Do One Small Thing Really Well At a Time

As an instructional designer, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the amount of work that I need to accomplish in a project. If you look at a project holistically, you may get that feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff. In a typical eLearning project, there might be hundreds or even thousands of objects, multimedia, narration, job aids, and so on. In most cases all of these objects are designed and developed by a very small group of people, sometimes just yourself. This can cause a great deal of anxiety that will prevent you from moving forward, and that’s just one project at a time. Imagine having two or three projects with competing timelines or deadlines.

I don’t do well under these circumstances so I have devised a method to deal with it. I say ‘I’ but I didn’t invent something new. It’s really just project management, but here is what I do. I break a project down to the smallest of tasks possible. Sure that seems obvious, but I mean really break it down. For example, one of the very first tasks in designing and developing a course is to meet with the stakeholder and discuss the business objectives of training. That seems like a small enough chunk, but how does that event happen? Well you have to break it down further. Perhaps just that one item is actually the following items:

  1. Identify who the stakeholders for a project are (it may not always be obvious, and it may not be the person requesting the training).
  2. Write an agenda for the initial meeting so that the stakeholder can come prepared to answer your questions.
  3. Consider or ask stakeholders if subject matter experts should be invited to the initial meeting (can be dictated by the complexity of the proposed training).
  4. Find available meeting space.
  5. Send a meeting invite that includes the agenda to the stakeholder and any identified subject matter experts.

As you can see, turning the one item into five or more items can be beneficial. It can take the stress away of looking at a project from a thousand miles up, but also make it very clear what you need to do next. Before I used this method, I would often run idle, in that I wasn't sure what to do next. I would waste time and not progress as rapidly as I could have. If you look at any one of these tasks above, you can see they are really easy, most of them could be accomplished in as short a time as a few minutes or less. For example, step one could be a phone call or two; step two is a few minutes using a Microsoft agenda template and considering the questions you would have to begin an analysis; step three could probably be piggy-backed on one of the phone calls you might make for step one; and steps four and five again are just a few minutes in Microsoft Outlook.

I look at all of this and consider that even if you save yourself only a day over the course of a month or so, imagine what you can do to improve your design if you had an extra day to improve your course. I know I've been in situations where an extra day is all it would take to meet or exceed my customer’s expectation of me, or to go from good eLearning to really great eLearning.

I hope you find my thoughts on this topic useful. If you find that this method makes sense, or you have tried it and have a way to improve it, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment below so we can all benefit by your ideas.