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

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. 
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?
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. 
Similarly, the design phase of training results in a blueprint for the training project including the objectives, schedule, deliverables, instructional methods, and evaluation plan. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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? 


  • The similarities allow you to take on a different perspective on instructional design and how you approach it. Though the two are different, this allows another way for an individual to research what has worked well or worked poorly for project management activities and relate it to their instructional design.

  • This article regarding the twins was very inspiring. along with the 5 phases of ADDIE .

  • This comparison is very useful. I think it is really important for Instructional Designers to learn about project management terminology because it will help them communicate the relevance of their training to stakeholders. More importantly, Instructional Designers would benefit from learning the leadership/executive skills of time management, budgeting, organizing, etc. associated with project management. They complement the skills associated with instructional design and will enable the training program to operate effectively.

  • I think the most important phase is the planning since it is the blueprint of everything. I never knew project management and instructional design was that similar.

  • This article did a great job of comparing the project management and the instructional design. The terminology is different and is relatable to different variations of people. One of the most important phases is the controlling phase because here the manager can manage the changes in various things such as the cost, risk and quality of the project which allows for them to better assess and change if need be to better suit the client.

  • I would say that the planning and evaluation phases are the most crucial. Planning includes every detail and the evaluation phase tells you how the project went and if was successful or not. Well written article!

  • It’s interesting to see the similarities. Although the language is different for the 5 phases of project management and the 5 phases of Addie model, the goal is the same. It seems that each model takes a different road to the same destination.

  • This article did a great job comparing the 5 phases in both Project Management and Instructional Design. There are similar steps when trying to improve the way your job works. I think the both have the same idea in the first two steps in starting a project and planning how to execute the new ideas. In the end both phases learn from the process and meet their new goals.

  • Pingback: Project Management for Instructional Designers- Part 4 Series for EDU 627 – Personal Learning Environment

  • I really appreciated the compare and contrast nature of this post. In my workplace I’ve found that project management is very closely tied to instructional design.

  • It is something worth to read just like the available services of CIPD assignment help. Hats off to the writer for drafting such an impressive piece of work. To get such kind of content one should hire an assignment writing service.

  • It is very interesting to see how all these factors play an important role in the 5 phases of project management, plus the 5 phases of the Addi model. Also how similar they can be with all the goals & objectives put in place.

  • Training professionals would absolutely benefit from project management strategies and using them during the instructional design process. Essentially, both processes need to analyze, develop, implement, review, and repeat. Learning different techniques for either is beneficial because no project will be the same, as no training design will be the same.
    In my current position, I was certified in Project Management and use that book/my notes for reference material when I’m asked to implement a new instructional design for my company.

  • 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 agree with you that the planning phase is the most important. Ideally, you would have a strong team on your side to help you to prepare for whatever may happen that is not aligned with the plan.

  • 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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