Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Managing Your Project Schedule

One of the most challenging aspects of instructional design project management is managing the project schedule. The schedule must be rigid enough to provide structure, yet fluid enough to allow for the inevitable inevitabilities of project work. One way to develop your own scheduling style is to read and learn about what works for other people, so here is my two cents.

As often as possible I work back-to-front to draft my ideal network diagram, beginning with the end date of the final deliverable and working backwards to identify prerequisite (predecessor) activities and deliverables, time requirements, and event deadlines, based on required, procedural, and logical relationships (Portny et al., 2008).

I then compare my ideal network diagram to what I call “probable reality,” which is a consideration of my experience with:

  • Projects in general
  • Similar projects
  • What I know about this client
  • What I know about this project team
  • My own schedule and workload

Probable reality reflects my best guess of project limitations and unknowns (Portny et al., 2008) and their anticipated impact on the project. For example, let’s assume that my project team has 21 days to submit a deliverable of a module outline with instructional objectives. I consider my experience with projects in general and similar projects, and determine that I need 14 days (span time) to complete the deliverable.

In my ideal network diagram I allow 3 days for the client to review and approve the outline (17 days). However, I know this client is slow to review and approve materials, so I build an extra 2 days into the activity phase (19 days). That leaves the team only 2 days to review client feedback, make revisions, and re-submit the outline to the client.

If I know the project team is highly organized and on point, I may take a risk and go with that. But if I don’t know the project team well, or if I know them to be slow or unorganized or very busy, I will decide that it’s not enough time and I need to cut some time somewhere else in the process.

Every activity eats up time (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012), and when time is tight, my first choice is to cut time on my end where I have the most control. I then consider my schedule and workload to find a way to complete the deliverable in less than 14 days.

Freelance work can be very patchwork, and I sometimes function as ID, writer, and PM all in one. In those situations I can track everything with a simple Word document and an Excel spreadsheet. When working with a team, however, project management software is almost essential (Fabac, 2006). It facilitates consistent communication and sharing of timelines, milestones, progress, and changes between team members and clients.

Project work is a wild ride every time. It can be stressful, but the feeling of success is a rush!

Sally Bacchetta


Fabac, J. N. (2006). Project management for systematic training. Advances in Developing
Human Resources, 8(4), 540–547.

Laureate Education, Inc., (Producer). (2012). Creating a project schedule. [Multimedia Program]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E.
(2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Which mode of communication do you prefer: written, audio, or video? This week I reviewed a sample communication in each of those three modes to see if the type of communication affected my interpretation of the message. Here is the communication in written form: 

Hi Mark,
I know you have been busy and possibly in that all day meeting today, but I really need an ETA on the missing report. Because your report contains data I need to finish my report, I might miss my own deadline if I don’t get your report soon. Please let me know when you think you can get your report sent over to me, or even if you can send the data I need in a separate email.
I really appreciate your help.
Jane” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012).

Written – When I read this I experienced Jane as feeling urgent, conscientious, and compassionate. She is clear about her request and also steps outside her own perspective to share insight into Mark’s workload and offer a compromise solution. If I got this email I would make it a priority to give Jane what she needs and thank her for her patience.

Audio – Next, I listened to an audio recording of Jane reading the same communication. Again, Jane came across as urgent, conscientious, and compassionate, although slightly less assertive.

Video – Finally, I watched a video of Jane speaking the communication. Jane seemed friendly, supportive, and quite a bit less assertive in the email and audio. Jane did something that women often do (and it drives me crazy!), which is to make a statement sound like a question by raising her voice inflection at the end of the sentence. “So please let me know…? If you can send it over soon?” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2012). This diminishes the urgency of the situation and suggests that she is flexible about waiting for the data. “According to Deborah Tannen, we hear a downward cadence as ‘closed’ or ‘final,’ with the extreme being ‘controlling.’ Conversely, we hear an upward cadence as ‘open’ and ‘flexible’ with the extreme being ‘indecisive’” (Tannen, 2011).If I were an over-scheduled Mark, I would not likely prioritize getting Jane’s data to her.

After this exercise I reflected on the nature of communication among some of the project teams I’ve worked with. All have blended written, audio and face-to-face communication. Is one mode better than another?

I prefer written communication, and I want it to be clear and concise. (Ernest Hemingway never wasted a word, and I wish more people were that way.) Some people need to give chapter and verse of everything they say, and others like to chit chat for a minute or two before they discuss the issue at hand.

A project manager needs to be able to reach and receive from everyone on the team, regardless of their communication style. This is easier when the PM is familiar with the team. Once I recognize someone’s style I make an effort to communicate with them in that style and mode. It helps ensure that the message sent is actually received.


Laureate Education, Inc., (Producer). (2012). The Art of Effective Communication. [Multimedia Program]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Tannen, D. (2011). The eloquent woman blog. Retrieved from

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sales Training Project Post-mortem

The project debrief, or post-mortem, is one of my favorite parts of a project because I learn as much from a negative project experience as I do from a positive one. By identifying what did and didn’t work I can be better prepared for the next project (Greer, 2010). This is my analysis of the “Rep Expo” training project.
I was hired to design the instruction and develop the content for a three day sales training workshop. Each module was to be designed as a stand-alone unit to be delivered by a face-to-face facilitator. The client provided a list of topics to be addressed, and I was given the freedom to make all design and content decisions, with draft materials to be approved by the project manager and the client. The PM described the client as “extremely picky, unavailable, and unable to articulate what he wants.” I was brought in (freelance) because two in-house individuals had failed to successfully complete the project. The project was now well behind timeline and over budget, and the client had threatened to terminate the contract “if you folks can’t turn this around quickly.” We were given 60 days to complete the project and a successful beta test.

What contributed to the project’s success or failure? The positive and negative drivers of this project were closely enmeshed. What follows is my pro and con post-mortem list of PM actions that drove the project to failure.

 Pro: Arranged for a F2F kickoff meeting with the client to clarify client objectives, expectations, and other project details.
Con: Attended the meeting with several other internal team members and behaved unprofessionally (holding whispered personal conversations while the client was talking, openly disagreeing with the client about details of the project, frequently checking her watch, leaving to make personal phone calls, and assuring the client that we had the capabilities to develop specific learning objects knowing full well that we did not).

Pro: Developed and maintained a comprehensive production schedule.
Con: Made no attempt to adhere to the schedule; it was completely moot.

Pro: Scheduled weekly internal meetings.
Con: Rescheduled or canceled most meetings with little advance notice; was absent from several meetings; meeting minutes routinely contained significant errors.  

Pro: Supplied me with contact information for client-selected SME.
Con: Failed to notify SME that he had been selected to consult on the project, so my initial call was a complete surprise. Failed to include SME in internal meetings and progress reports.

Pro: Provided me with a written SOW and contract for my services.
Con: Ignored the terms of payment detailed in the contract.

Pro: Assigned a team of graphic designers, animators, programmers, and editors to support my piece of the project.
Con: Failed to monitor their progress or hold them accountable to any standards, which resulted in loss of time and excessive costs.

Which parts of the PM process, if included, would have made the project more successful? Why?
  1. Project planning (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). If the PM had developed a clear and feasible project plan and held team members accountable, we would have been able to meet our deadlines.
  2. Reporting on project activities (Portny et al., 2008). The PM routinely “hid” from the client and other team members, waiting several days to return time sensitive calls and emails. Delayed communication resulted in missed deadlines, incomplete revisions, an unhappy client, and frustrated team members.
  3. Managing the accomplishment of objectives, within time and budget targets (Portny et al., 2008). The PM is responsible for planning, organizing, and controlling the project and the project team (Portny et al., 2008). Had she actually managed at all we may have been able to save the project and the client.
  4. Identifying tasks and phases necessary to complete the project (Greer, 2010). “Because projects are, by definition, temporary endeavors, it is essential to identify how each phase or collection of activities will be judged by stakeholders to be formally or officially completed” (Greer, 2010, p. 20). Although the PM identified the ultimate deliverables, she neglected the milestone deliverables along the way.
  5. Driving forward. The PM bears responsibility for tracking progress against objectives and intervening as necessary to “correct problems, remove obstacles, and keep the project moving as planned” (Greer, 2010, p. 31). This project became mired again and again; the client missed his schedule launch date, which caused him professional embarrassment and personal stress.

The PM created enough of a project shell that we had some successes throughout the project, most significantly that the client was very pleased with the design, content, and interactivity of the workshop. However, his dissatisfaction with the issues detailed herein prevailed, and he terminated the contract on the basis of non-performance.  

(Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc. 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E.
(2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Project Management in Education and Training

I'm kicking off a new experience in my journey to a Master's degree in Instructional Design and Technology. This term I am taking a course called Project Management in Education and Training. I'm looking forward to expanding my understanding of how we make projects tick, and I welcome you along for the ride.

Make a great day,

Sally Bacchetta