Training the troops
the next time your boss asks you to increase productivity, profit and employee loyalty, tell him you need a little something in return. Specifically, you'd like some funds for training. Investing in training consistently increases team productivity by 16 to 17 percent, according to Return-on-Investment Analysis of Education and Training in the Construction Industry, a report by the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources. Any company looking to stay within budget and maintain realistic timelines understands what that kind of improvement can mean to the bottom line.
To reap those rewards, project management training and education must be established as an ongoing process with well-defined goals against which results are measured.
A project management office (PMO) can determine which skills are lacking and develop an educational agenda that addresses those gaps. For some organizations, that means buying off-the-shelf training; for others, it means creating customized programs. Still others blend the two.
The PMO should start by conducting a comprehensive needs analysis of its entire audience, says Grace Duffy, vice president of the American Society for Quality, Milwaukee, Wis., USA. Identify priority areas of education that senior management will support with resources of time, money and appropriate personnel, she says.
Attention also must be paid to matching the content to the platform. “Using the same platform for all training simply because ‘we have always used it’ is asking for trouble,” Ms. Duffy says. “The same is true when management thinks that just because the training has been developed the results are assured. Project management is a process, not an event. In both instances, it demonstrates the ineffective use of organizational resources in the design, development and implementation of training.”
Once the PMO establishes its agenda, Ms. Duffy recommends documenting the final agreed-upon process. Not only does this facilitate training, it also makes it possible to establish a monitoring system for both short-term adjustments and long-term process improvement.
“Exhibit the successful use of project management skills in making sure the training is completed effectively as part of the individual project plan,” Ms. Duff says. “Also document the success story of training completion to reinforce the process for future project teams.”
Training courses should not be at such a high level that they eliminate hands-on sessions.
Taking a Broad View
Training objectives must be specified up front, and skills should be verified after any program is held, according to Alexandre Rodrigues, executive partner with Threon Iberia, Lisbon, Portugal. “You want to make sure that nonproject management staff and management are actively involved.” Training courses should not be at such a high level that they eliminate hands-on sessions. These opportunities help attendees actually implement the techniques.
According to Mr. Rodrigues, project management training also can be linked to the organization's maturity using PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3). “Training is one of the means through which capabilities can be effectively developed and thereby best practices achieved,” he says.
The overall scope of individual training sessions must be fairly comprehensive, depending on the audience. For example, while functional team members will benefit from project training, every staff member doesn't have to know the ins and outs of earned value analysis.
“A more holistic view and top-down approach to training, education and communication may yield more positive results,” says Rachel Manktelow, the London, U.K.-based director of MindTools.com. “It needs to start with the corporate strategy and plans and filter down to individual projects.”
Project reviews are a valuable source for identifying potential areas where training is needed, says Alfonso Bucero, PMP, consulting partner and director at Bucero PM Consulting, Madrid, Spain. “We have found they are a wonderful mechanism to discover some strengths and weaknesses of our project professionals managing projects,” he says. “The PMO is able to detect which areas of project management knowledge and skills must be developed and reinforced by project managers through education and training.”
There are more possibilities to customize material when an organization has very experienced and skilled project management professionals, Mr. Bucero adds. “You can provide real examples and case studies from within your organization. However, creating your material, in-house, from scratch, is difficult and time-consuming,” he says. “The PMO must investigate the cost and time implications of using internal personnel to develop that material.”
In a world where scheduling is tight and many team members are spread across the globe, gathering employees in a classroom setting isn't always feasible. UnumProvident, Chattanooga, Tenn., USA, uses virtual training as a supplement to its in-house efforts. “[In-line training provides employees with the ability to enhance their skill set at their own pace in a means that does not disrupt the daily workflow,” says Richard O'Coin, head of learning resource network. “However, since these are self-guided courses it is important that companies implement a layer of responsibility or accountability. We have a policy in which as long as an employee completes the courses they register for, we do not charge the business unit for the expense. This seems to serve as a motivator because the manager stays on top of individual progress.”
Some of the most common pros and cons to an online component include:
|Continuous||Lacks hands-on component|
|Wide breadth of offerings||Difficult to customize|
|Relatively inexpensive||Quality concerns|
|Easy to facilitate||Requires self-discipline|
|Allows discussion tracking|
Deciding which materials to create in-house often comes down to content, according to Elcee Asuncion Villa, managing director of Management Strategies Asia Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “When training project teams on function-specific skills or conducting specialized skills training, that generally requires in-house development, especially considering that organizations have clear-cut quality factors or processes to follow,” she says. “Technical training specific to an oil rigging effort is probably best done in-house, whereas safety training can be outsourced. There are companies who do this kind of work day in and day out and are familiar with government and environmental requirements for specific industry groups.”
An outsider also can provide insights that might be taboo in culture-building programs, which involve mindset and paradigm shifts. “There's only so much an in-company person can say without fear of reprisal,” Ms. Villla says.
Mark Engelhardt, PMP, senior project management consultant with Vienna, Austria-based Primas Consulting, recommends creating an internal standard with templates, tools and vocabulary. “This allows an organization to create an educational program that is built on tiers consisting of framework, intermediary and advanced levels,” he says. “With this in place it is easy to make all staff go through this program, regardless of what level of knowledge they claim to have, so that a company can create a common language and project management process.”
Mr. Engelhardt suggests mixing advanced and beginning employees during training. “The course should help these levels learn to work together, one of the biggest challenges in project management,” he says. “At the same time, organizations need to look at integrating both internal and external certification options into their program. This increases the value of the program to attendees.”
Certification “shows you can talk the talk, you know the language,” but companies shouldn't overlook training in people skills, says Greg Grosser, director of corporate development at Macfadden and Associates Inc., Silver Spring, Md., USA. Providing training in people skills such as negotiation, influence and human capital change management, is paramount.
Give Them What They Want
“Companies must look at training from many perspectives, including that of employees, which may mean conducting surveys,” says Richard O'Coin, UnumProvident's Portland, Maine, USA-based head of the company's learning resource network.
The company offers two training tracks: one in general project management; the other in methodology training. The latter is especially valuable for team members who need to understand the company's project processes and the planning and management approaches that their project managers will take in leading projects. “This way, people who are not project managers, but will work on projects have an understanding of the philosophy that the company is using,” says Tom Mathis, director, corporate project office at UnumProvident. “Novice project managers as well as people who are considering a career shift into project management can obtain a flavor for what is involved specifically within our company.”
UnumProvident developed the bulk of its training, but it also bought generic material from Russell Martin and Associates so it didn't have to start from scratch. “The problem here is that regardless of the quality of the purchased materials, you are in for a lot of work to make things match your specific needs,” Mr. O'Coin says. “However, in some instances the time to market factor takes hold, which makes off-the-shelf options much more attractive.”
When a company elects to create its own methodology and training materials, subject matter experts are in great demand. “These individuals tend to be some of our very best project managers and by asking them to teach we are taking time away from their project management duties,” Mr. Mathis says. “This is where balance comes into play. You do not want too much time between sessions because people have to spend too much time getting back into the swing of teaching, but you do not want to continuously demand their time either. It not only hurts them, it can hurt the performance of their projects.”
Mr. O'Coin recommends making sure that the people you tap as trainers have the skills to “actually teach, so that they can create and operate a classroom environment rather than give a boardroom presentation.”
The PMO also must budget for all of the aspects of its training program right from the start. “This is something that you need to do as you are recognizing an internal education gap and establishing a program,” he says. “When people recognize that it is important, they are more likely to allocate funds than when you start a training program and try to come back for additional support.”
Peter Fretty, a Whitehall, Mich., USA-based free-lancer, has appeared in more than 40 trade and consumer magazines.
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