Courting Disaster in an Online Learning Project

I was involved with a technical online learning program. The idea was to take technical content and create short modules so that sales representatives would be more versed in all the company’s products. That way sales reps would be more attuned to possible solutions to customer problems that were outside their scope of expertise. The process was as follows:

  1. The instructional designer interviewed the SMEs with a set of predefined questions. The phone interviews were recorded for easy transcription to ensure all answers were captured completely.
  2. The instructional designer synthesized the answers to the questions and created a high level design.
  3. The SME reviewed the high level design and adjusted the content as needed.
  4. The instructional designer created a storyboard based on the high level design.
  5. The SME reviewed the storyboard and once again changes were made as needed.
  6. The approved the storyboard.
  7. The storyboard was sent to the programmers who built a course using Articulate Storyboard.
  8. The course was sent to the instructional designer for review, changes, and approval.
  9. Once the instructional designer approved the course, it was sent to the SME for approval.
  10. Once the SME approved the course, it was considered complete.

This process worked well until the co-project manager stepped in and decided to use offshore programmers. This project manager was not familiar with online learning and he initiated new rules which prohibited creativity and made programming easier for his offshore group. I would send my storyboard to the programmers and I would get a module that looked nothing like my storyboard. The programmers obviously had no instructional design experience. They completely changed my screens. They had redundant wording and audio; the narrator was essentially reading the screen. These modules were supposed to be considered nearly completed except for a few adjustments.

I had to send feedback to the programmers that they must follow the storyboard. They would make minor changes and essentially send me the same module. I was so frustrated. I went to the other project manager and asked why I was even bothering to create a storyboard since the programmers didn’t follow it. The programmers were told to follow the storyboard. They had used up their allotted hours and wanted to charge for adjusting the modules. They were told they would not be paid for the incorrect modules. The situation was a mess. The modules were due and there was no time to find new programmers.

I spent twice as much time as I should have in reviewing the modules. I was one of six instructional designers. They, too, spent extra time reviewing their modules. The others faced the same programmer issues that I did. The scope didn’t just creep, the amount of work almost doubled because the programmers would not follow the storyboards and work had to be redone. The project was way over budget, the instructional designers were frustrated and the customer was not happy with the delay.

What could have been done differently? We had a good process and good programmers; why change? I would not have given the co-project manager so much leverage. Even though the current programmers were stretched, the work was getting done and quality modules were produced. I would not have added new programmers in the middle of a project. I would not have initiated new rules in the middle of a project. It would have been better to give the new programmers a trail period; if they didn’t work out, find other programmers. When so many variables are changed in the middle of a running project, nothing but problems ensue. There was no reason to change other than the co-project manager wanted to use his programmers. Perhaps there were politics going on of which I was unaware; regardless, it was a disaster.


8 thoughts on “Courting Disaster in an Online Learning Project

  1. I think we all have been on a project that is very frustrating and it is a wonder a company can function when decisions are made that hinder and do not help the final product to be successful. I wonder why the other project manager permitted the change? Did you ever have a debrief after it was all over? It seems that would have been an appropriate time to discuss this type of incident and point out the issues that it caused.


  2. I fully understand what has been taking place in your situation. It is quite obvious that the co-project manager authoritatively implement another software that should not have been used. It is also evident that there is miscommunication-taking place among the team members. It seems to be a very chaotic situation-taking place and it is evident that the correct procedure did not take place in the initial phases of this project. Now I can see why your title is stated that way. Gundlach (2013) expressed that it is essential that effective team communication occur throughout the project in order to minimize misunderstanding and unnecessary delays. Environments that foster effective communication provide the foundation for building the synergy needed to ensure timely and successful project completion.

    You stated your frustration and you having to make unnecessary input that should have been avoided if the proper procedures were implemented. This resulted in you having to spend twice as much time in reviewing the modules. There is clearly signs of chaos and miscommunication. I think they should have established an environment that is conducive for fostering better communication. In this particular situation, I think the decisions made should be in the interest of the project and the project team; not for any particular individual. It is great that you have learnt from this project and these lessons will equip you with the skills needed to better take on situations like this in the future.


    Gundlach, M. (2013). Resource management- Team Communication is Essential. Retrieved from on August 08, 2015


  3. WOW! I certainly identified with your statement and feelings when you stated “…. why I was even bothering to create a storyboard since the programmers didn’t follow it.”, it could certainly make you feel as if your team member s undermine the importance of you and your work. Do you think it would have been beneficial to discuss the importance of the instructional designer and the role you play in the project with the manager.Additionally, discussing with the project manager and co- pm how proper application of ID can aid in ease in project process. Great blog post.


  4. The situation you described really is a mess, even though I try to refrain from using such descriptive language.

    It does sound like the decision to use offshore programmers was either poorly thought over or resulted from co-project manager’s personal reasons. One of the good things about eLearning is the fact that you don’t really need a programming background to put together high quality materials. Actually, I would say an experience in learning behaviours is definitely more important.

    I hope this kind of a situation will not happen to you again.


    • Hi John,
      I had an opportunity to talk to the good project manager (GPM) on that project. I was telling her how I was using the situation for discussion posts. I asked her why the other guy was assigned. Apparently it was because the client was causing problems for her. The client contact was lying about GPM and trying to save his job. The client contact did lose his job but the bad project manager also caused problems. The bad project manager will not be put in charge of any more online learning projects. Thankfully!


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