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Project Management 101: Staying Sane


Nine Tips for Ramping Up and Maintaining a Large Team

For the past 15 months, I’ve been managing an extremely large project for a health services organization and have been revamping instructor-led associate-degree-level courses into a blended solution in a mobile and virtual-friendly format. Our tight knit team of 30+ instructional designers, programmers, media developers, editors, and graphic designers are tasked with transforming approximately 2,000 learning objects (unique deliverables), including more than 500 lessons, into Articulate Rise. Now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, Dawn, that’s a lot of people and deliverables to keep track of! How are you doing it and staying sane?” Very good question!

First and most importantly, Innovative Learning Group has very experienced project managers who’ve ramped up large teams before, so I always have someone to bounce ideas off of. Given the extensive scope of the project, I’m continually learning not only about ramping up a team but also about maintaining it. As you can imagine, maintaining a cohesive team for such a large endeavor for more than a year can be daunting, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned.

The Tips

(1) Welcome Message. If the project team is expected to grow over time, create a templated welcome onboarding message. Items to consider including in this template are:

  • Recording of group onboarding meeting
  • Project SharePoint links that are specific to the project/shared by the client
  • Project SharePoint links that are specific to the internal project team (e.g., hours tracking)

(2) Style Guide. Start a project-specific style guide as early as possible. I recommend creating one style guide that includes both instructional design notes as well as media development considerations. By combining these into one document, it’s easier to update and allows each role to have a better understanding of what, why, and how the other team roles are working.

(3) Standardize the Workflow. And be sure everyone adheres to it. Ideally you can capture much of your workflow process and document it. You can also include this information in your style guide if it applies to the entire team. For example, on a project where the team is expected to grow, you may have a subset of the team designated to onboard the new team member. Who grants the new team member SharePoint permissions? How is permission requested? Who alerts the new team member once they’re added? Who adds the new team member to the project tracker, etc.? This might not seem important, but when there are many work streams across a large project, a workflow that’s prepared ahead of time will allow you to continue to move forward seamlessly.

(4) Prototype. Set up a prototype for each deliverable format as early as possible. On this project, the client was hesitant to approve a prototype during the design phase. There were still some marketing decisions to be made as well as other eventualities expected to impact the look and feel of the final deliverables. What to do?

With such a large team getting, it would have been crazy to let everyone develop their own format only to redo everything once the prototype was approved. I can confirm that would not get a check in the “how to stay sane column.”

What did we do? We developed a generic prototype with typical standards and required the team to develop to it. Once the client approved the official prototype with all look-and-feel elements, it was an easy lift to retrofit anything that had already been developed.

(5) Check-ins. Schedule regular check-ins. Depending on the size of the team, a check-in with the client only and a separate check-in with internal team members may be best.

Get creative with team check-ins if you need to. For this project, I alternated group touch-base meetings one week and then planned for 15 minute 1:1 check-ins on the alternating weeks. To manage the large number of team members for the 1:1 check-ins, I scheduled large chucks of time dubbed “office hours” and assigned 15-minute chunks throughout that time, including a few “open” spots for drop-ins. This was akin to grade school teacher open house or parent-teacher meetings.

(6) Wellness. Don’t underestimate the importance of being mindful of the wellness of your team members. No, I’m not talking about invading health privacy or micromanaging their work-life balance. We can’t be all things to all people, but pay attention if you see someone sending emails at 2 a.m. who never did before. Is someone missing meetings or not sending their status reports? Check in with them… as in, “Are you OK? I saw you were sending emails at two in the morning, and this is unusual for you. Let me know if you’re having a challenge with the current workload or in meeting scheduled deadlines.”

Another approach, “I know you committed to work 30 hours a week on this project, but you’ve only been averaging 20-25 hours. Let me know if something has changed or if you aren’t sure what other tasks are required to reach 30 hours.”

Bottom line, assume the best, not the worst, and seek to understand.

(7) Decision Makers. Identify client “leads” who are decision makers (as few as possible). Identify “senior” members of the internal project team who can help manage/coach portions of the project or project team (role-specific).

(8) Quality-Schedule-Budget. Identify THE priority on the quality-schedule-budget continuum. “Yes” is the answer every client wants to hear, but typically one of these is the true driving factor. On this project, we had immovable deadlines, which were attainable until the scope of the project increased. Yes, more people could be added to the team, but more people meant more budget. Or you could have fewer review cycles, which could potentially impact the quality. In this case, the client kept the deadline as the priority, approved the budget increase to onboard more team members, and adjusted the number of review cycles to meet the deadline.

(9) Technology. Depending on the project, are there ways to use technology to increase the speed to completion? For instance, on this project we looked into using AI for transcribing Zoom meetings and using WellSaid for course narration.

Additionally, take advantage of software you have on hand or that you’re familiar with. Before investing in new project management software with a lot of bells and whistles, have you fully taken advantage of all the features of the software you own? For example, SharePoint, which ILG already uses, has many features that can help track deliverable status or the role of assigned team members. It allows you to create a structure with a status field, assign deliverables to a review que, or prompt next steps. These features proved to be indispensable while managing the 2,000 deliverables in this project.

As this phase of the project wraps up I’m pleased to say that aside from a few small bumps in the road, these nine tips greatly helped me stay sane and have become part of my regular team project checklist. If you have any other tips for ramping up and maintaining large teams, I’d love to hear them!

A woman and some of her coworkers smiling while working in a computer lab.

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