In pursuit of excellence in project training
How Breaking Every PMBOK® Guide Principle Leads to Dismal Training Experience
Most project managers have been thrown into the frying pan of preparing a training presentation, have delegated such an assignment to a team member, or have been subjected to a training class that far from exceeded their expectations.
Count the cost of poorly delivered training. Every single employee in your organization may have spent over $100,000 on a four-year general education degree. How much will you spend to teach them a specific policy or process that is critical to the success of your business?
The goal of training is to effect a change in knowledge and behavior of the members of your organization. How often do shortcuts taken in the training process fail to communicate to the end-customer the importance of the message or the perceived value of the audience? Too often, the unintended message speaks louder.
What is the Answer?
Stand and recite these familiar words: “a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service” (PMBOK® Guide, p. 4). Why is it that advocates and practitioners of project management discipline fail to see Training as a Project? A training class, whether a one-time briefing, or a repeated session designed to facilitate the implementation of a new organizational practice, is meant to be a service to its audience. Yet how often is the aim completely misunderstood and the training product fails to convey the importance of the student mastering the content?
Training as a Project
Obviously, the launching of a training course is a project in itself. Regrettably neither is it news that a classic pitfall in the introduction of most new products, policies or systems is to take shortcuts in the budget for training. Sponsors of such projects seem surprised by the difficulties encountered in motivating the “users” to embrace the new concept.
In implementing the Project Support Office in my company, a well-designed, launched, and executed training course had been the essential ingredient in introducing project stakeholders to the new corporate message. As I worked to facilitate these launches, I benefited significantly from the documented training standards practiced by our organization.
Consider each PMBOK® Guide phase and knowledge area as it pertains (see Exhibit 1) to approaching the Training Project with a new sense of discipline, with the aim of a satisfied “customer” and a successful implementation. There are many opportunities to train—whether new process, tools business practices or technical skills. For purposes of illustration let's assume a simple launch of a new corporate policy.
Initiating Phase / Sponsorship
“Didn't you get the memo?” New policy initiatives occur frequently in corporations. Often it is presumed that a simple memo will suffice in directing the employee to adhere to the new policy. However, communications theory tells us that a two-way “command” and “acknowledge” is important to verify the message was received. Therefore, the first hurdle is to recognize the need and then initiate appropriately scaled training projects to ensure the success of implementing a new policy.
The key ingredient to this phase is the clear sponsorship of the training message. Who has dictated the new policy? That stakeholder is responsible to ensure its success by sponsoring and funding the corresponding training. A secondary ingredient is to assign the training project manager, someone accountable for the implementation of the training. Another ingredient is the charter, which defines the overall objectives of the training.
The main concept here is the production of a Training Project Plan. It is not sufficient for the sponsor to decree “there shall be training tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.—put together some charts and tell everyone that needs to be there.”
The first step is to capture and expound upon the course objectives in the charter, and developing a complete scope statement, or syllabus. This can also serve as the course description such as would be listed in the promotional material that is sent to the training audience prior to the training, to set the expectations of the stakeholders.
Lesson Plan—The Work Breakdown Structure
Each of the objectives of the course are further refined and defined in a logical set of learning points, or Lesson Plan. This enables the training project team to ensure that all relevant training objectives are addressed in the planning. A simple training project may involve a single PowerPoint™ file; however, one should consider other methods of teaching to ensure the most effective and satisfying training experience. Other methods such as multimedia, promotional brochures, quizzes, and group discussion are worth considering and can be mapped to their associated learning objectives with a training outline. This outline is then reviewed to ensure completeness of the scope of the training project.
Exhibit 1. The Nine Knowledge Areas Are the Keys to a Successful Training Project
Incorporated with the specific training points should be a clear definition of the deliverables for the training course, which may include items such as notebooks, textbooks, worksheets, and projection materials. Consider also the value of souvenirs or graduation certificates.
The next essential for training project planning is the concept of schedule development, which begins with defining those specific activities that together comprise the training event. This development work spans several tasks (see PMBOK® Guide, Figure 3-5) of sequencing the activities in a logical manner and estimating the duration of each activity, resulting in the course schedule. The sponsor may have constrained the presentation to perhaps one hour, but these planning steps are essential to understanding and prioritizing those learning points that can be delivered in the allotted time.
A second type of schedule should also be developed for a larger training project—the schedule for developing the curriculum. A high-value training project should not be rushed through design and implementation. Otherwise the end result is guaranteed to be of low quality and below customer expectations. Therefore, the training project team should patiently build an activity network to ensure that all elements of the lesson plan and deliverables are assembled, tested and reviewed.
Though overlooked, the planning of the resources to conduct each learning activity is crucial, particularly when a variety of learning methods are applied to a training project. For example, the cost of special multimedia resources should be considered.
Another effective tool in the planning of a training session, or any meeting for that matter, is the resource cost of the students attending the class. What is the average “hourly rate” of these individuals? Perform an analysis to assure both yourself and the sponsor that it is worth spending 15 minutes on a particular learning objective. The purpose of this estimation is not to budget the cost of the course, but to be able to demonstrate the cost-benefit ratio of the entire training project.
Normally when considering the business value of the training objective (e.g., introducing a new team process), there will be significant leverage achieved by the relatively minor cost of a well-design training program.
So much for addressing the obvious, or basic elements of a project plan. So far, we've addressed the big three, the baselines that define the traditional project triple constraint: scope, cost and schedule. For a complete treatment we should apply all nine knowledge areas defined in the PMBOK® Guide. The core and facilitating processes are not to be considered optional when planning an effective training program.
The first consideration is the application of Risk Management to the training project planning. Better yet, start with a risk assessment during the initiating phase. Are the goals of this training project appropriately matched with the needs of the business? What is the impact if the training fails?
Furthermore, the finer details of the lesson plans need to be subjected to risk analysis. Which are the most critical learning points? Have these been adequately addressed? What is the likelihood that the student will clearly understand and implement the desired behavior?
Given the risks of not meeting the training objective, ensure that appropriate risk responses are designed and implemented to ensure success.
Beyond the core processes, the facilitating processes as well as the subsequent project phases of PMBOK® are also to be considered, even if scaled down in their application. What are the quality objectives of this training project? How will the successful achievement of these objectives be measured, both to verify that the training objective was achieved, and also to improve subsequent training initiatives?
Suggestions here include the use of quizzes to check that the material was both delivered as well as comprehended. Student course evaluations serve to solicit feedback on the effectiveness of the course. Follow-up surveys might be used a month or two after the course to verify implementation of the desired behavior, and solicit additional feedback.
Human Resources Management
The aspects to be considered include both the audience and the instructor (s). How does this training fit with the current skill level and training needs of the organization? Should the course be redesigned to target different levels of competency in the organization?
How competent is the instructor? Is the instructor groomed in effective presentation style and methods? Are feedback evaluations on the instructor utilized to measure and improve subsequent performance?
How will awareness of the upcoming training event be generated? Develop effective communications that build anticipation and motivation among the course attendees. Ensure that training is timely, i.e., consistent with the rollout of the new policy, and that consideration is given to the other time demands upon the students.
Give thought to progress reporting. Perhaps a course must be presented numerous times to a number of units in the business organization. How will the overall accomplishment of the training objective be reported to the sponsor and then closed down when all objectives are fulfilled? Prepare a lessons-learned or training postmortem report.
The risk assessment may indicate that this training project has significant business value. The obvious step during planning is to conduct a “make vs. buy” decision. Are you capable of either designing or presenting the various components of the training program? Consider whether parts like a video, or the entire training delivery, should be outsourced to a professional training organization. This does not relieve you of the other training project management disciplines of planning, executing, and controlling.
Closing: Lessons-Learned Shared
The value of time and money wasted on ineffective training is appalling. In addition to applying the disciplines of project management, here are several essentials for a successful training project.
• Insist on an appropriate budget. Training is not free; convince your sponsor to spend the money necessary to create a satisfying and effective training experience for the audience.
• Demonstrate the importance of the subject to your class. Arrange for your sponsor to attend either the kickoff or other critical points of the class.
• Be an advocate for your students; have them excused from conflicting responsibilities so they may fully participate in the training.
Where May I Get More Information?
• I received significant insight from “How to Survive a Training Assignment” by Steven K. Ellis (Addison-Wesley 1988).
• Search the PMI Bookstore or Amazon websites, for titles and reviews that may help—I enjoyed “50 One-Minute Tips for Trainers” by Carrie A. Van Daele (Crisp Publications, 1995).
• A classic “The Seven Laws of Teaching” by John Milton Gregory (1884—revised Baker Books, 1995) gives insight to the teacher that truly takes the student's needs to heart.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
October 3–10, 2002 • San Antonio, Texas, USA