One of the most reported challenges in corporate learning is time management—specifically, how to reduce development cycle times for new training. Time is inextricably bound to money, so the longer a project drags on, the less cost effective its final product will be. In today’s on-demand world, there’s a heavy incentive to do things quickly without compromising quality and learning effectiveness. In fact, today’s learning professionals are expected to do things more quickly and better than ever. Is it possible? Absolutely—with an investment in upfront preparation and an ability to be flexible.
But first, let’s break down the development cycle into its most common phases:
Rather than lumping together hours throughout the duration of the project, track each phase in the development cycle separately, so you have a good sense of what parts of the process cost the most time and effort. For instance, you might find that while the delivery phase went faster than expected, there are major holdups in the process of communicating with SMEs (a common issue we’ll address below). This is valuable information! Rather than considering the course a failure, you can learn where you need to pad your timeline—and where you can expedite the process—so with relatively few tweaks, you can improve the process for the next project.
Here are some tips for each phase of the development cycle to help you save time and avoid unnecessary bottlenecks.
- Don’t try to cut corners on the training needs analysis. While you may feel eager to get into development (the “meat and potatoes” of the project), the questions you ask upfront are going to save you migraines later. There are L&D horror stories of huge investments in unnecessary training because of a lack of a needs analysis.
- Set up deadlines for the entire project now. One of the hardest parts about moving through the development cycle is getting on everyone’s calendar. Set up a timeline with long-term project deadlines for all stakeholders and experts now. The PM should also build in alerts to remind all players involved when their deadlines are approaching. A team that feels taken care of is most likely to do their best work, without the frantic rush of unexpected deadlines and last-minute requests.
- Give SMEs some leeway on their deadlines. Since SMEs are often tied into a number of projects at a time, their concept of deadlines can be more flexible than, say, a project manager’s. Need their content by February 20th? Tell them the deadline is February 2nd.
- Set boundaries for SME feedback. One of the most delicate parts of the SME/designer relationship is related to ownership of the material, and this tension can sometimes lead to lengthy back-and-forth communications over minor issues. One boundary some designers like to propose is a “no wordsmithing” rule: SMEs only review content and context, not minor language or grammatical choices.
- Use templates. Develop an eLearning library of template intro pages and basic templates for common interactions, which can be modified with each project, so you’re never starting from scratch. (There are plenty of free templates available online, too!)
- Build a repository of stock images and graphics. Design a basic question graphic for interactive screens, standard graphics that call out important information, and download all the free stock images you can find for your own personal library—this will save you time while designing the graphic look for the course.
- Use an LMS with automated options to reduce facilitator training time. When training eLearning instructors, one of the biggest uses of time is teaching them to use a new platform. A standard LMS like Moodle, which can automatically grade quizzes and even integrate SCORM-compliant modules (like those developed in Storyline), will cut this training down significantly.
- Tie the evaluation to the needs analysis. Remember that detailed training needs analysis from the beginning of the development cycle? It’s going to write the evaluation for you. The analysis identified all the training needs that should have been met. The evaluation is simply the question: Were they?
One last key factor to note is that each eLearning course is going to be different, and development timelines aren’t always equivalent to course length. A 15-minute module isn’t necessarily going to take half as much time as a 30-minute version—in fact, the design and development phase may be roughly the same. So while there are standard tips for each stage of the process, each project should be treated as a new, unique question to answer.