As an e-learning professional, you probably spend a lot of your time collaborating with others. That’s because e-learning development is an inherently cross-functional role. Being in such a collaborative role can be challenging but also fun and rewarding. You get to work with people throughout your organization and give them a closer look at the important work you do.
All that collaboration, however, comes with a few downsides. Having so many people to juggle can result in confusion and ambiguity about the roles and responsibilities of your project team. You might also find that some people on the team are more dominant than others. Sometimes these folks are just higher on the totem pole or more vocal in their opinions, but the side-effect of their influence is that other team members may feel silenced or overruled—often leading to downstream conflicts that you end up struggling to resolve.
But the biggest impact of being in such a cross-functional role may be realizing that you need more than just e-learning and instructional design skills to be effective. In the absence of a dedicated project manager, it’s your job to get organized and keep the project on track. It’s on you to identify the decision makers for the project; set and communicate boundaries, timelines, and accountabilities; and keep everyone’s eye on the ball. It’s a lot of work that may not have been part of your job description when you signed on.
So, what do you do if you’ve just realized you need to be an e-learning project manager along with everything else you’re doing? How do you know where to start and what skills you really need to build?
Here’s a quick look at four essential skills to add to your professional development plan.
Basic project management. Having an understanding of project management tools and processes can help you stay focused and organized, manage stakeholder expectations, and generally keep your projects on track. For instance, web apps like Trello or Asana can help you plan projects, organize source content and assets, and visualize tasks and timelines.
Time management. Whether you’re a one-person training shop or part of a large team, managing your time and prioritizing tasks is crucial to staying on top of your workload. Tracking your time with a lightweight web app like Toggl can be helpful for spotting trends in how you’re spending your day. It can also help you see how long it takes you to perform certain tasks, like storyboarding a complex 30-minute course, for example. With an understanding of how long it takes to do the work, you’re better able to estimate timelines and set realistic expectations with your project team.
Business savvy. The key to being seen as a trusted business partner with e-learning expertise—and not just an e-learning order-taker who makes slides look pretty—is to speak and act like a business-savvy consultant. Successful consultants are good listeners and are flexible and open-minded. They understand the tradeoffs between creating an ideal e-learning product and meeting business needs.
Communication skills. Effective project managers guide and structure all the conversations with the project team to help things move forward. That means defining the purpose and desired outcomes of working meetings, status meetings, and so forth. It also means doing research and coming to meetings prepared with questions and discussion topics. As the project progresses, the type of communication skills will evolve; for instance, during late-stage development, you may find yourself holding conversations to help the decision makers on your team prioritize their needs so the project is delivered on time and on budget. At the end of the project, you may find yourself holding project debrief talks to get their perspective on what went well and what improvements you could make.
By building your skills in these four areas, you’ll be better able to define project goals, manage expectations, and keep your projects moving toward the finish line. You may even find that your journey toward becoming an e-learning project management pro gives you skills and experience that enhance your professional credibility and lay the groundwork for better future collaboration.