Project Management – Keys to Effective Instructional Design

Project management is the process of using tools, systems, techniques, and strategies to manage a project from start to finish.  It is important to the success of any instructional design contractual engagement.  In this article, I will describe the project management process for which I have experienced in my own consulting career.  I cannot possibly cover everything one needs to know in project management in a short blog post, but I will attempt to provide definitions and tips on how to use project management in your own career.  This article will briefly cover, defining the project, project management stages, two project management methodologies, project team structure, project management scoping, statement of work, and finally the potential systems or project controls used to monitor project progression. 

Definition of a Project

A project may be small such as a research paper on organizational behavior, or mid-sized such as, implementation of a learning management system, or writing and implementing a training on organizational communication, or larger such as, designing and constructing a new building.  A project is managed using reporting, communication, collaboration, and software. 

Project Management Stages

Project management is made of four separate stages of the project life cycle described here.

1. Defining Stage – the initial outcome for the project is identified and scoping for the project begins.  During this stage, one would consider the resources needed for the project, i.e. people, funds needed, & technology.

2.  Planning Stage -- the plans are written to assess what are the project needs, such as a schedule of activities or a statement of work (SOW).  Risk management and potential pitfalls or project derailers are analyzed during this phase. 

3.  Execution or implementation Stage -- the actual work of the project.  Money is allocated and spent, people have been assigned and working on tasks for the project, meetings are scheduled and project controls are put to use to positively maintain or ensure that the project is completed on time and under or on budget.

  • Project controls consist of reports that are used to monitor the project such as excel charts or MS Word project charters.  Technology such as, MS Project, SharePoint, Asana, or Jira is used to monitor work completed on the project.

4.  Termination Stage -- the project is completed and provided to your client or customer. The project is closed and you would move on to another project or another client. 

Project Management Methods

There are a few different methods of project management that are currently used in business.  I will describe two here:  Waterfall and Agile Project Management

Waterfall project management methodology is linear where the project manager creates the plans, the process, the systems that will be used to monitor the project, gathers the people, implements the work, then tests it for quality assurance.  This methodology is a step-process that dictates that each stage of the project is fully functional before moving to the next stage.  With Waterfall, there is no room for error.  I used this project methodology when working on a large instructional design project team at AT&T.

Agile project management methodology is very different from Waterfall.  Agile project management is iterative, back and forth process where staging meetings govern rather or not the project will continue.  In addition, all portions or stages of the project may not be fully functional or operational.  Project team members give input and recommend changes that should be made during each stage of the project.  I found this method of project management to be most useful in the development and management of instructional design projects at Halliburton and BP

If you are taking my Becoming an Instructional Design Consultant course, we will discuss how to use the ADDIE or ISD process on an Agile Project Design Team.

Define the Project Team

A project team is made up of people with different specializations and skills.  For example, a project manager, an instructional designer, an engineer, an editor, and an accountant.  These professions would make up a learning and development project team.  These individuals are brought together to complete the project on time and under budget. 

Scoping the Project

Prior to beginning any project, whether it is an OD project, A Change Management project, or an Instructional Design project, a scope document and needs assessment would need to be completed.  For example, in instructional design, a needs assessment or Training Needs Assessment (TNA), as it is often referred, serves as a foundation or framework for the project. 

The training needs assessment would consist of several questions to include:

  • What is the business need?
  • What are the observed business or performance gaps?
  • Is software or system knowledge needed to fill the performance gap?
  • Is training required on the software or system?
  • What are the current skills and knowledge needed to perform well in this position?
  • What external factors are currently affecting performance in this position?

Several other questions may be used to extract information from your client.

After the needs analysis is completed the learning goal is written in alignment with the identified needs.  When you have completed your needs analysis for the new training project, you would scope the project.  The scoping document would provide the client or business with the following information about your training project (See Table I).

Statement of Work or SOW & Project Controls

In addition to the development of a scope document, the project team would create or write a Statement of Work or SOW.  The Statement of Work provides the client and project team with the following:

  • Project Agenda
  • Project Objectives
  • Delivery Methodology to include:
    • Tasks
    • Schedule of Tasks
    • Deliverables
    • Session Details (to include potential sections that will be included in the course).
  • The Communication Strategy

After the SOW is issued and receives sign-off, the project team would communicate the project controls that may be used for the duration of the project.  Project controls include systems, resources, or processes used to help the project stay on-task.  I have listed programs I have used in my consulting experience below:

  • MS Excel with Color-Coding
  • MS SharePoint
  • MS Project
  • Asana
  • Jira
  • Confluence

In addition to these project controls, project team members may complete project status reports to inform the business of any potential project issues or problems that have been identified in the development of the project. 

I hope these definitions and tips will be beneficial to you in the management of your instructional design projects.  Join me on June 3, 2017 to learn more about project management and instructional design consulting. 

Adrienne Captain, CEO & Founder, HR-OD Analytics. Real Talk from a Real Consultant:  ID, OD, and Change Management.  Visit her company page: and sign-up for one of her courses.