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Create project plans and tools

“What is the difference between waterfall and agile?”

“How can designers decide between using waterfall and agile processes?”

“What are the key elements of comprehensive waterfall and agile project plans?”

“What additional tools can designers use to manage projects and mitigate risks?”

“How should designers respond to deviations from project plans?”

This lesson explores the key considerations that instructional designers face when deciding between using waterfall and agile processes. Additionally, the essential elements of comprehensive waterfall and agile project plans will be uncovered, providing an understanding of their sequential versus iterative nature, documentation requirements, and adaptability. The lesson will also showcase a range of additional tools that designers can utilize to effectively manage projects and mitigate risks. Lastly, best practices for designers in responding to deviations from project plans will be discussed, offering strategies for assessment, communication, reassessment, and implementation of revised plans.

Through this lesson, you should be able to develop comprehensive waterfall and agile project plans and tools for a variety of learning projects.

What is the difference between waterfall and agile?

Waterfall and agile processes are two distinct project management approaches that differ in their sequential versus iterative nature, flexibility, and emphasis on adaptability. In learning projects, the difference between these processes can significantly impact project outcomes.


The waterfall process follows a linear and sequential approach, where each phase is completed before moving on to the next. In learning projects, this means that each stage, such as analysis, design, development, testing, and deployment, is executed in a fixed sequence. Requirements are defined upfront, and subsequent stages build upon the outputs of the previous stages. Waterfall is well-suited for projects with stable and well-understood requirements, where changes are less likely to occur. It emphasizes comprehensive documentation and provides predictability in terms of scope, timeline, and deliverables. However, its rigidity can make it challenging to accommodate changes or adapt to evolving needs during the project's execution.


The agile process, on the other hand, is iterative and adaptive. It involves breaking the project into smaller iterations or sprints, with frequent collaboration and feedback loops. In learning projects, agile allows for flexibility and adaptability to changing requirements and learner needs. Agile methods, such as Scrum or Kanban, prioritize customer satisfaction and involve continuous collaboration with stakeholders. The project team works in short cycles, developing and delivering working increments of the learning solution. Agile promotes a customer-centric approach, faster time-to-market, and encourages close collaboration within cross-functional teams. It places less emphasis on extensive documentation and encourages ongoing improvement based on user feedback.

How can designers decide between using waterfall and agile processes?

When deciding between using waterfall or agile processes, designers need to consider several factors to make an informed choice. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and the decision should align with the project's specific requirements and constraints.

To decide which approach to use, consider the following factors:

  • Project requirements: Assess the stability and clarity of requirements. If they are well-defined and unlikely to change significantly, waterfall may be suitable. For evolving or unclear requirements, agile is often a better fit.

  • Flexibility: Determine if the project requires the ability to adapt and incorporate changes as it progresses. Agile provides more flexibility in accommodating changes compared to waterfall.

  • Time constraints: Consider the project timeline. Waterfall is better for projects with fixed schedules, while agile's iterative nature allows for quicker releases and flexibility in adjusting priorities.

  • Team dynamics: Evaluate the team's experience, collaboration skills, and communication. Agile requires close collaboration, so a cohesive and cross-functional team is crucial.

  • Risk tolerance: Assess the level of risk tolerance within the project. Waterfall provides a more predictable and controlled approach, while agile accepts and mitigates risks through iterative cycles.

In some cases, a hybrid approach can also be considered, combining elements of both waterfall and agile methodologies to suit the specific needs of the project. Ultimately, the choice between waterfall and agile depends on the project's characteristics, stakeholder expectations, and the team's capabilities.

What are the key elements of comprehensive waterfall and agile project plans?

In understanding the effective implementation of waterfall and agile processes in learning projects, it is crucial to explore the key elements that shape comprehensive project plans. This section examines the fundamental components that define a robust waterfall plan and an adaptive agile plan, providing insights into their sequential or iterative nature, documentation requirements, and adaptability.

Key elements of waterfall project plans

In the context of an instructional design project, a comprehensive waterfall project plan typically includes the following key elements:

  • Requirement gathering: This phase involves gathering and documenting all the project requirements in detail.

  • Planning: In this phase, the project manager creates a comprehensive project plan, including tasks, milestones, deliverables, and a timeline. The plan also defines the dependencies between different tasks.

  • Design: The design phase focuses on creating detailed technical specifications and system architecture based on the gathered requirements.

  • Development: This phase involves the actual coding and development of the software or product. It follows a sequential approach, where each phase is completed before moving to the next.

  • Testing: Once the development phase is complete, the software or product undergoes extensive testing to identify and fix any defects or bugs.

  • Deployment: After successful testing, the software is deployed to the production environment or delivered to the client.

  • Maintenance: In this phase, the product is maintained and updated based on user feedback and requirements. Bug fixes and enhancements are performed as needed.

For instance, consider this scenario:

Key elements of agile project plans

A comprehensive agile project plan for a learning project typically includes the following key elements:

  • Learner stories: Learner (or user) stories capture the learning needs and requirements from the perspective of the learners. These user-centric narratives help guide the development of the learning solution by focusing on the specific goals and experiences of the target audience.

  • Iterative development: Agile project plans emphasize iterative development cycles known as sprints. Each sprint typically spans a short period, during which a specific set of learning materials or features is developed and delivered. This iterative approach allows for continuous feedback and enables quick adaptations based on learner needs.

  • Backlog management: The project plan includes a product backlog, which is a prioritized list of learning features, content, and activities that need to be developed. The backlog is regularly reviewed, updated, and refined based on feedback, stakeholder priorities, and changing requirements.

  • Sprint planning: At the beginning of each sprint, the project team collaboratively plans the work to be completed. User stories are selected from the product backlog based on their priority and feasibility within the sprint timeframe. Tasks are assigned, and the team establishes a clear plan for the sprint's deliverables.

  • Daily stand-ups: Daily stand-up meetings are short, focused gatherings where team members share progress updates, discuss challenges, and align their efforts. These meetings foster effective communication, coordination, and collaboration among team members, ensuring everyone is aligned and obstacles are addressed promptly.

  • Sprint reviews: At the end of each sprint, a review session is conducted to showcase the completed work to stakeholders. This provides an opportunity for feedback, validation, and any necessary adjustments to the learning solution. Stakeholders can provide input on the product's direction, identify areas for improvement, and suggest changes based on their insights.

  • Sprint retrospectives: Retrospectives are held after each sprint to reflect on the team's performance, processes, and lessons learned. The focus is on identifying what worked well, areas for improvement, and implementing adjustments to enhance future sprints. This continuous improvement mindset ensures that the project evolves and delivers increasing value over time.

For instance, consider this scenario:

What additional tools can designers use to manage projects and mitigate risks?

Learning designers can utilize a variety of additional tools to effectively manage projects and mitigate risks. Here are some examples:

  • Project management software: Tools like Microsoft Planner, Monday, Trello or Jira can assist designers in organizing tasks, setting deadlines, tracking progress, and collaborating with team members. These platforms provide a centralized space for project management and help ensure smooth coordination.

  • Design collaboration tools: Platforms such as Figma and Adobe XD facilitate collaboration among designers, stakeholders, and clients. They allow real-time feedback, version control, and interactive prototyping, enhancing communication and reducing the risk of misunderstandings.

  • Risk assessment and management tools: Software like RiskyProject or Risk Register helps identify, analyze, and manage potential risks throughout the project lifecycle. These tools enable designers to assess risks, prioritize them based on impact and probability, and develop strategies to mitigate or respond to them effectively.

  • Communication and collaboration platforms: Tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Workspace facilitate seamless communication, file sharing, and collaboration among project team members. They provide channels for quick discussions, document sharing, and integration with other project management tools.

  • Cloud storage and backup solutions: Platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive offer secure cloud storage and backup options. Designers can store project files, collaborate on shared documents, and ensure data redundancy, minimizing the risk of data loss or file corruption.

  • Design system management tools: For larger design teams or projects, tools like Abstract, Zeroheight, or Frontify aid in managing design systems. These platforms provide centralized repositories for design assets, style guides, and component libraries, ensuring consistency, version control, and efficient collaboration across the team.

Remember, the selection of tools should align with the specific needs of the design team and project requirements. It's essential to evaluate and choose tools that integrate well with existing workflows and foster effective collaboration and risk management.

How should designers respond to deviations from project plans?

When faced with deviations from project plans, learning designers should follow a systematic approach to effectively respond and manage the situation. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Assess the deviation: Begin by thoroughly analyzing the deviation and its impact on the project. Identify the specific areas where the project has deviated from the original plan and evaluate the extent of the deviation. Understand the reasons behind the deviation, whether it's due to external factors, changing requirements, or internal issues.

  • Communicate and collaborate: Reach out to the relevant stakeholders, including project managers, clients, team members, and any other individuals affected by the deviation. Openly communicate the situation, explaining the reasons behind the deviation and its potential impact on the project timeline, budget, or quality. Collaborate with the team to gather insights, suggestions, and alternate solutions.

  • Reassess the project plan: Based on the deviation and the information gathered, reassess the project plan and objectives. Determine if the original plan needs to be revised or if the deviation can be accommodated within the existing framework. Consider the implications on timelines, deliverables, resources, and priorities.

  • Analyze the options: Explore alternative solutions to address the deviation effectively. This could involve considering different design approaches, adjusting timelines, reallocating resources, or redefining project milestones. Evaluate the pros and cons of each option, considering the project's goals, constraints, and stakeholder expectations.

  • Prioritize and make decisions: Prioritize the potential solutions based on their feasibility, impact on project objectives, and alignment with stakeholder requirements. Make informed decisions regarding the actions to be taken. It may involve negotiating changes with clients, seeking additional resources or approvals, or adjusting project scopes and timelines.

  • Implement the revised plan: Once decisions have been made, communicate the revised plan to all relevant stakeholders. Ensure that the team members understand their new roles, responsibilities, and project expectations. Monitor the implementation of the revised plan closely and provide necessary support to ensure smooth execution.

  • Learn and adapt: Deviations from project plans can serve as valuable learning opportunities. After the project is complete or at significant milestones, take time to evaluate the causes of the deviation and the effectiveness of the response. Document lessons learned and update internal processes or project management methodologies to prevent similar deviations in the future.

Remember, flexibility, adaptability, and effective communication are crucial when responding to deviations from project plans. By following a systematic approach, designers can navigate through challenges, maintain client satisfaction, and deliver successful projects.

Summary and next steps

When deciding between using waterfall and agile processes for learning projects, designers should consider the nature of the project, its requirements, and the team dynamics. Waterfall is suitable when the project has well-defined requirements and a linear flow, while agile is more flexible and adaptive, making it ideal for projects with evolving needs and where frequent feedback is important. Key elements of a comprehensive waterfall project plan include a sequential structure with clear phases, detailed documentation, and a focus on upfront planning. In contrast, an agile project plan consists of iterative cycles, continuous collaboration, and adaptive planning. Learning designers can use additional tools such as project management software, collaboration platforms, and version control systems to manage projects and mitigate risks. When deviations from project plans occur, designers should reassess the situation, identify the cause of the deviation, and communicate with stakeholders to adapt the plan accordingly, leveraging the flexibility and feedback loops inherent in agile processes.

Now that you are familiar with waterfall and agile projects, continue to the next lesson in LXD Factory’s Manage projects series: Refine project processes.


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