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A Fresh Approach to e-Learning Project Management

Deanna SedivyDeanna Sedivy, studio producer

I have always had a knack for planning – from laying out my school clothes during grammar school to organizing social events and activities in high school and college. Famous for my “To Do” lists, I was, and still am, the go-to-gal for orchestrating the actions necessary to make something happen. In college, my sorority sisters even dubbed me the “cruise director”.

When I first began my career as a project manager, I thought every plan had to be executed just as it was originally planned. Hiccups in the road would inevitably send my blood pressure through the roof and kick off a series of panic attacks.

Arriving at Allen Interactions, I was introduced to Dr. Allen’s philosophy and process of managing e-learning projects. The process is Successive Approximation (SAVVY) and is built on the philosophical foundation of projects taking an ‘Iterative’ approach.

Many people believe the SAVVY process and iterative approach are what define Allen Interactions’ instructional design model. But in fact, even though the process is a big part of making successful e-learning, it is a process, and not a design model. 

In the context of managing e-learning projects, Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning introduces Successive Approximation and addresses how success is made by “making repeated small steps rather than perfectly executed giant steps (pg. 111).” The iterative approach (pg. 112) continually seeks to move one step closer to the final product with each milestone.

Savvy Process

I’ll be honest with you, when I first learned about the SAVVY process I was a bit nervous. Okay, a lot nervous! The control-freak in me was not comfortable with the concept of throwing out a meticulously planned project. However, as I worked through my first few SAVVY projects, I came to the realization that a process which is not responsive to adjustments and changes is asking for trouble. In the management of e-learning projects, or any project, the most important aspect is responsiveness to people, the design and the deliverables.  I am not saying there doesn’t need to be a plan but rather the plan needs to expect iterations.

In traditional project management, it seems the entire focus of the job becomes obtaining sign-offs on even the most minute (“next steps”) before moving forward. This overly inflexible, unresponsive approach can lead to:

  • An increase in bureaucratic issues
  • An increased focus on documentation
  • A decrease in creativity
  • An increased desire to seek agreement versus brainstorming and discussion
  • Increased costs because improvements are not realized until it is too late

In my opinion, the best project plan is one that can keep things moving forward while providing enough review and revisions at the appropriate times in order to increase the quality of the solution while also minimizing the risk of budget or timeline issues. Good project management within the iterative process is measured by the ability to be dynamic and flexible – making adjustments and coming up with new solutions in real time.  In my upcoming posts, I intend to delve deeper into our Successive Approximation process and how it can be applied to a variety of instructional development projects. 

So, how responsive is your process? Please share.

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