Even the best e-learning developers struggle with project management. Accurately scoping your projects, staying organized, and keeping the right people informed of your progress—all of these tasks can be challenging. And it makes perfect sense. E-learning development and project management are different roles requiring different skillsets. Yet instructional designers—especially freelancers—frequently need to do both.
I’ve certainly had trouble managing my e-learning projects in the past. I don’t have formal project management training (and many e-learning developers don’t, unless they’re business majors or have sought out courses). And I didn’t feel like I had the time to train myself, seeing as I was so busy managing my projects!
But over time, I learned some important lessons about project management. Now, it’s your chance to learn from my mistakes!
You don’t need to take a project management course or a change to your workflow to start applying these strategies to your e-learning projects. Pick one and start today!
Mistake 1: Not identifying all of the stakeholders
It’s frustrating when you work hard to delight a client, only to have a new (often more senior) stakeholder emerge at the last second with all new expectations. Being blindsided by a more senior stakeholder at the end of a project costs time and money—and patience!
Fix this mistake by: getting all your stakeholders in the room at the beginning of each project. Ask the project team to anticipate other stakeholders that might need to be brought into the project loop. Determine who has final say. Identifying the decision-makers can help you rope in the right people at crucial points in the project to keep things moving along.
Mistake 2: Relying on a task list instead of a project plan
In any project, there are features that are nice-to-haves and there are features that are need-to-haves. When you’re working from a to-do list, every task is assigned the same value. As a result, you might start working on smaller things that don’t matter just because they’re on the list, which prevents you from working on higher-value tasks and delivering the best course possible.
Fix this mistake by: working with your client on a project plan before you kick things off. With a plan in place, as you receive one-off requests, you can refer your client to the project plan. Is what they’re asking for so important that they’re willing to revisit the plan? You’ll usually find that they’re willing to drop these less essential tasks.
Intimidated at the thought of assembling a project plan? No worries. You don’t need your plan to be fancy. A simple plan in a Word doc or Excel spreadsheet may be all you need. Download this easy-to-use, free template to kick-start your next project and see how it goes.
Mistake 3: Providing overly optimistic time estimates
The key to making clients happy is to under-promise and over-deliver. By promising unrealistic timelines, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Fix this mistake by: tracking your time. It’s possible that you’re not sure how long each step of a project takes. If that’s the case, begin tracking your time in a spreadsheet today. Once you have a sense of how long something takes, add a buffer. Budget time and a half for your estimate. That way, when you get it done with days to spare, your client will be delighted.
And while you’re getting organized, don’t forget to keep your clients in the loop. Download this free project management timeline to help you clearly communicate how long each step of the process will take.
Mistake 4: Failing to take good notes
It can be tricky to remember the details of a face-to-face conversation, especially when you’re working with multiple stakeholders.
Fix this mistake by: getting into the habit of carrying a notepad with you and taking notes during your conversations. When you’re back at your desk you can polish them up, and send them to your client for approval. All you need is a quick email that says, “These are my notes from our conversation. Does everything look good to you?”
This simple habit can help you get client buy-off, so that you’re not on a phone call weeks down the road debating the way you each remember that casual hallway conversation.
Fixing even just one of these four mistakes will help you become a better project manager immediately. And tackling all four will make you one of the better project managers your clients have ever worked with!