Spot the Difference: Agile Project Management for eLearning Vs. Software Development

agile project management for elearning

Keeping pace with organizational change and the constant demand for effective training is a core concern for L&D. Indeed, Agile Learning, along with the associated project management features, can help to overcome these challenges based on one key attribute: collaboration.

Agile methodologies support evaluation at each iteration. Evaluation forces teams to collaborate, and such collaboration invariably leads to higher transparency, increased engagement, and ultimately, stronger quality of the end result.

In attempts to borrow models from other instructional design models and disciplines, some L&D teams have leaned on more traditional Agile models originally created for software development in attempts to apply them to instructional design and project management processes.


Want more industry expertise on Agile Learning? Check out this on-demand webinar recording with Megan Torrance, author of Agile for Instructional Designers:
Harnessing Change: Agile Methods for L&D

How Agile for eLearning and Software Development are alike

Project management for eLearning and project management for software development both share striking similarities. Let’s have a look.

1. Blended resources

Team dynamics and availability are critical to the success of Agile. Both groups involve teams that are most likely working with blended resources: employees who are both part-time and full-time, in-house and contract, in the office or remote, or other statuses.

While this might be the norm of many workplaces nowadays, this becomes a challenge under tight deadlines to deliver a product that will be used by dozens and sometimes thousands of people. Agile methodologies take into account the variability in availability and status of the human capital assigned to a project.

2. Uniqueness of skill sets

In both L&D and software development, some team members are the only ones who can complete certain deliverables. For a learning project, this can mean a particular subject matter expert and in software development, it could be an expert in databases or front-end development.

The ability to project manage knowing that only one person on the team can produce the output needed for that particular stage or module in the project requires a different approach to managing. The project leader needs to grasp a deeper understanding of the time and resources needed for that expert to complete their tasks, and how that could affect the overall project timeline. Agile methodologies come to the rescue for such situations.

3. Connected deliverables

Further to the idea of working with unique contributors is another similarity in both learning projects and software development: some deliverables are reliant on others in order for the next step in the project to advance.

That deliverables are dependent and connected can wear down a project significantly. Agile methodologies take this project interdependence under consideration when mapping out, tracking, and managing the process.

4. User experience and empathy

Yet another similarity between the two is that both create final products that are consumed by large groups of employees who are not in the L&D or software engineering departments.

As such, both groups need to develop their products with user experience and empathy in mind. In the early Analysis phases, and continuing every step of the way, instructional designers and software developers need to “move away” from themselves and think, “Would a user understand this feature or module?”

Agile project management principles have this built in, as collaboration and iteration at several steps of the way ensures that user experience is addressed so that the end product will truly be effective and resonate with users.

5. Obsolescence

A final similarity between the two is that the final products of L&D and software development are (sadly) ephemeral: they have a fleeting shelf life or obsolescence.

As frustrating as this is, it’s important to understand this from the get-go. Both eLearning and technology leaders want to “future-proof” their products and Agile project management strategies ensure that projects get completed on time (or even faster), thereby delaying potential obsolescence.

Agile Project Management for eLearning and ADDIE

Should Agile project management for eLearning processes and methodologies replace a more traditional instructional design model, such as ADDIE?

Both can peacefully coexist. The ADDIE model does not require significant adaptations towards a more Agile-based philosophy.

On the surface, both ADDIE and Agile might seem different, but as pointed out above on the similarities to how L&D and software development teams use Agile, both approaches rely on collaborating to review and iterating in order to improve the products as team members proceed through the project.


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Easing into Agile Learning

For many L&D teams, a shift towards Agile project management for eLearning can mean throwing out existing processes completely and starting from scratch. With that much change, so team members might be hesitant or resistant to embracing a new methodology.

However, it does not have to be this way. When learning leaders can demonstrate the increases in quality, thanks to Agile methodologies and how that higher-quality product can impact the performance of employees consuming that learning project, team members will get on board.

Many teams assume that a process’s efficiency will dictate the quality of the final product. The more efficient the process, the better the end result, the thinking goes. However, efficiency is a poor measure or signal of quality, as some processes take weeks and other take days (or even hours). Instead, learning leaders can demonstrate the value of the impact of Agile project management or Agile Learning principles.

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Spot the Difference: Agile Project Management for eLearning Vs. Software Development