We’ve always been advised to reflect on our days, past experiences and behaviors to improve ourselves for not repeating the same mistakes.
Our work is one of the aspects of our lives that we constantly try to improve on. In my job, apart from instructional design, I do project management. When I first started, it seemed quite daunting to manage a number of projects with the same deadline, some starting even much later. My very first round of projects seemed more challenging as I learned the main challenge is the team including the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) I work with. I managed to complete those projects with lots of stress, by doing others’ work as they were delayed in their delivery or had to ask for extension. The number of projects kept increasing for the next semester, and I realized I need to adopt some strategies to prevent those interpersonal and quality issues as I faced in my previous projects.
Here’s a list of changes I made including my communication with my team, which resulted in delivering all my projects, currently 33, not only on time, but even earlier than the due date:
1) Note down the challenges/solutions – I always kept a record of the issues in my projects, and thought if steps taken to resolve them were right at the time. I was determined not to face them again. I analyzed all the factors involved in those issues in a more exhaustive manner. If the factors concerned our process and procedures, I shared these with my team and management and sought their input to optimize them.
2) Break down the timeline – We used to use one deadline for our SMEs to deliver their course structure, content, and audio/video podcasts. Now, I break down the timeline by creating a milestone for each segment of materials. For instance, if a course has 6 units in its content, I set a timeline for each unit, so that my SMEs can start working on them right away after our kick-off meeting, instead of doing it very close to the final deadline. This helps the final date to be intact, even if there’s a delay in submitting the first or second units for a few days.
3) Be Transparent with SMEs – Now I share more with my SMEs in my first meeting than before. I inform them on the process, and how different parties work together to meet the final deadline. I make it clear to them, and even give them a boost by mentioning that they are our key person in our project, and we all rely on them. This somehow has an impact on their sense of responsibility, as they feel they are needed badly.
4) Improve communication with SMEs – I changed the way I send reminders to my SMEs, since some of them would get irritated for being reminded and wouldn’t even reply to my email reminders. This would eventually cause the project to be delayed. Based on what I build first with them, they feel they are part of our project, and in my email, I simply ask for an update on the progress of the project, and avoid using ‘a gentle reminder’, or ‘there has been a delay’.
5) Share past samples – I send my SMEs the samples of past story boards, scripts, and walk them through a sample live course so that they understand how their work will turn out in the end. By sharing the samples, I cut down on revision time, after receiving the materials from them. I also share the common mistakes made by previous SMEs in order to prevent them from making the same ones in their project. This helps me save a lot of revision time as well.
6) Build relationship by empathy – Most of our SMEs are hired to develop the content of the courses, while they have their full time job. According to our process, they have to work in a limited timeline on top of their full time job. In my conversations or correspondence with them, I make them feel that I understand the load of work on their side, and the pressure that they might have to go through. I sometimes help them with minimal editing if they seem stressed. At the end of the project, once we receive the result of pilot trial result, I thank them for their hard work, and sometimes even invite them for tea or coffee. I tend to work with some of them on another project at times, and this makes my second project with them a better experience.
7) Set deadlines for internal parties – Similarly, I set a final date for my internal parties such as multimedia developers, Audio Video team, administrators, etc. I now sit down with individual team member (each is in charge of one course), and ask them to give me a date, which they can send me the enhanced materials. This helps me do a quality check in advance, while having ample time for amendment if necessary.
8) Get the internal team to be more responsible – In my projects the internal parties (unlike SMEs who are outside parties) have their own responsibilities. I realized sometimes I tend to do everybody else’s work, from contract issuance, to copyright clearance, audio checking and so on. I learned doing others’ job is not a practical way to speed up the process. This could create expectations in the long run, and you’ll end up more frustrated when swarmed with lots of materials from different projects. I discussed this issue with them and asked for an optimal teamwork. Now, I follow up for updates with them and if they need help, I do help them. It is important that we help each other when necessary so that we do our piece on the projects.
These few steps and changes have helped me deliver all my projects on time. I’ll be happy to hear about your strategies in managing your eLearning projects.