Addressing the Gap Between Instructional Design and Project Management

One of the biggest challenges faced in business is a disconnect between departments. This gap has many faces. It could be a design department creating mockups that don’t take the technical specifications into account, a sales department not fully considering capacity, or the ever-present gap between instructional design and project management that exists in our own industry.

One of the issues creating this gap is that the project management team and the instructional design team work on different development life cycles. The many different development methodologies – like ADDIE, waterfall, agile, et cetera – mean there is a high likelihood that departments that don’t specifically work together but are dependent on each other could be on a different cycle.

How can we close that gap? How can we get the two departments on the same page, to truly maximize efficiency and the quality of the product? How can we get two departments with different methodologies to successfully work together?

What is the ADDIE Model?

In order to understand the difference between ADDIE and the project management cycle, we need to understand them each individually. ADDIE is an acronym for the instructional design process: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation.

  1. Analysis – This is the stage of development where research is performed. Determine the audience that your course will be aimed at and the budget it will require. This is also where you’ll determine any constraints (technology, experience levels) that your project will need to fit within.
  2. Design – As the name of this stage implies, this is where the design of the course will be determined. This refers to not only the look and feel of the course, through interfaces, navigation, and module types, but also the total outline of the course, including evaluations.
  3. Development – This is where the course is actually established. Modules are prototyped and created. The course is put together as indicated by the course outline created in the design phase.
  4. Implementation – The course is done and needs to be distributed or utilized. This can be an ongoing phase of development, as this is where the course will be maintained and supported for users.
  5. Evaluation – An often overlooked and undervalued phase, evaluation is where we determine if the course has achieved what we set out to accomplish. Have the learners gained an understanding of the coursework? Were you able to stay within budget and the constraints determined?

One of the biggest mistakes when implementing the ADDIE cycle is that many people believe it is like waterfall development, in that, once you complete a phase, you can’t go back. This leads to incredibly lengthy development cycles, because, if you fear that you can’t revisit a phase, it makes you hesitant to move on.

True ADDIE development, though, is not so strict. In fact, the design and development phases should occur nearly concurrently. Code implementations may change what options are available to designers, and some goals designers set may be unrealistic, when run past developers.

The same could be said for the implementation and evaluation phase. Feedback from the evaluation is what often spurs the work done in maintaining the course after initial delivery.

What is the Project Management Lifecycle?

One of the most common life cycles used in project management is the APM (Association for Project Management) lifecycle. This cycle breaks the project into four distinct sections:

  1. Concept – This phase establishes the need for the e-Learning solution and determines if the proposed solution is viable for the business and meets the needs of the business. At this point, a project manager will be appointed to develop the case for the solution.
  2. Definition – This phase is where the Project Management Plan is created. This deliverable will evaluate the options proposed to meet the need established in the concept phase.
  3. Implementation – This phase is usually broken up into two parts: development and execution. These two parts are where the plan created in phase two is executed and the work is performed. A detailed design is mapped out, and the course creation takes place.
  4. Delivery – Once the plan is implemented, it’s time to deliver the course to the sponsors who produced the concept in phase one. Once the solution, of course, has been accepted by the sponsor, the project is concluded.

One thing to note is that, in the project management lifecycle, each phase is completed and will not be revisited. The two parts of the implementation phase will tend to loop, with development and design leading to execution, which could circle back to changes in the initial design.

What Causes the Disconnect

Because of the waterfall nature of the project management lifecycle, and because both waterfall and ADDIE were developed around the same time, many in the project management department believe that, once a phase is completed, it should not be revisited. ADDIE, however, requires iteration over at least the design and development phases.

The Processes are More Alike Than Not

While instructional design and project management use different development cycles, they are not unalike. While the phases do not directly correspond to each other, there are complementary overlaps that should be noted:

  • The analysis phase in ADDIE shares concepts with both the concept and definition phase of the project management cycle.
  • The definition and development portion of the implementation phase of the project management cycle will be done concurrently with the design phase of the ADDIE model.
  • The development phase of ADDIE will overlap the execution phase of the project management cycle.
  • Delivery and implementation are the same, conceptually.

Understand that Project Managers and Instructional Designers are Different

It’s difficult for a person to fill multiple roles. Yet it’s commonly assumed that, if you work in the industry, you should be able to do any of them. Tell someone you’re a software engineer, and it’s only a matter of time before they want you to fix their printer.

As the complexity of e-Learning continues to grow as technology, instructional designers must focus more and more of their time on the development of the coursework and the decisions that come with that. They are not able to focus and are potentially ill-suited to adhere to deadlines and schedules of development.

Both the instructional designers and the project management are necessary to the development of an e-Learning course. The gap often arises from different development cycles and different priorities. Instructional designers focus on creating effective courses. Project managers focus on meeting goals on time and under budget.

The key to accomplishing both is to understand that the goals, while written differently, are the same. Highlighting these similarities will ensure your project is completed smoothly, with all departments working together as seamlessly as possible.


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