have a good eLearning development process and have become adept at estimating the effort and time required to design and built the different elements of a course. But usually there’s a tale of the unexpected. On the client’s side, there’s the extra time required for reviews, the late stakeholder, the extra piece of content, the variance in expectations, the last minute requests. On our side as eLearning developers, there are the technical glitches, the lead designer off sick, and the surprise request from the boss. And in any creative partnership, it’s hard to gauge the time required for gaining trust, or for letting an imagination unfold.
Tips for successful eLearning projects
So how, as someone requiring the services of an eLearning provider, do you play your part in keeping a project running smoothly, and help an eLearning Project Manager like me avoid feeling the need to confess terrible thoughts about you and your darn project?
1. Be open and honest about your content
If the content you’re supplying is good, tell us why it’s good so we understand your focus better. If it’s not so great, tell us that too; we can help with that by either researching and writing, or helping you gather the sort of content that will really benefit your learners. Either way, you can ensure that the time spent on the initial content gathering is time well spent.
2. Say what you want
Managing expectations between parties has its challenges. Your eLearning provider should be very clear about what it plans to deliver, providing demos, discussing branding, and styles. You should express your preferences at an early stage that cover technical and learner requirements, and ask for clarification if you’re unsure about the end product. There’s nothing more time-consuming than having to re-architect a solution. Some PMs will just say no.
3. Ring fence your time
A project timeline is there to keep the project on track and on budget on all sides. It shows where time is needed for the different stages so as a client, you’ll need to put aside some time for reviews and roll outs. Your eLearning provider will be doing the brunt of the work, but don’t be surprised when they give you some deadlines. Most PMs will try to accommodate missed milestones but only for so long.
4. Be decisive
An eLearning process will ask for signoff at different stages. Regardless of how many stakeholders need to sign these stages off, somebody needs to co-ordinate feedback and draw the line in the sand. One decisive voice.
5. Keep an open mind
You might have a clear vision of what you think your eLearning learning solution would look like, but the chances are that your eLearning provider will have lots of great ideas that will enhance your own. A PM will communicate these to you to see what might work – give them consideration, and it might be fun for everyone.
6. Trust your eLearning provider
Your eLearning provider will have delivered many eLearning solutions for many clients. They will know what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t. Hand over your content, along with the brief, and only be prescriptive where you really need to be. Trust the experts to create something that will work for your learners - that’s what you’re paying for. Here are some questions to ask your eLearning provider before you start on the project.
Leave your ego at the door
A while back, a client PM/Subject Matter Expert that I had worked with over a couple of years retired. I confess I was sorry to see her go, and found myself asking why she had such a positive impact on me. Her projects took a similar course to most projects with a hiccup here and there, but things got done on time, within budget and with no headaches. Why? In summary, there was always openness, directness, honesty, respect, no ego and a clear understanding of priorities, roles and responsibilities. Throw a sense of humour into project partnerships like these and us project managers would never have to confess a thing, except perhaps for being overpaid for such an easy job...