Design Document: My Favorite Productivity Tool!

Where do you start? It’s a great question and one that I get asked frequently. Hiring managers ask me how I start trainings, colleagues ask how I start projects, and friends ask how I start blog posts. The short answer is, I use a design document. I always suggest that they borrow mine and update it to meet their needs. In this post I would like to expand on that recommendation.

Before providing the main reasons I recommend using a design document, I would like to level set. Design documents help trainers detail and define a course from start to finish. The design document is created after a need analysis is complete and before the any content is created, including an outline. It provides a holistically view of the course including; the necessary tools to create the course and how to measure success at the end of a course. They are especially useful when working with many stakeholders. Here is an example design document with section details for reference.

First, I recommend using a design document because they are a great, non-stressful starting place to organizing my thoughts. Once I have a complete design document, creating an outline and content is easier. One of my favorite sayings about creating an outline and thinking about flow is, “first things first”. This a simple saying meaning; start at step one, don’t skip around, and make sure your steps are in a logical order. The “specific goals” section of my design document helps me ensure I create an outline in a logical order, with a good flow. For example my specific goals for setting up new software could be:

1) Install the software on a CentOS 6 server.
2) Configure any settings that are specific to my server.
3) Start the software.

Creating these specific goals helps me visualize the setup process in logical order. Additionally, I now have my three main sections.

Second, it is a good reference while creating content to keep me on track. I have a tendency to go into the weeds while creating content. Referring back to my main and specific goals helps me stay focused and even cut content as needed. The audience characteristics in the “audience analysis” section helps me be consistent with the level of detail throughout my project. For example, if I am creating a training for beginners I will try to provide high overviews of concepts instead of specific technical details.

Finally, I customize the design document to the type of work. This flexibility makes the design document useful in many different situations. My training design document is more substantial than my writing design document. For example, my training document includes several extra sections; learner assessment, media strategy, and development tools.

My design document has increased my productivity by making it easier to get started, staying organized, and staying focused. If you would like to read more about instructional design document, I suggest reading this article.

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