How To Kick Off an eLearning Project Like a Pro - A Detailed Guide
The kickoff meeting is critical for completing a successful eLearning project. The purpose of the meeting is to learn about the client’s needs, offer suggestions, and make a plan. This article explains how Instructional Designers and training professionals can do this in a way that increases credibility and manages expectations.
Before the meeting, get as much information as you can about the client and project, (e.g., scope, deadline, budget, needs analysis, content). If you can get the content deck and needs analysis, compare documents to see if any information is missing. Review the content deck to learn about the topic and determine its level of complexity. Prepare a list of questions and suggestions to discuss at the meeting.
The Kickoff Meeting
Ideally, all stakeholders on the project will attend this meeting, including the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), course owners, and relevant members of the training department.
The kickoff meeting is meant to gather information about the project and develop a plan for moving forward. This is not the time to discuss the content in detail unless you have pressing questions. It’s helpful to keep a checklist to make sure everything is covered and the meeting stays on track.
Even if you received some information beforehand, it’s best to confirm what you have during the meeting to make sure everyone agrees.
After meeting introductions, gather information about their eLearning needs and review process.
What are their eLearning needs and expectations?
What is driving this training?
What is the deadline? Is this a firm deadline?
What is the budget?
What is in scope/out of scope?
Who is the audience? How much do they already know about this topic?
Do they want bells and whistles or a simple design?
Do they want voiceover narration?
Is there a style guide? Who will supply the images?
Will this training be translated into other languages?
What Is The Review Process?
The review process is critical for managing deadlines. The more levels of review, the longer it will take to release the training. Make sure you get this information upfront so you can estimate timelines and avoid surprises.
Who Will Be Reviewing This Training?
Determine how many people will be involved in the review process and ask for their names and roles. If the client hasn’t identified all reviewers yet (which is often the case), stress the importance of doing this and follow up after the meeting.
Do they need upper management approval? Will there be a legal review? If so, how long does it take? Endorsement from upper management and legal could add weeks to the timeline.
Sometimes clients say they have sole authority for approving and releasing the training. In my 20 years of experience, I have found this rarely to be true. Even if they do have full authority, most will seek buy-in from others right before the training is to be released. So, build extra padding in the timeline to account for this.
What Is The Testing Process Before Going Live?
Most companies have a testing process before they release the training. Depending on the size of the company and the importance of the training, this process can range from one final reviewer (e.g., an LMS administrator) to a pilot group of employees. Make sure to account for the time needed for testing and potential changes.
Once you’ve gathered the information needed, it’s time to voice your opinions or concerns about the project (if any):
Is their deadline realistic? For example, do they want the eLearn to be completed in one month, but require several levels of review before release? Sometimes, the client isn’t fully aware of what it takes to complete a project, especially the time needed for feedback and multiple drafts.
If you think the deadline is unrealistic, give them your estimate of a reasonable timeline and explain why.
“Based on the length and complexity of the content, I believe we’ll need three months to complete this project. I’m estimating that it will take a month to create and review multiple storyboard drafts, two weeks for a legal review, a month for production, and two weeks for testing.”
You can also inform the client about typical issues that hold up the development process, such as waiting for feedback and gathering missing content. Explain that you’re aware that their other job responsibilities may sometimes take priority over this eLearning project.
If the client still won’t move the deadline or agree to your time estimate, offer to submit a detailed timeline in writing after the meeting. I find that clients are more willing to extend the deadline once they see everything required to complete and release the training. If they still won’t budge, you may want to consider passing on the project. Know the difference between a tight deadline and an impossible one.
Does their budget reconcile with their design expectations? If they have high-end tastes with a small budget, let them know what you can do for them within their budget.
“We won’t be able to create an elaborate graphic design with this budget, but we can make the slides look professional and appealing. I’ll pull up some examples and send them to you after the meeting.”
“This budget will not allow us to shoot a video on-site, but we can create a professional video using stock footage.”
“We will not be able to create an immersive simulation with this budget, but we can add some simple activities to engage your learners.”
If you have seen the content, now is the time to point out any subject areas missing from the deck. Sometimes, the client is not aware of these content gaps and how this can delay the project. You should discuss a strategy for getting the remaining information.
“After reviewing the content deck and needs analysis, I noticed that _______ topics are not included. Do you have information to send me on these topics? If not, we can set up meetings for me to interview the SMEs to get this information. I could also research some of this information online. Please keep in mind that this will add to the timeline.”
If you have not seen the content, make sure to ask the client if the content is ready and if there is anything outstanding. Keep in mind that no matter what they say, you will ultimately decide how complete the content is once you review what they send you.
After discussing any concerns, make recommendations for the eLearn based on the information you’ve learned from the meeting.
“Since you will be translating this eLearn into multiple languages, I recommend that we do not include a voiceover in this training. This will be much easier and more cost-effective for the translation team.”
“I suggest we add some sales scenarios to the eLearn, so learners can apply their new skills. I’ll work with you to develop the content for the scenarios.”
“I suggest we split this software training into several microlearning videos and upload these videos to Articulate Rise. This will make it easier for learners to reference the tasks they need to learn before using the software.
Educate The Team About The Development Process
Assuming everyone’s on board with the deadline and deliverables, you should then explain the development process. This is another opportunity to manage expectations and establish your expertise.
“Here are the steps in the development process.
After the meeting, I’ll submit a work order and set a timeline with project milestones.
When the work order is approved, I’ll meet with the SMEs to discuss the content.
I’ll create a detailed outline that covers the course topics and learning objectives. I’ll also note any remaining content gaps. This outline will be submitted for SME approval.
Once the outline is approved, I’ll create storyboard drafts with graphics and a script. I'll submit two or three drafts for SME approval and then to upper management and legal if needed.
Once the storyboards are final, I will begin the production process. This includes programming the software, recording the voiceover, and syncing the animations.
When the training is ready, the team can test the live version in the LMS. If needed, I will make edits before the training is released."
Tell the SMEs that their feedback is critical to the development process and meeting the project deadline. If the deadline is tight, explain that there is little room for delay or missing a milestone. Recommend that they submit their edits within a certain time frame (e.g., one week).
After explaining your process (which may be different than the example above), ask the team if they have any questions. Set up regular meetings to ensure the project stays on track. These meetings can be weekly or every two weeks, depending on the deadline and everyone’s schedule.
After the meeting, send the team an email summarizing the training expectations and next steps. Ask if they have any changes or additions to your summary to make sure everyone is on board with the plan.
I've found that these tips have helped me launch eLearning projects that are more likely to meet or exceed expectations, avoid scope creep, and stay on budget. Do you have any tips for eLearning project kickoff meetings? If so, please mention them in the comments.
Note: This article was first posted on elearningindustry.com on October 22, 2020.
Natalie Sikes is an accomplished learning consultant with 20 years of experience developing training programs for corporate, legal, and non-profit organizations. To learn more, visit www.sikesdesigns.com or email email@example.com.