Struggling with managing your e-learning projects? Feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of your training clients? Not sure how to get and stay organized? You’re not alone. The struggle is real, my friends.
Thankfully, loads of free tools and techniques exist to help with the daunting task of organizing, planning, and managing e-learning projects. In this article, I’d like to unpack a few of those tools in the context of a typical e-learning project workflow—from kickoff to execution. Along the way, I’ll hook you up with some freebies to save you a little time and help you get your next e-learning project off to a winning start. Let’s dive in!
Most training projects start with a request—often from the training audience, managers, or executives. And when you get those requests, it might seem like the next logical step is to start formulating a project plan (or maybe just dive into designing a course); but is that really the smartest way to go? One tool that could save you some agony down the line is a project charter. A charter is a tool you can use before you even assemble a project plan.
A project charter is a document that serves to align expectations and gain authorization from project stakeholders and the organization’s leadership for the project to move forward. A charter also lays out who the stakeholders are, the scope of the work to be performed, and provides some definition around the deliverables, schedule, and budget.
In many settings, a project charter is the norm—developed by the person or department paying for the project. But if it’s not the norm in your environment, a charter may be worth asking for. Charters can be especially helpful if you find yourself routinely saddled with projects that are ill-defined or lacking in broad support from your leadership.
The planning phase of a project is where you’ll start to dig into the crucial details that will help you manage all aspects of your training project—everything from detailed requirements and stakeholder expectations to timelines and budget. You don’t necessarily need to crank up fancy project planning software to create a robust project plan. I find that simple tools generally do the trick, as long as they’re not too time-consuming to keep up-to-date.
If you’re looking to streamline your project management duties, here’s a rundown of some free and easy planning tools that can make your life a whole lot easier.
Sometimes, before we even get into the weeds of planning, clients ask us to provide a detailed estimate of how much time or money is needed to create their e-learning course. If you’d like to provide them with something a bit more accurate than an educated guess, check out tools like this E-Learning Project Estimates Worksheet from Richard Watson and this Course Seat Time Estimator from Mike Schwind.
I’ve also found it helpful to track my time to get an estimate of how long it takes me to create various types of e-learning courses—from simple, linear courses to highly customized or gamified courses. There a loads of free time-tracking tools online, like MyHours or Toggl. Most offer simple ways to track how much time each task in a project takes you. The great thing about tracking your time is, eventually you'll see trends, giving you insights into your own productivity, ultimately helping you make more accurate estimates.
The challenge with project plans is that assembling one isn’t a one-and-done activity. Projects are living and breathing animals, and “the plan” for completing a project, particularly one with a lot of complexity, inevitably evolves over time. In other words, plans change, so put some mechanisms and tools in place to make it easy on yourself to keep everyone in the loop and accountable for their piece of the project.
Here are some simple tools I've found helpful:
- This Basic Project Management Plan is an easy-to-customize Word template that can be used to keep all the moving pieces easily cross-referenced for your project team.
- This Project Accountability Matrix Template from Holly MacDonald gives you a handy resource for documenting who’s accountable for what and, most important, a clear escalation path when the project hits a snag and needs someone with authority to make a decision to get things moving. Cross-reference it in your project plan.
- This Project Management Timeline is another easy-to-use tool—an Excel spreadsheet you can cross-reference in your project plan. (And of all the tools you’ll use as a project manager, this one is most apt to change frequently, so why not keep it simple, right?) Break down tasks and use some of Excel’s color fills to show the task duration. Easy-peasy.
In the execution phase, you’re putting your project plan into action. This is the portion of the project where you’re expending the most effort, balancing project management work with your course-authoring responsibilities.
One of the trickiest aspects of the execution phase, from a project management perspective, is making sure you’ve got the resources you need for each activity in your project. For a project involving the creation of an e-learning course, this may involve making sure you’ve got reviewers lined up to provide feedback on your prototyped interactions, or allocating budget toward custom video if the project warrants it. The execution phase can be tricky (and tiring!) but, at the end of it all, you should have the project deliverables to show for your efforts.
Here are some more free tools that can make this phase of the project go more smoothly:
- Does your course have a lot of interactive content? Storyboarding or prototyping right in your authoring tool can be a timesaver and a wonderful way to show stakeholders your progress. Nicole Legault wrote this nice article to show you how to do it in Storyline 2.
- When it comes time to get feedback on your deliverables, an E-Learning Course QA Template is one way to make sure your course functions well and fulfills the requirements identified during the kickoff and planning phases.
- Another tool for capturing feedback is Articulate Review—part of Articulate 360. Articulate Review is a web app that’s included in your Articulate 360 subscription. It lets you easily share published courses with reviewers and see their feedback, all in one spot. To learn more about Articulate Review, check out this quick video tutorial.
Effectively managing e-learning projects doesn’t require a project management certification or a lot of expensive software. You’ll find that resources like E-Learning Heroes offer tons of free advice and support to help you manage your e-learning projects. For instance, check out these project management articles:
- How to Write Requirements for Your E-learning Project
- Five Project Management Tips for Creating Online Courses
- Best Practices for Effective E-Learning Project Management
- How to Manage E-Learning Project Scope Creep
- 4 E-Learning Project Management Mistakes and How to Fix Them
What tools and techniques do you rely on for managing your e-learning projects? Have any pointers for project management noobs? Share your tips, tricks, and ideas with us in a comment, below. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter, where we post the latest and greatest news about everything e-learning.
Want to try something you learned here, but don’t have Articulate software? Get a free 60-day trial of Articulate 360 to check out Storyline 360, Review, Content Library, and more. Also, be sure to come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything e-learning.