Success Factors: Instructional D3 Projects

What does the instructional development project need in order to be successful? The answer from anyone who has studied project management might include such items as:

  • an appropriately sized budget;
  • a schedule with enough time;
  • human resources with the applicable skill sets;
  • a development plan that considers risk; and
  • a communication plan.

If you were thinking about these success factors you might be a project manager as these are right out of a Project Management 101 course and apply to all projects. However, let's focus specifically on instructional development projects.

Instructional development projects are made up of many roles but in particular, they have Subject Matter Experts or SMEs. SMEs participate at different levels: content review, content input, and/or content development. SMEs are key in assessing the quality and completeness of the instructional content before they are presented. The success factor linked to SMEs is their willingness to participate in the project. Do the SMEs have a vested interest?

When I reflect on the instructional development projects in which I had an active role, the project's success hinged on the SMEs fulfilling their role. Some of the challenges SMEs can introduce into a project when they are not vested include:

  • schedule impacts (missing deadlines) and
  • quality impacts (providing content that is not sufficient to meet the quality needs of the project).
This might look like a short list but impacts to schedule and quality can have a tremendous ripple affect that spans beyond project completion. For example, if the instructional product does not meet quality standards, it might not sell thus impacting revenue.

What needs to be in place in order to help ensure SMEs are vested? Money? Believe it or not, money is not always the answer. Just because the SMEs are paid, it doesn't mean they can or want to meet the required level of quality for the product or can accommodate the required schedule. About now you might be thinking, just use other SMEs. Maybe. The catch is, multiple SMEs on certain topics are not always easy to find, especially if the topic is not commonly known.

Observation indicates that SMEs become vested when they possess one or more of the following:

  • the desire to teach or share what they know so that others may learn;
  • the desire to be viewed positively by their peers;
  • the ability to feel comfortable allowing others to shape the content they contribute into something different than what they would do; and
  • the time to commit.
The negative perspective of any one condition might create challenges on the project and should be avoided up front if at all possible.

Instructional development projects are not that different from systems development projects or any product development project. However, on instructional projects, SMEs seem to be the most critical factor and thus warrant some reflection and consideration.