In learning design, people often learn project management on the job. Frequently, the learning comes from failure. Wouldn’t it be nice to avoid the project failure step? So, I’m resurrecting this ancient interview with Robyn Defelice, PhD. She made many good points that are still relevant today. Robyn is an author, designer and consultant. She has sound advice for instructional design project management.
Connie: What common issues contribute to instructional design project failure?
Robyn: It is not uncommon to have the instructional design process take much of the blame for a project being late and over-budget. Research, however, indicates that it’s a lack of client onboarding and project management that contributes largely to these two issues. For example, factors that can increase cost and lengthen the timeline of any training development project include the time it takes to:
- Orient the client to the processes
- Keep a consistent communication process going
- Develop change and risk management strategies
- Invest in a technology mitigation plan (as warranted)
- Hold to one’s accountability
Connie: Which of these factors can the project manager control?
Robyn: Many, if not all, of these factors can be controlled by the project manager. However, what is critical is that there is a strong team and a willing client. Though the leadership rests upon the project manager, it is the responsibility of the individual parties involved along the way to ensure they keep to their commitments (accountability) to assist the project manager in keeping the project moving forward.
Connie: How can the individual instructional designer/developer have an impact on controlling the time and cost of a project?
Robyn: Each one of us can manage ourselves and our portion of the work, which I consider accountability. This helps to ensure fewer issues will arise. Methods for being more self-managed follow the same ideas as noted previously. We can:
- Play a part in keeping the client on board and educated to the process—especially when it impacts the work we do
- Maintain consistent proactive communications flowing with not only the client but with the project manager (This can aid the project manager in change and risk mitigation.)
- Embody a forward-thinking mindset by sharing next steps, they expect from a client, and ensuring the client comprehends their role.
- Identify issues of risk and present alternatives or solutions.
Connie: Can you provide an example of how an instructional designer with little authority can have a positive impact on success?
Robyn: For example, rather than letting a deadline slip, notifying the project manager if a client is being unresponsive is an immense help. Another helpful action is when the instructional designer alerts the project manager about an issue early in the design portion of a project. This type of input is a big help for many project managers.
Connie: What’s the best way to broach these subjects with supervisors when a person has little authority?
Robyn: There is no magic answer to this. However, the key here is to engage in plain and simple communication. For example, if you’re addressing a problem that affects the timeline, present a non-biased account of the situation. Also, provide your ideas on how to resolve it.
Supervisors appreciate team members that help the entire process run smoothly, not just their own piece. We should remember that not all supervisors have been a developer or designer. As team members, we are just as responsible for educating our leaders to potential options and opportunities as we are to the clients we serve. After all, we are the hired experts.
Connie: Can you talk more about accountability during a project?
Robyn: Taking charge of your work and owning it (for the good work and the no-so-good) is vital. It shows your flexibility for getting the job done and not insisting that it is done your way. Supervisors can relax a bit when they have team members that can educate one another on the interdependencies of their work. You demonstrate accountability when you comprehend the level of impact that your work has on the project as a whole. The client sees a group of people that are well-vested and interested in ensuring they receive a good quality product.
Connie: What skills should an instructional designer or developer cultivate to improve project management.
Robyn: One skill is the realization that as team members, we (not the client) may need to change ourselves to make a project go more smoothly. This can be a hard pill to swallow.
If we take the time to assess how we performed in our most recent project, we may see elements within our control that we can improve in future work. For example, we may decide that a consistent file-naming convention or folder structure could improve version control on the next project.
Connie: What skills might improve someone’s chances of promotion?
Robyn: When it comes to promotion, the more self-managed we are, the more chances we have of being recognized as a leader. Some will want to leverage this for advancement along the same position (junior ID to senior ID). Some will use it to lend credibility to their skills as they take on a director position or even consulting jobs.
Many of the attributes discussed earlier are good to develop both for project management and promotions. A truly self-managed and dynamic individual that is self-aware and willing to improve as needed is the individual that finds success.