Building a Base – Communication and ISD Project Management

As I’ve been examining the relationship between instructional design and project management, I’ve examined many critical facets.


Critical Components

For a project management approach to effectively support instructional design, strong analysis has to take place on both fronts.

Instructional designers have to carefully and critically analyze the needs of learners and of the environment or goals that instruction is designed to support.

They have to understand the learners themselves, and they have to be able to articulate the learning tasks required in order for the implementation of the instructional design to be successful. They have to understand the development process and the roles of all the players involved. Design documents must clearly articulate the goals, instructional events, measurement standards, and development needs for an instructional design project.

Project managers, on the other hand, have to carefully and critically analyze the project itself.

They have to understand the stakeholders, the goals of the project, and the limits within which the project must be completed. They have to understand and be able to articulate the scope of a project and the many different tasks required to complete it.

Not only that, but project managers have to be able to predict in a quantifiable way whether the project can be completed within the allotted budget and time. Project management documents must clearly articulate all of this.


Communication is Critical

Clearly, communication is an absolutely critical piece of the puzzle.

As an instructional designer tasked with project management, I understand the intrinsic value of design and project tracking documents. Through the act of doing the thinking and the work it takes to create them, instructional design project managers gain insight and deep understanding of the design project itself. But the documents aren’t just for the designer/manager. The documents have to COMMUNICATE so that stakeholders can understand and effectively contribute to the design project.

One of the tricky things about communicating with stakeholders is that there are different bits and levels of information that different stakeholders need.


High-level executives don’t need to understand the nitty gritty detail of a project. They don’t need to know how many multiple choice items need to be developed, or how many rounds of edits each piece of content must go through before being finalized. They don’t need to know which sources are used for research on the project, and they don’t need to know every task on every team member’s to-do list. Rather, they need to know the general scope of the project, its budget and timeline, and the general benefits of project completion for the organization.

Content writers and other production team members don’t need to know the high-level budget for a project, and they don’t really need to know every nitty gritty task and detail on every other writer’s list. But they do need clear priorities, deadlines, and task lists for their own contributions to the project.

One of the challenges I’ve faced as an instructional designer turned project manager lies in this very arena. I’m still exploring and learning tools and methods for communicating with all the appropriate stakeholders, providing each of them with exactly the information they need, no more, no less.


Need to Know

I think what I’m learning is this:

An instructional design project manager has to be able to swing like a pendulum between the very broad, high-level aspects of a project (overall goals and scope, timeline, and resources) all the way down to the minutia. And all of the facets of a project must be documented and communicated.

But moreso, just as an instructional designer must analyze the needs of a learner, and a project manager must analyze the needs of stakeholders, they must also analyze the information and communication needs of their various audiences. The documents created must communicate on the appropriate level for each group of stakeholders, and they must neither overload the recipient with too much detailed information nor leave out critical pieces.



What I have designed as my attempt at a solution is a series of documents that work in a hierarchical fashion.

We have the high-level program outline and scope and sequence for the curriculum, which list the overall unit themes and the primary targeted skills.

We have the unit outlines and template designs, which list and describe each instructional segment within each larger unit.

We have the overall project schedules, which provide estimated completion dates for the project milestones by unit.

We also have the detailed task lists and to-dos which provide priorities and estimated completion dates for each smaller segment of the program. Everything is broken down into three categories – high, mid, and detail leveled information. This way, the documents I’ve created can be interpreted by the right group of stakeholders.



In addition, I’m exploring the value of Basecamp in supporting communication at these varying levels.

By creating and tracking a project at a high level, I can communicate with executives and other high-level stakeholders. By creating and tracking a project at the task level, I can communicate with and monitor progress among the individual team members.

And by empowering team members to use Basecamp to create their own projects (projects within a project, if you will), I am empowering them to monitor their own progress and also encourage them not to skip critical tasks.

I am very interested to discover the ways in which the use of a transparent, real-time communication tool such as Basecamp can help to ensure that all stakeholders have access to the appropriate levels of information regarding the larger instructional design project.



Clark, D. (2011, September 26). ADDIE. Retrieved from Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition:

Cox, D. M. (2009). Project Management Skills for Instructional Designers. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Culatta, R. (2011). Instructional Design. Retrieved August 30, 2012, from ADDIE Model:

Gordon, A. (2012). ID Roles and Responsibilities. Retrieved from Gordon Computer:

Hodell, C. (2011). ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design. Chelsea, MI: Sheridan Books, Inc.

Istation. (2012, June). Istation Reading. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from Istation:

One thought on “Building a Base – Communication and ISD Project Management”

  1. Great example of the pendulum swinging between PM and ID!

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