When I started working in instructional design, the world was incredibly process-oriented, and I used terms like “instructional design” and “ADDIE and waterfall methodologies.”

Fast-forward about 10 years, and much has changed for the better. Now, we are learner-focused, using learning experience design, design thinking and agile methodologies. It is an exciting time to work in learning and development (L&D), as that focus enables us to truly impact and support learners throughout their training journey — and beyond.

One thing has not changed for the better during that time: the training budget. In the past 10 years, I have transitioned from a designer role to a business role. I spend my days working through key performance indicators (KPIs), identifying return on investment (ROI) and ensuring we are providing the best value for our customers. Wearing these two hats, I’ve found that there is still a need for process in this learner-centric world to ensure that we adhere to contractual KPIs, such as budget and timelines.

Using a design thinking checklist can help. While you can use design thinking to identify problems and develop creative solutions, you can also use it to help ground the process. Here’s how:

1. Empathize

Reviewers and Stakeholders: Ensure that you have identified all reviewers and stakeholders before you begin. Any project will derail if you identify someone new to the project late in the game.

2. Define

Quality Requirements: When leveraging an agile methodology with rapid prototyping, agreeing on quality requirements is a must. When you post inside process documents and files that anyone can review any time, it’s important to understand that there may be typos or bugs that will be resolved prior to formal delivery.

Mobile Requirements: If you are going to deliver the learning product on a mobile device, it’s important to discuss the requirements early in the process. Those requirements may drastically change the software or solution that you recommend, so it’s best to cover what you need before and during the prototyping phase.

3. Ideate

Themes, Templates and Colors: Decide on the backbone of your solution early in the process, as it can impact other details as you finalize the module. Prototyping different solutions and scenarios for feedback is key; then, gain agreement before pressing forward, and hold each other accountable for that decision.

Flow and Sequencing: This step is less critical now that we use more rapid development tools, but it is important early in the process to identify the order in which learners will access information. This approach avoids redundancy, ensures effective transitions and minimizes the volume of learning content.

Minimal Viable Product: The minimal viable product (MVP) is the most valuable player of any project. Make sure that you define the “must-haves” for your solution. Does it need to have an image on every interaction? Interactions every other screen? Subtitles for accessibility and learning management system (LMS) compliance? Define up front whatever is required to consider the product a success.

4. Prototype

Animations: Custom animations are some of the more complex and costly parts of a digital solution. You want to define them in the middle of the process to give you time to review and refine.

Narration: Narration is one of the biggest costs of content development. It’s important to wait until you are close to a final product before proceeding with the cost of recording and implementing narration (unless you use machine narration) to ensure you do not have unnecessary rework.

Images: Licensing stock photography and videos can also be an expensive part of your budget. Saving the formal purchasing until the end of the process will avoid unnecessary expenses. You can use most photos and videos with a watermark to see their effectiveness in the solution while you’re designing.

5. Test

Compliance: Ensure that the module will work on the LMS or other learning platform you will use to launch it.

The most important thing to remember is that stage gates and process are not bad! It’s possible to be both learner-centric and process-oriented. If you don’t keep these concepts in mind, you might never complete the solution for your learners, or you may run out of budget along the way.

Process is a way to ensure that when the learners start their journey, they will have what they need to guide their way. Providing support to our learners in the journey is the most learner-centric way to be.

Click here to download the design thinking checklist.