by James Conklin, Vice President of Operations
What does it take to be an eLearning Project Manager who is trusted by collaborators and clients alike? Sure, a winning personality and professional experience is a good start. But it also calls for a unique set of skills and abilities that make the eLearning project as productive and stress-free as possible. Here are 9 essential skills that every eLearning Project Manager must continually refine.
- Risk Management
There are a multitude of risks involved in the eLearning design and development process. Are there any hidden fees that could put you over budget? Will you encounter any software hiccups that may push back the deadline? Do the needs and desires of the sponsor, client, and learners align? Proactive project managers who continuously identify, track, and mitigate risks earn the respect of their leaders, save their organizations from all kinds of failure and avoid stressful situations. Have a contingency plan in place for the most common hurdles you may have to overcome. And most importantly, updates must be communicated frequently to the team, the leadership, and the external stakeholders.
You have to communicate not only with your eLearning team, but also clients and other stakeholders. eLearning Project Managers must be able to convey the learning objectives and outcomes to their collaborators, as well as articulate the process to clients who may be unfamiliar with eLearning development. Explaining your process not only comforts your team and stakeholders, but also establishes your credibility. This will be valuable when you need to justify resources or manage changes in the project.
eLearning Project Managers have to keep “all the plates spinning”. You must be able to track multiple activities, delegate assignments and ensure that every aspect of the eLearning project is running smoothly. Thus, eLearning Project Managers must actively stay organized and focused on ultimate objectives and outcomes to avoid the natural tendency of project entropy. eLearning project managers should devote time every day to thinking about and managing both the high-level learning objectives and project goals as well as the list of small tasks and details that need to be addressed.
- Organizational Behavior
Building eLearning programs is an inherently cross-disciplinary activity and requires a variety of skills and staff. Good Project Managers learn how to effectively operate within their organization so they have access to the people they need when they need them. Before you task someone who has not already been assigned to your team, be sure you have coordinated this work with their manager. Also, different groups manage their efforts in different ways. For example, many software and IT teams use ticketing systems to track their work. If that is the case, you may need to write a ticket according to their specifications to get access to the members of that team. No matter how your organization functions, it is your responsibility to understand and work within operational norms.
- Time Management
Every eLearning project has time constraints. Thus, eLearning Project Managers need to be masters of time management. eLearning projects often require content from people outside the project team and sometimes from outside the organization. These external dependencies require active management and can easily wreak havoc on the best project schedules. Furthermore, Project Managers have to ensure that every member of their eLearning team pays attention to their respective milestones. Timeboxing is an effective strategy for managing work and keeping folks on schedule. There are many software project management tools such as Jira or Trello devoted to managing tasks (or tickets) in time boxed “sprints.”
- Resource Allocation
You only have so much to work with. Even eLearning projects with big budgets have their limits. You need to be able to work with finite resources to achieve the desired results. Therefore, eLearning Project Managers need to be highly skilled resource allocators. Furthermore, they must know how to evaluate their current resources and then figure out how to repurpose them. Resource allocation is best done while you have remaining resources to expend. Savvy program managers always withhold a portion of their budget as “management reserve” to cover contingencies. Depending on the risks associated with the project this reserve is often 10% – 35% of the project’s budget.
First and foremost, eLearning Project Managers must be able to lead their eLearning team and reassure them whenever necessary. They have to provide them with all the resources they need to get the job done, as well as keep them on track and on time. However, the second part of this skill hinges on their ability to empathize. eLearning Project Managers must be able to put themselves into the shoes of their collaborators and to know what it feels like to work within a team setting and deal with the pressures of eLearning development.
- Learning Technology
While you will certainly have technology experts on your team, understanding the capabilities of the technology you are using is essential. The program manager should be capable of using the system; demonstrating capabilities to key stakeholders; and collaborating with instructional designers, developers and other collaborators. You are unlikely to maintain the respect of your team if you don’t understand the products you are developing inside and out.
- Conflict Resolution
Ideally, everyone on your eLearning team should get along and work together to create an amazing eLearning deliverable. However, disagreements are bound to occur. After all, we get passionate about our work because we care about the outcome. Unfortunately, this can lead to conflicts within the eLearning team due to differences of opinion or preferred approaches that simply don’t mesh. The eLearning Project Manager is there to help resolve these arguments and diffuse the situation before it escalates. This involves a variety of secondary abilities, such as communication skills, interpersonal skills and empathy.
Last, but not least, successful eLearning Project Managers follow one very important rule: never stop learning. You must be willing to invest time into your own professional development, which allows you to build essential skills and constantly improve your strengths. Don’t hesitate to join social media groups and online discussions about eLearning where you can find valuable tips. In addition, you might consider enrolling in courses or workshops that focus on Project Management skills.