By Dean Hawkinson
An instructional designer serves many functions in a training initiative, one of which is often project manager. However, we sometimes lose sight of this critical role. In a lot of cases, we are managing a team of people to create an end product, and we rely on several project team members to accomplish actions that enable us to create the instructional materials. In this post, I address some of the critical things we need to be aware of in project management and a few tools to use along the way.
First and foremost, we need to identify who a project’s key stakeholders are, including subject matter experts (SMEs), and gather this team of people together to create a project plan. Let’s look at some of the critical elements of a project plan and then discuss some ways to create one.
Identify Deliverables and Owners
One of the first steps in project management is to identify all of the deliverables that the project requires. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Identify WHAT you will produce. Are you simply creating a web-based course, or are you partnering it with a job aid or online reference tool? If the course is instructor-led, will you produce a participant guide, instructor guide and PowerPoint presentations? The most important thing is to be clear about what you are producing and include everything so that your client and team are all in agreement.
- Identify project milestones. What are the dates of SME review and deadlines for producing the material? Make sure you allow yourself enough time for thorough review by SMEs and stakeholders.
- Identify WHO will complete each task/milestone. Assign each task to someone on the project team and document it. It is your responsibility to regularly follow up with all team members and make sure that they report back on their progress regularly.
- Communicate! Set up regular meetings with your team. The frequency depends on the project and availability of your team, but I like to have weekly meetings throughout the life of the project.
Tools for a Project Plan
A common software used for project management is Microsoft Project. It includes a Gantt chart to visually represent milestones and completion of tasks. There are several other benefits to using Microsoft Project, including the ability to list out your project milestones in tasks and sub-tasks while easily assigning resources, due dates and other relevant information. It is a great way to organize all of the tasks and sub-tasks associated with a project. You can also change font colors to help you keep track of how tasks are organized. However, the Microsoft Project is expensive and is usually outside of the standard software package for many companies. You also can run into problems if you are trying to share your Project file with team members, as they will not be able to view it if they do not have Project on their own computers.
I like to use Microsoft Excel for project plans. While it does not include a Gantt chart, it is easy to use and maintain, and most people have Excel available. You can use colored text and other formatting and formula tools to draw out certain milestones or information. The conditional formatting feature can be especially helpful for highlighting tasks according to their status or drawing attention to one that becomes past due. You can also create formulas to help you calculate due dates that take into account the type of task and your resources’ availability. I like to start simply by listing all of the deliverables and then listing resources and due dates for each one.
There are also many online project management tools that you can use – just put “online project management software” in your Google search, and you will see many options. Some are freeware while others will have fees associated with them.
Whatever tool you choose to use, it should be easily viewed by your team members and easy to maintain. We have all experienced “scope creep” in our projects, and things can change rapidly. Using a tool such as Project or Excel to build a maintainable project plan will help you stay ahead of these changes.
What tools do you use for project management? Feel free to share your experiences.