I have been in a managerial position for about 4 years now. In that time, I have managed several different teams and projects, but nothing has been as unique as an eLearning project.
With many of the projects I have lead, my team stayed unchanged, the deadlines were manageable most of the time, and the work was pretty much the same day in and day out. Sure, there were those times that we had to get something out before the set deadline or a major change was needed last minute, but those were few and far between. In the past 2 years of managing eLearning, I can safely say that each project has had its own unique set of rules, guidelines, and obstacles. My teams have changed, tasks added last minute, and deadlines set that seem nearly impossible. So, how do you manage something efficiently and effectively when things are always changing? You think creatively, have a detailed working schedule, keep a level head under pressure, and keep your team moral as high as possible.
Perhaps the best advice that I can give with how to effectively manage eLearning, is to think creatively. At some point in your life, whether it be in school, at work, on a sports team, or a member of a club, you have been the leader or helped managed some part of an activity or project. Because of that, you have many different experiences and insights that you can bring to the table. Think back to a problem or situation that you had and how you solved it. Now, try to see if that solution or solutions will work with your current challenges. Using your imagination is also a great idea. Take 10 minutes and write down every single idea that comes to mind, no matter how crazy or outrageous it seems. After that, read through your ideas and single out the options that will best work for you. By not putting boundaries on your brainstorming sessions, you will find that you can come up with some pretty amazing solutions. Also use teamwork. The phrase two heads are better than one is often true when trying to come up with a solution. Teamwork lets others bring their past experiences, imagination, ideas, and inspirations to the table. You will also find that your team will be more excited about the changes being made and your plan of action since they had a part of creating it.
The second best piece of advice should be no secret to anyone that has ever managed a project: plan, plan, plan. A well thought out schedule is crucial for keeping your project on course and on budget. Not only will a schedule identify needed resources, set deadlines, milestones, and project development costs, it will, most importantly, also keep your stress level down. The type of scheduling tool I use depends on the size and timeframe of a project, but regardless of that, three things remain constant when I make a schedule.
First, I write down every task that I can think of that is needed to complete the project. This part should take you the longest, as the more tasks you can identify up front, the more precise your plan will be. This also will help you alleviate those small, easily forgettable tasks that often take time and resources that were not planned for. Once you move to step two, you can combined tasks and simplify, but no task is too small to write down during this stage.
Next, assign the type of person needed to complete each task. You do not need to have a specific person in mind, rather the type of position, such as graphic artist, developer, editor, etc., needed to complete that task. After that is complete, estimate how many hours are needed to complete each task. I like to ask someone that does that type of task daily to give their input. This makes my estimate more accurate. Once both of those are done, add up how many hours are needed by each type of role, then divide each role by the number of hours you have in total to complete the project. This will show you how many people you need in order to meet the finish date. Based on this number, you will identify where more resources are needed, adjust the time line accordingly, and/or use your creative thinking skills to cut down on tasks and hours. There will still be tasks that you didn’t think of up front, or were not part of the original scope of work; that is OK, it happens. In order to accommodate for those, I always leave a couple of days of cushion throughout my schedule. The good part is, if nothing comes up, you will be ahead of schedule.
For the last step, set a deadline for each task. At this point, you already know what tasks are needed to complete the project and how many they should take to complete. Now, just assign a due date for each task based on the number of hours to finish it. By having mini deadlines throughout your project, you can easily see when you start to fall behind schedule and adjust accordingly. Setting deadlines for each task will also help your employees be aware of when their assignments are due and help them plan their day. If deadlines are missed, don’t panic. Evaluate your schedule and see where you can make up the time. Just as you might have under estimated some task, you probably over estimated some as well. Sometimes, working a little later here and there is needed to meet your small deadlines. Not only will this keep you on schedule, it is better than having everyone work late night after night during the final week of the deadline.
And there you have it; a detailed schedule with tasks, resources, and mini deadlines all identified. This will definitely alleviate your stress level while managing your project as well as those working with you.
The last thing I would say about managing an eLearning project, or any project for that matter, is being there for your employees. You are not the only one that has a stressful position. Many of your employees have multiple assignments they are working on with tight deadlines and other things that factor into their stress level. Having an uncooperative manager should not be one of them. Your job is to make their job easier. Make sure they have the resources they need to get their job done. If they have questions or need to talk to you, make yourself available. They should be able to trust you and know you have their best interests in mind. Listen to them, if they are having problems with the task or with others, talk about solutions that can help them, and then apply them. All the planning and creative thinking in the world cannot substitute for an unhappy employee. You need them to buy into your schedule and management plan in order for it to work. Someone that knows that you have their best interest in mind will be much more accepting to staying late here or there to get the project done on time.
The truth is, there are no set rules or guidelines to managing an eLearning project. Each person should find what works best for them and their team. These ideas and guidelines seem to work the best for me, but other ideas might work better for you. Keep an open mind, try new things, and learn from each project.
By Jennifer Richardson: eLearning Program Manager at Technology Transfer Services