Design with Risk in Mind

Instructional Design Tips
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Although an instructional design company‘s daily focus is often to design and develop courseware, they can make a vital difference in how risk is managed. I am wrapping up an online Project Risk Management course this week. My instructor asked us to post thoughts about how the knowledge we’ve gained in the course can be applied in our workplace.

So, I thought I’d create a list of risk management best practices for instructional designers. This list is based on the collaborative model we use here at Allen. Designers are familiar with the training content and applications and work onsite with team members to design and develop courseware. Our Allen teams are like families. In addition, as we partner with clients, they become part of our family. Each person has a unique perspective and set of skills, so each person’s input and attitude of teamwork are needed to manage risk well and make project journeys successful and enjoyable.

Procurement and Kickoff

  • Assist sales and marketing to identify and rank risks and opportunities.
  • Use the identified risks to apply risk-scheduling techniques (PERT) and cost estimates.
  • Include high-level risks in the SOW.
  • Discuss concerns and risks with clients before and/or during the kickoff.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities, especially regarding approvals and decision-making, and discuss them in the kickoff.
  • Review the WBS or task list and recommend associated risks; assist in revising the risk list.
  • Recommend tasks in which contracting would mitigate risk.


  • Include key risks and contingency plans in design approval documents.
  • Monitor design tasks that relate to all identified risks and notify the PM about low or medium risks associated with tasks that look like they might merge onto the critical path.
  • Coordinate with other designers to ensure that the design mitigates risks related to their tasks.
  • Involve all stakeholders in the review of the proposed design solutions to avoid costly changes during the development stage.


  • Carefully monitor all risks that relate to this phase and communicate the risks to team members responsible for associated tasks.
  • Prioritize revision requests so that they match risk rankings that are associated with the task/revision.
  • Include stakeholders and team members who have decision-making responsibilities in courseware reviews.

Implementation and Evaluation

  • Work with programmers and IT personnel to understand custom work that is needed.
  • Meet as designers and PMs to discuss lessons learned throughout the project.
  • Document lessons learned. House them in a place that PMs and team members can easily access.
  • Share lessons learned, project designs, and successes at company meetings.
  • Follow-up with clients to find out if there are any risks that they would include on the list if they were to create the training again.

These best practices highlight two key ways instructional designers can support effective project risk management: communicate risks early on and collaborate to monitor and manage risks throughout the project. If you have best practices that you’d like to add to the list, we’d love to hear from you.

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