Have you worked with an L&D project manager? You probably just said no. In our industry, it’s common for members of the design team to take on not only the roles of designer and developer, but also project manager. Adding a PM to your team that is well-versed in learning development has many benefits.

First, what is an L&D project manager?

You’ve probably heard of project managers, but what do they do exactly? A project manager is responsible for ensuring all aspects of a project stay on track. This includes tracking budgets, ensuring tasks are completed on time, coordinating the handoff of deliverables between teams (design, QA, reviewers), and handling any conflicts that may arise. The PM will also be responsible for handling all project communications. Throughout the project, the PM will be watching for any red flags and can be proactive in handling these as they arise. I bet a lot of IDs reading this just thought, “Wow, those are all the things I don’t like dealing with!”

Remove the burden from your instructional designers

Design and project management require two very different skillsets. Some IDs don’t possess (or have an interest in learning) project management skills. And that’s ok! Even for those who are skilled at both, switching between these two mindsets can be a challenge. How many times have you been “in the zone” while working on a deliverable, only to be interrupted by a Teams or Slack message asking for an update? Having one person dedicated to managing the details of the project allows the designers on the project to stay in their creative mindset. It also cuts down on steps or milestones being overlooked because someone was focusing on getting the content created—and not on watching the calendar.

Bringing your team together

An L&D project manager will have a background in learning development, which allows them to be a sounding board and provide oversight of the creative aspects of the project. Have you ever tried to proofread something you wrote, only to realize later you overlooked a mistake? Sometimes we’re just too close to our own work to view it objectively. The project manager can not only push each instructional designer to think outside the box by providing individual feedback and ideas, but they also work to ensure the project shows consistency across each deliverable. Their role is to act as a binding force between the individual contributors to ensure collaboration is taking place at the right times.

Your PM will have the big picture view and works a lot like the conductor in an orchestra, ensuring each group knows when it’s their time to work their magic. In any given day, a project manager might be working with instructional designers, SMEs, developers, graphic designers, voiceover artists, QCers, SMEs, stakeholders, accounting, and more! They function as the central point of communication, so nobody has to wonder if Person A did this or Person B finished that.

They take on the “hard stuff”

They also function as the “enforcer” of the project. How many times has an extra review cycle slipped in? Or a new reviewer is added mid-project that blows things up? Had a request for “just a small change” that wasn’t actually small? Many of us dread having these types of conversations with our stakeholders. Pushing back on your stakeholders requires a careful balance, and project managers are trained in how and when to bring up these topics. A skilled PM will come to the table with solutions to ensure the project continues to meet milestones, and they’ll know how to negotiate changes to project scope when necessary. This helps ensure there are no last-minute surprises, and keeps projects running smoothly, on-time, and on-budget.

So… what do you want to look for in an L&D project manager?

You might think your best bet is to look for someone who has a PM certification. While these are fantastic to show a candidate really knows the “PM stuff,” I’d recommend considering their L&D knowledge first. Learning development is a very niche industry, and someone coming from product development or construction project management is going to need a long runway to ramp up on the L&D cycle. One of the first things I like to explore is what their idea of the perfect development cycle is, and where they expect to run into common pitfalls. This will give you a great understanding of what their L&D IQ is. From there, determine how they prefer to communicate with both internal team members and external stakeholders. How do they check in on a contributor’s progress? In what ways are they tracking and communicating upcoming milestones? Are their methods in line with your company culture?

Get ready to have your mind blown!

Once you have an L&D project manager on your team, you’ll likely wonder how your projects ran without one. Removing the stress of managing the details will allow your individual contributors the freedom to focus on their creativity, and you’ll often see an increase in their productivity. You’ll likely also notice improved communication across the team and with stakeholders, as you now have someone dedicated to updating each person with the right level of information.

If you don’t currently work with a project manager, I hope this has given you some food for thought. Project managers add a wealth of value to your instructional design team, and I often hear how happy our creative team is to have someone on their side managing the details. Have you recently added a PM to your team? I’d love to hear how your experience has been!