Sometimes, managing an eLearning program can feel like drinking from a firehose. The firehose, in this case, is the endless new project requests streaming into your email and filling your calendar. But, reflecting on 25 years of creating and managing hundreds of eLearning projects, I’ve learned that the projects that keep you up at night are those that should have never started in the first place. In other words, the intake process doomed the project before it started. Why? Because it allowed a project to launch that should have been delayed, canceled, or reformulated.
Let’s face it, sorting through the projects that crop up day after day is not always a fun and creative process. Learning leaders must develop keen negotiation skills to keep Executives and their customers happy. However, project intake and prioritization are critical to using your existing resources effectively and avoiding burnout.
This blog post will discuss six steps for establishing a successful project intake process to set you and your team up for eLearning project management success.
Have an explicit team agreement of what constitutes “a project”
There are often disagreements about whether something is or isn’t a project within teams, leading to people feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities. A good team agreement should include clearly defined start and end dates; an estimate of how much time it will take; responsibility for completing tasks (who does what); deadlines for sharing information such as status updates, deliverables, etc.
Use a Training Request Form
The eLearning project intake process must use a training request form to collect essential detail on potential projects. Let’s review the information you need to collect on your eLearning intake form. The critical information items on your request form should be:
-Title or summary of the project
-Business needs that the project is addressing
-Project or performance objectives
-Audience (who is the target learner?)
-Delivery format(s) required: eLearning, Instructor-Led Training, Webinar, etc.
-Any specific timeline requirements
-Dependencies on other projects, for example, the rollout of a new software version.
After reviewing the request form, you should schedule a meeting with the client to make sure you have a clear idea about the details of the training request. In this meeting, you should conduct a structured interview to collect additional information and add your interpretation of the training requests and the business impact of the training request.
For example, you may want to draft high-level learning objectives for the project and note the client’s desired behavior for the audience. However, you should avoid getting into the project’s technical details, like determining authoring tools and hosting strategies.
Prioritize projects to align with organizational goals and objectives
It is entirely possible to have dozens of projects on the go at any one time. However, not all requests are created equal, and there will be some that you’ll need to prioritize over others. Prioritizing projects isn’t about what your customer wants; it’s about where their request fits with organizational goals. If a project does not align with business goals or solve a business problem, it will likely fail for lack of budget and subject matter expert (SME) support. As a result, even a well-designed, engaging course may never see the light of day.
Use clear metrics to estimate project effort
One of the best ways to ensure you can accurately estimate project timelines and deliverables is to use metrics both you and your customers will understand. For example, suppose a request requires developing an eLearning module with three objectives and four activities, each with associated pre and post-assessments. Creating a metric for each of these scope items allows you to collaborate with your customer to design a learning strategy that fulfills the business need and fits the available resources.
Be realistic about your team’s production capacity
It’s essential, to be honest with yourself and your customers about how much work your team can accomplish in a specific timeframe. Trying to take on more work than you can realistically handle will only lead to frustration for everyone involved. The best way to avoid this is to build your capacity and project timelines proactively. Work with your executives, SMEs, instructional designers (IDs), and learning technologists early in the process so that you can accurately estimate the resources required to complete the project successfully.
Under-commit and over-deliver
It’s essential to be realistic about what your team can feasibly accomplish within a specific timeframe. Setting unrealistic expectations about media complexity and delivery timeframe leads to unhappy customers. Far better to over-deliver than disappoint. It’s also important to factor in contingency time for unexpected delays. The takeaway: be realistic about what you can accomplish, and always over-deliver!
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Keep customers and stakeholders informed about the status of their projects, whether it’s a request for an eLearning course or updating existing content. Keeping your stakeholders in the loop ensures everyone knows the current workload and how new projects affect deliveries. New and unexpected priorities can have a significant impact on timelines and resources. Effective communication will help customers understand why projects are delayed and position them to make a case for additional resources if project schedules are not meeting the organization’s needs.
In closing, the training intake process and prioritization are critical to ensure that you effectively use your existing resources and keep your customers happy. Establishing a robust project intake process will help manage your team’s workload, prioritize requests from stakeholders, and ultimately help you deliver more effective learning experiences for the organization.