In a recent chat with a Project Management Institute (PMI) – certified senior project manager, I had asked her about what it was like to be a PM on complicated projects. Her reply was somewhat amusing – “it’s like driving a bunch of wild cats in the same direction, with all of them spitting and hissing at each other and at the PM”. While that may be a slight exaggeration, anyone who has been a project manager even for a very short while knows that it calls for every iota of patience and diplomacy, coupled with the right amount of drive and push to get the job done on scope, on schedule, with the required quality, and while keeping relationships intact with the team and the customer. In an ideal world, the entire eLearning team would work seamlessly, turn out brilliant courses together, and everyone, including the customer, would live happily ever after. If only workplace reality was as simple as that!
As a project manager on an eLearning project, here are a few back-to-the-basics tips to help you steer your project in the right direction.
1. Follow the process – When deadlines loom large, you might be tempted to cut corners on the process, figuring it will help you save time in the long run. Watch out – any short cut at this stage can come back to bite you later, and make the process even longer drawn and fraught with more tension towards the end.
2. Get signoffs in time – Again, in a severe time crunch, it is very tempting to go with a verbal assent given by a Subject Matter Expert(SME) on the last call you had with her or him. Even if you have a good relationship with that SME and have a track record of working well together, get the signoff in writing. This will help ensure that adequate thought has been applied for reviews and will help reduce re-work later.
3. Cut done on iterations – While you can accommodate a reasonable amount of additional changes after the final signoff, too many rounds of reviews defeat the purpose of having a clear signoff process. Having a signoff and limited reviews in your process will help make the project manageable. You’d be amazed at how many times, even with the best of intentions of following a clear-cut process, there is so much back and forth between members in the team. Keep this to the barest minimum. It’s important for the project. And for your sanity and your team’s.
4. Educate your SMEs – This step is particularly useful if you have a new process or a SME who is not familiar with your old process. Before the start of the project, run the SME through your process, particularly the stages were you need review signoffs from the SME. Once the customer can get a bird’s eye view of the entire project, he/she will also be more careful about last minute changes as they will appreciate the fact that every new input of theirs might involve going through the process and hence lengthening the delivery cycle.
5. Don’t interfere unnecessarily – As PMs, we could sometimes be trigger happy. We could get so used to doing things that when everything is going smoothly, it’s difficult to let things run their course. The most difficult thing for anyone with a let’s-fix-it-before-it-breaks mindset is to step back and do nothing. Resist the temptation to interfere in a process that is already streamlined and working smoothly. Your team will thank you for it.
6. Take non-team discussions offline – If you have assembled your team for a project update, stick to the plan. Don’t get side tracked with detailed discussions that are best handled offline. It might seem too obvious to state this, because that’s what we do anyway. However, in the heat of the moment, it’s very easy to get caught up in an animated discussion with someone about just one aspect of the project (say technical details) and forget that the rest of them team is anxious to get back to work.
7. Be a shock absorber – Unfortunately, this is part of the package deal of being a PM. Many years back, we had to contend with a customer who wanted us to change the tool we used for courseware development mid-way through the course development process. This was an expensive change and was the result of their post eleventh hour changes in the design strategy. No prizes for guessing who had to absorb this shock and soften the blow for the team and pass on the bad news upwards to the leadership.
8. Back up your team – The customer is king, but so is your team. Every once in a while you get saddled with a nightmare customer who keeps trying to push his/her luck with unplanned work, delayed reviews, and an unprofessional attitude. While you have to walk the tightrope between keeping your customer and your team happy, it is important that you protect your team against unjustified criticism – however important the customer might be. Thankfully, such customers are few and far in between. But in case you are stuck with one, let your team know that you are watching their backs. This will help them give their best to the project, ultimately affecting its success.
What are your favorite tips for managing eLearning projects better? Do share your views; we’d love to hear from you!