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Yes, This is How Long It Takes: Managing Client Expectations

Clients who are new to eLearning are often surprised when I show them the schedule for production/development. Weeks for just one video? Months for a course that's only 10 modules long? How can that be?

And while there may be ways to cut down that time frame, such as bringing on additional resources or cutting complex multimedia builds, often, my answer is "this is what it takes."

Having these conversations with Clients can be scary. You might feel like you're going to lose the Client, or that you're going to harm the relationship. But that's simply not true. These conversations are necessary.

Your Client is relying on your expertise, and that includes a fair assessment of the project timeline. Most Clients will accept the timeline if you can provide sound reasoning.

So what should you do if it's evident that it's going to take longer to produce eLearning than your Client wanted?

Show Your Work

If you get pushback at first, a conversation about how the process works and past experience usually yields an acknowledgment that "yes, this is how long it will take."

Even when it seems like you're not being efficient, don't stray from evidence-based metrics. It is better to turn in work early than to grossly underestimate what it takes to complete a project.

If they have a deadline, start from the end and work your way backwards to figure out what it will take to complete the project and whether or not that's feasible.

Give the Client a schedule or Gantt chart showing every step of the review process, marking out major milestones and turnovers, to help them see how all of the little components add up.

Talk About SME Responsibility

On the projects I've worked on over the last 7 years, the #1 factor that slows down development is actually SME availability.

There are 4 major SME-related issues that can derail a project timeline.

1. Most Clients forget to factor in the back and forth that takes place between the SME and ID to get the content just right. They often underestimate the effort it takes to strategize the approach and review every element of the course.

The more complex the subject matter, the more complex the review. When I worked on A320 training, a 5 minute video script could take a whole day to review because every single display screen had to be carefully assessed for accuracy, and each of those screens could have dozens of indicators that changed several times in a few seconds. Any time a change was required, the SME would have to work with someone to get reference photos taken from their simulator. This proposed another challenge, as simulators are very expensive and thus booked nearly 24/7 with students.

2. Clients tend to forget that, typically, the SME has a full-time job and may not always be available for reviews or data-gathering 24/7.

3. SMEs aren't always great at giving feedback, so there is a bit of an onboarding process, where they learn how to communicate change requests and what is an appropriate change request for the part of the review cycle. Make sure to schedule in time for that early in the process. To speed things up, you might offer to do some formal feedback training early on with the SMEs.

4. The number of SMEs can also impact timelines. If you're Client has appointed multiple SMEs, you may find yourself in a "too many cooks in the kitchen" scenario, where you're constantly trying to negotiate different opinions. You can minimize this by appointing a lead SME who collects and streamlines all feedback into one place and who can act as a tie-breaker/authority if there are conflicting views.

Give Them Options

Show them ways to change up the schedule. Maybe you cut a less necessary video or lesson. Maybe you cut out custom animation design and use something like Vyond.

Keep the project management triangle in mind. Things can be good, cheap, or fast, but not all three.

What do you do if they still are convinced and insist the project can be done more quickly?

LOL. Just kidding. Don't laugh at them. You essentially have two options.

1. Write clear terms for out of scope work and overages into your contract. And enforce them! If you're not willing to enforce overages, this is NOT a good solution for you. But if you think the Client is understanding and will come to see with time that their assessment was incorrect, you may be able to take on the work and charge more as more time is added to the initial scope.

2. Reject the project. If you think this Client is totally unreasonable, and you sense that you're going to wind up having to go out of scope/completely off schedule without being paid for additional time, then don't take the project. Or if you are simply afraid of enforcing overages, then again, you should reject the project. Your time is valuable. And honestly, Clients with unrealistic expectations and no room for negotiation usually make poor Clients.

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