Mischief Managed: What "Harry Potter" Can Teach You About Managing E-Learning Projects

As I’ve said in previous posts, I strive to relate these articles to everyday life and, in particular, my own life. What’s happening now? My eight-year-old has discovered Harry Potter and wants to see every movie ASAP. Oh, but there’s a catch. Mean Mom (i.e. me) has mandated that each book be read before the movie is seen, so naturally a great deal of Harry Potter reading takes place in the house these days. This got me thinking about young Harry Potter and all the characters that surround him--and what they might teach us about project management.
Surround yourself with smart people.
Inspired by: "Hermione Granger"
How it applies: In a lot of ways, expertise is the cornerstone of e-learning projects. From the subject matter experts who provide accurate content to the instructional designer who uses it to meet learning goals and the production team who makes the course work in three different browsers, creating e-learning is a true team effort. The more expertise your team has, the more successful your project will be. 
Not everybody sees the same things in the same way.
Inspired by: "Luna Lovegood"
How it applies: No two snowflakes are alike, and neither are any two people’s perspectives. So it’s important to define a project’s goals, scope the project as tightly as possible, get it in writing, and distribute the information to anyone who needs to have a say in the matter. Getting on the same page—literally--is one of the best ways to get everyone’s vision aligned and keep it that way as the project marches on.
People can be fiercely attached to things that just aren’t good for them.
Inspired by: "Hagrid"
How it applies: Remember when I said how wonderful it is to be surrounded by experts? Well, it is—as long as the expertise is used within the project’s scope. But we’re human. We love to share what we know. So occasionally your experts might dive a little too deep into the details and absolutely not want to leave anything out. And when that happens, you’ll be seeing the downside of expertise, not to mention some scope creep too. What to do? Stay focused on the project’s original goals and scope and help others to do the same. 
It helps to have eyes in the back of your head.
Inspired by: "Mad-Eye Moody"
How it applies: Details, details, details. From the vacation schedule of your key producers to what you committed to in the meeting last Thursday, we project managers need to be aware of every detail that can impact our project’s timeline and budget. And doing so is no one-time job because things can change quickly, and things can change often. So if a task is critical, keep checking in.
With great detail comes great responsibility.
Inspired by: "Delores Umbridge"
How it applies:
Yes, project managers keep tabs on the details, but in my time I’ve seen some get a little…overexcited. Very few people need to be reminded of their deadline every day. And no one needs to be corrected in front of their boss.  So go ahead and keep that detailed record of project activities, but just know this. If you ever bring a color-coded 3-ring binder to a meeting for the purpose of publicly blaming a fledgling team member for the downturn of your project, you’ve officially crossed over to the dark side. Yikes.
Sometimes you have to be unpopular to make things come out right. 
Inspired by: "Professor Snape"
How it applies: Managing a project that requires the time and talents of people who don’t work for you is a double-edged sword. You want the team to bring their A-game—but on a budget…and by Tuesday.  All this is to say that sometimes you’ll have to be (gulp) the bad guy, letting someone know when they’ve come up short, being the only person who objects in a meeting where everyone is nodding yes, or telling someone that there’s no room in the budget for their “amazing idea”. Try as you might to do it nicely, sometimes you’ll still have to wear the black hat.
You will go through awkward phases. I repeat: you will go through awkward phases.
Inspired by: "Neville Longbottom"
How it applies: Sometimes all that speaking up can leave you thinking that you will forever eat alone in the School Cafeteria of Life. This happenstance—and the fear of it—is part of the territory for a project manager. With any luck, your cohorts will realize that you are just doing your job. 
Sometimes eating chocolate really does help.
Inspired by: "Professor Lupin"
How it applies: Seriously? Just eat the chocolate.
Watch out for he-who-is-not-being named. 
Inspired by: "Lord Voldemort"
How it applies: Watch out! It’s the invisible stakeholder, the person who can annihilate 6 months of work with a single e-mail, phone call, or appearance. Actively work to find these people early and make sure they get buy in throughout the project. You need to find them before they find you. Hint: Sometimes it isn’t the big wig in the corner office, but rather an organization (i.e. a source of funding, a sponsor, partner, or an accrediting body.)  When I kick off a project, I always ask, “Who has a stake in this project but is not in the room with us today?” 
Just because it’s happening inside your head doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Inspired by: "Albus Dumbledore"
How it applies: Sometimes the trickiest thing about being a project manager is listening to your gut and trusting your instincts. But nine times out of ten I’ve found that, if I think that I need to include an additional sign off, then I probably do. If I sense that a meeting was off key or there’s a disconnect somewhere, it’s usually the case. Learn to listen to your gut--and trust yourself too.  
All characters referenced in this article are attributed to J.K. Rowling and Scholastic Press. Photo by Creative Commons. 

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