Published on 2012/05/17
There is a way around the notion that you cannot have a product that is high quality, delivered on time and affordable. Supplied image.

This is the fourth article in the series, ‘Purchasing eLearning’. The series is for organizations and individuals who are engaging third party organizations to develop eLearning courses.

You have probably heard the phrase “Fast, good and cheap: Pick two”. It is a common phrase in project management, a variant on the ‘Project Management Triangle’ or ‘Triple Constraint Model’ put forward by Dr. Martin Barnes in the 1970’s.

To summarize, it means you can:

  • Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap.
  • Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.
  • Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a long time.

So what does this mean if you are purchasing eLearning? Frequently, as the ‘client’, you will have a set budget that just cannot vary. Your budget allocation may have no relation to the actual cost for the piece as, due to how budgets and organizations work, the amount was decided well before going to market to find out the potential costs. It is what you can afford.

Also, you may have a hard deadline for the project. There is an internal or external launch date that may be tied to an event such as the launch of a product, a relocation to a new work site, a legislative change or the arrival of a cohort of new staff. It may be that you have discovered this hard deadline a little too close to the actual date.

You have limited budget and limited time. Going by the principles above, it means that the quality will be constrained. It is important to remember that this does not mean that the quality will be ‘bad’, a constraint on quality often means that options that would be available to you if you had more time or money are off the cards. Your eLearning course may be less exciting, less beautiful or have less impact for learners.

There is another way forward. What this variant of the Project Management Triangle ignores is scope. In the original model of the 1970s, the three points of the triangle were Time, Cost and Scope, with the area of the triangle being quality. This makes our understanding of the relationships between time and cost a little more complex, but the most interesting change is the relationship of the other constraints with Scope.

As you would expect, if you increase the scope of the project either time or cost (and potentially both) will increase. The inverse also holds, if you decrease the scope of the project the other constraints will decrease.

The largest determinant of scope for eLearning is content, most easily defined through learning outcomes (number and depth). Content can be reduced through reducing the number of modules in the course, reducing the number of pages or screens in the module. However remember, the key is that you are reducing the number of points covered, not that you are putting the same amount of content into a reduced number of modules or pages! You need to revisit the learning outcomes to decrease the number or to make them less complex.

The result of this exercise should be that you are able to get the right level of quality for the time and budget you have.

It helps to think about this before you go to tender or approach eLearning vendors and consultants. Think about the scope of your project in terms of content and where you may need to reduce it to meet your budget and timeframe. If a reduction in content is impossible, you will need to think about the compromise on quality that you may need to make.

In the next article in this series we will look at constraints on quality imposed as part of the project.

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