Managing Instructional Design Projects with a Design Thinking Approach and Trello

Instructional Designers use a systematic approach to develop learning resources and educational solutions to gaps in learning. Instructional designers draw on models of instructional design in order to arrive at their solutions. These models in many ways mimic the process of project management – although they differ in that the models try to work towards a solution, and in order to develop a project itself, you must then overlay the process with a project management plan. In instructional design, the standard and most well known process is referred to as ADDIE, which stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate. For many years this was the standard way of creating instructional design projects. However ADDIE implies a linear process, and the design and development of educational resources and experiences is rarely linear. It’s much more messy, and therefore lends itself more to more flexible, iterative models.

The project management process for managing an instructional design project often follows a similarly flexible approach, moving through various steps but then revisiting those steps as the development moves further along. Each step informs both the next and the last. The flexibility of such processes allows for a more iterative design cycle, that keeps the learners at the center of the design. It provides the designer with more opportunities for testing and evaluating user feedback. Concepts of agile software development nicely complement the instructional design process, with its welcome attitude towards change, focus on collaboration, simplicity of process, short feedback loops, and repetitive testing.

In recent years, I’ve moved more towards a Design Thinking approach to developing instructional design projects, and away from more linear and traditional models. Design Thinking puts the focus on two key elements that I believe lead to successful projects: focus on the end user (for us, that’s the learner), and iterative design (frequent feedback loops). Methods used in design thinking nicely complement the instructional design process, including interviewing, brainstorming, mind mapping, decision trees and prototypes.

Instructional designers use a wide-variety of technology tools to help manage projects (as well as many paper methods such as planners and tracking worksheets). In past professional positions I’ve held, we have used Confluence, Basecamp, and Asana. In the course where I introduce concepts of project management to budding instructional design students, we utilize Asana because it is free and integrates well with Google products. Students find it easy to use as they collaborate with remote team members on a design project, and make their work process visible to me as the instructor of the course. The ability to share and track the project, as well as hook into deliverables created in Google, makes this a great solution for instructional design students looking to get their feet wet with project management tools.

This week I explored a different project management tool, called Trello. I was drawn to Trello because of its visual interface, which reminded me of one of my favorite content organization tools, Pinterest. Trello enabled me to create boards for each module of the course I am taking. I was able to color-code those boards, based on whether I had completed the module yet or not. This made it easy to see at a glance how far I was in finishing the course.


Within each board, I create three lists, which mimicked the KanBan method of project management. These lists were labeled “To Do, Doing, Done.” Cards are used for each deliverable that I need to complete for the course. I can easily move cards from one list to another, again giving me a nice visual representation of what I have left to do each week in the course. Colored labels were added to each card to help me identify the type of deliverable each one described, for example purple denotes a blog post, yellow denotes a reading, green denotes a scheduled meeting, and red denotes a technology assignment.


Finally each card holds vital information for completing the deliverable, including a checklist of individual items (or work packages, which are the smallest pieces of work that can be completed to add up to the larger project) and due dates. A progress bar helps track how far along I am in completing the overall card, another useful tool for time management.


Overall Trello was extremely easy to set up, and appealed to my visual side. I can see how it would be useful to map out projects using this tool, especially considering the ability to share and manage projects collaboratively. It could also be useful for tracking the steps in the instructional design process, with the ability to label things in many different ways, I could see using it for color-code the steps in the instructional design process within a larger project.

1 comment on “Managing Instructional Design Projects with a Design Thinking Approach and Trello

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!


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