Instructional Design: Project Management’s Polar Identical Twin?

Learning solutions can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Sadly, many align poorly with organizational objectives and fail to deliver expected performance improvements. This is why the ATD Capability Model encourages instructional design professionals to build project management skills to ensure that instructional interventions achieve the desired learning or behavioral outcomes. 

According to the Project Management Institute project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a temporary series of actions directed toward a unique result that involves a specified duration, scope, and resources. In essence, each time we employ the instructional design process, we are managing a project. 

Although their terminology differs, when we compare the 5 phases of project management to the 5 phases of the ADDIE model, it is surprising to see their similarities. Like polar identical twins, project management and instructional design are more alike than different. As you consider adding project management capabilities to your training tool box, you may realize that your proficiency in the ADDIE model puts you ahead of the learning curve.  

                        Project Management                                                     Instructional Design

Initiating
Projects begin when a sponsor identifies an organizational need that requires more than just a few steps to accomplish. This individual or group conducts analyzes resource allocation to answer such questions as: How will this project enable the organization to reach its goals? The project manager is appointed, a project charter is generated, and potential constraints are identified. 
Analysis
A group or individual within an organization identifies a performance problem.  A need analysis is conducted to identify performance gaps and decide if there is a learning need.  If training is required, a key question to answer at this point is: how will training contribute to the overall performance of the organization and help it reach its goals?
Planning
The next step in the project management process is to create a project blueprint. The project blueprint where all related details including time, costs, responsibilities, staffing, scheduling, and other factors are detailed. 
Design
Similarly, the design phase of training results in a blueprint for the training project including the objectives, schedule, deliverables, instructional methods, and evaluation plan. 
Execution
This is the action phase of the project where the plan is carried out. The project manager coordinates all activities required to complete the project in a timely manner and within budget. 
Development
Using the design document as a guide, the training program is developed with materials created internally or purchased from vendors. 
ControllingIn this phase, project leaders verify the scope of the project and manage changes in costs, quality, risks, and schedule as the project is implemented.  ImplementationAt the beginning of this phase, training programs are piloted which often results in changes to content or delivery of the materials. Further, data is collected throughout training to ensure that the objectives are met. 
Closing
The close out phase of project management involves the verification that all project requirements are met noting approved changes. Further, lessons learned are documented, project records are archived, and project outcomes are tied to organization goals. 
Evaluation
In this phase, the trainer must identify the extent to which the training program achieved its goals related to satisfaction, learning, behavior change, and organization improvement.  

Questions for Discussion

Given their similarities, how might training professionals benefit from project management strategies and use them in managing the instructional design process? 

Can you locate a link to web-based resources that our readers might use to learn more about project management? 

7 comments

  • Like you said, project management and instructional design mirror each other. The end goal is to achieve a result. Both often are on a timeline and have limited resources. Success can be measured in many ways, but often it is defined by the scope of the project. In my experience, sadly, the content often goes overlooked, but if we can manage the project success based on those timelines, we can devote more energy to that content. This is emphasized by the article sited below (Rooij, 2010)

    We need to identify the problem, decide what to do about it, put a plan in place, execute it, and close the project. When creating training programs or documentation, we can have a very narrow focus. In project management, we can use these same skills to affect the bigger picture. Using the project management model can help make an instructional designer more successful.

    Van Rooij, S. W. (2010). Project management in instructional design: ADDIE is not enough. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(5), 852-864.

  • Qualified teachers and scholars impart brilliance to the students through immersive and experiential training.

  • It is very interesting to see the similarities. By looking at the Project Management strategies, one could equate a performance issue to a “project”. Each element and step plays a part in the final outcome or desire of achievement of solving an issue, whether that is a performance issue or a new project. By looking at a performance issue as a project, the mindset could go more towards a positive outcome. It would be interesting to observe how a project manager may look at the similarities of the ATD model and use that within their role.

  • I believe the planning phase if the most important phase in Project Management. Theoretically you know what you want to do, what is expected and how long the project should take. There should be no surprises, but as we know something always happens. In the planning phase, everyone should know what their roles are and execute them accordingly.

  • I think the most important phase is the planning phase. It is important to define all possible requirements and obstacles that can occur. Also, everyone on the team should be a the same page before moving forward.

  • In the closeout phase I have learned in the past that there are different areas that can be changed at the last second which could cost more money than what the company wants to supply in that area.

  • I tried to post comments twice. Not sure if they posted.

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