Project Management Institute

Using Project Management to Develop Training Programs



Many years ago I started my career as a trainer and, due to a lack of experience and knowledge, without knowing it, as a project manager. As an military officer, it was my responsibility to develop and deliver training to those individuals under my command. This training responsibility was a primary task in all of my positions. Eventually, I commanded a group of personnel who were charged with the development and implementation of training programs to US and foreign military and civilian personnel. Subsequent jobs after the military were a continuation of my training career in the development of a diversity of training programs both in the softskill and technical areas.

During this time, I became aware of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and, as I studied more, took formal training, and became more experienced, came to the realization that the five phases of Project Management are, in practice, identical to the five phases of the Instructional Systems Design model. They just use a different language. They each provide a systematic organized process for accomplishing a specific project, which in the case of training, results in the creation of a specific training program. In other words, Instructional Systems Design is the equivalent of Project Management in the training arena.

There are two main goals of this paper. The first goal is to show the similarities of the five phase Project Management process and the five phase Instructional Systems Design (commonly referred to as ISD) process. The second goal is to show how the Project Management process is used to develop a training program which, as I've stated, IS a project. You'll see that you, as a practitioner of Project Management, already have the skills needed to create training for your organization's employees.

Note: Although the phases are discussed in a linear fashion in this paper for convenience, it should be noted that their relationship is not linear. Particularly in project management, you will go back and forth between the phases depending on how the project progresses.

Project Management and Instructional Systems Design

Phase 1: Initiating & Analysis

Project Management Initiating

The initiating phase of Project Management begins when someone, usually a future sponsor of the project, makes a determination that a particular project will enhance the business of the organization. That individual, or a group, then authorizes the project. In determining which projects to authorize, sponsors, or future sponsors, have to take several factors into account. These include resource allocation (time, personnel, and cost) along with a ROI analysis. The primary question is, “Is this project oriented towards the organization's goals? How will it enhance the organization?” During this phase, a project manager is appointed and a project charter authorizing the project is written. Additionally, any constraints to the project are identified.

Instructional Systems Design Analysis

The analysis phase in ISD begins when someone, either the training professional or a future sponsor feels that a training program will help to enhance the organization's business through the skill enhancement of its employees. Once the training professional gets this assignment, an analysis needs to be completed to determine if training is required. This is done through a needs analysis to determine the desired performance of the employees, the current performance of the employees, and if a performance gap exists. Like Project Management, this is the phase in which the training program (the project) is authorized and an individual (the project manager) is appointed to development the training. Also like Project Management, the primary question is, “Is this training oriented towards the organization's goals? How will it enhance the organization?”

Phase 2: Planning & Design

Project Management Planning

In Project Management, project planning is used to create a consistent, coherent document that can be used to guide both the execution and control of the project – the project blueprint. All of the detailed work has to be planned estimated, scheduled, and authorized. Historical information and organizational policies are used to assist with the planning. Constraints and assumptions are scrutinized to determine their affect on the planning process.

The primary output is the project plan. Some of the items included in the plan are:

  • An elaboration on the project charter.
  • A description of the project management approach.
  • A scope statement.
  • A WBS and responsibility matrix for project team members for the deliverables.
  • Cost estimates and start and finish dates along with major milestones.
  • Performance measurement baselines and cost baselines.
  • Key required staff for the project and their associated costs.

During this phase you'll also complete several sub-plans, if needed, such as management plans for:

  • Scope
  • Schedule
  • Cost
  • Quality
  • Staffing
  • Communications
  • Risk response
  • Procurement

You'll also list open issues and any pending decisions that need to be made

This is just a sample of the outputs to the planning phase. The PMBOK® Guide lists and describes each of these, along with many others, in much more detail.

ISD Design

The Design phase of ISD creates the blueprint for the training program. Once the training requirements are determined, the goals and objectives (scope) of the training are developed. During this phase, all of the work needed to create the training is determined, along with the personnel needed to work on the training program. Costs, schedules, milestones, deliverables, communications, instruction methodology, and evaluation methods are determined. In some cases, such as highly dangerous training, a through risk analysis and management plan is required. Like Project Management, the training program is completely planned out so that a consistent and coherent document is created that will guide the development of the training program.

Phase 3: Execution & Development

Project Management Execution

In Project Management, once the planning phase is complete, you'll move into the execution phase. This is the primary process for carrying out the project plan - the coordination of people and other resources. The vast majority of your budget and other resources will be expended in this phase. During this phase, the project manager and/or team will need to coordinate all of the activities needed to successfully accomplish the project. External, as well as internal, resources will need to be managed and coordinated to ensure their timely inclusion into the project execution.

Additionally, preventive actions and, possibly, corrective actions will be accomplished during this phase to mitigate the possibility of potential consequences arising from any previously identified risks.

Obviously, the primary output from this phase is the completion of the project. You'll also collect information on various items to compare against the baseline established during the planning phase. Three of the more important areas to consider are: 1) deliverables – which were completed, which were not; 2) quality standards – which are met, which are not; 3) costs.

During this phase, any change requests are addressed that may affect the scope, cost, schedule, etc. and either rejected or, if approved, integrated into the project.

Instructional Systems Design Development

In the development phase of ISD, just as in the Project Management Execution phase, the training program – the project - is completely developed with all materials needed being written, built, acquired, or published.

Activities that will help students in the program learn the task are developed along with the instructional courseware. This is then synthesized into a viable training program. The coordination of people and other resources, whether internal or external, is needed to ensure the completion of the training program development.

As in Project Management Execution, collection of information on costs, schedules, quality (of materials and instructors), deliverables, etc. is important to ensure that you are following the plan established in the design phase of ISD. Also, it is during this phase that changes to the material, content, and instruction methods are addressed and either approved or rejected.

Phase 4: Controlling

In both Project Management and ISD, controlling the project or the training program development, is important to ensure success. This ensures that project's or training's objectives are met by regularly monitoring and measuring its progress.

In Project Management, you're verifying the scope of the project, controlling the scope changes, costs, quality, risks, and schedule. You're also conducting performance reporting such as status reports, progress measurements, and forecasting.

In ISD, these same tasks are important. You need to validate the materials to ensure that they address the identified objectives of the training. You're controlling the scope change of the training program to ensure that it continues to address the training needs. You also need to be concerned about the costs of the training program development as it is very unlikely that you've gone into this without some type of budget. Validation of the quality of the material, the instructors, and the testing methodology is important so that students know they are receiving relevant information.

Phase 5: Closing, Implementation, and Evaluation

Closing the project in Project Management entails the creation of project records into an archive for future reference. Additionally, confirmation that the project has met all requirements including any scope changes approved during the execution phase, along with budget reports, staffing evaluations, etc. need to be complete. Finally, lessons learned should be documented for use on future projects. Follow-up to the project will result in determining if the project succeeded in accomplishing all of its anticipated goals including enhancement of the organization's business.

In ISD, the closing of the training program development entails all of the same tasks. Reports on budgets, changes to course goals and objectives, and evaluations of personnel involved with the development are necessary for future training program development projects. Closing also results with the implementation of the training program – the actual teaching of the material to the employees. And, although a separate phase in ISD, evaluation is important during the implementation of the training program as well as after the training program ends. Obviously, evaluation during the training is important to ensure that the employees are “learning” the material presented. However, evaluation after the employee finishes the training program and returns to his/her daily work schedule is vitally important. It is the only way that a determination can be made on whether or not the skills taught were transferred to the employee's job related skills repertoire.

Using Project Management to Develop Training Programs

Let's now see how the Project Management process has been used to develop training programs. Each training program can be equated to being a project; therefore, allowing easy use of the project management process. The information given is based upon the successful completion and implementation by the author of numerous training programs, both technical and softskills and both knowledge-based and performance-based.

Project Initiation

Within an organization, an employee – it could be a front line employee, a first line supervisor, or even a senior manager – will state that he/she needs a training program to address a perceived performance gap or to enhance/change the skills of a particular group of employees. It is thought that the elimination of the perceived performance gap, the development of a new skill, or the enhancement of a current skill will help the company's business posture.

When this occurs, an in-depth interview with all of the potential stakeholders identified (those who will be affected by the effort such as the target audience, sponsors, supervisors, employees, etc.) will occur to validate the need for the training program. This needs analysis is necessary to ensure that time and money is not wasted on training programs that do not have an identified added value to the organization. It will also determine what the performance gap is and help to begin the process of creating the goals and objectives of the training. It will also determine if a training program is the solution. Too often, “non-training” people think that training is the solution to all performance issues and this is not the case. (It may be a discipline issue.) The needs analysis will help in making that determination.

Once it is determined that a training program is needed, a charter needs to be created that gives the individual the authority to develop the program. Many times, this is informal but it is absolutely vital to help ensure cooperation from all areas of the organization.

Project Planning

In the planning phase, the goals and objectives for the training program are established by the project manager and, if used, the content experts who are assisting in developing the program. Establishment of the goals and objectives as the first task is important to ensure that all subsequent work on the program is geared towards achieving those objectives.

An initial determination of the instructional methodology is made at this time. Will the training program consist of classroom instruction, a CBT, online, correspondence, OJT, or a combination of all of these? If so, which portions of the training will occur in which form?

This phase is where all of the planning tasks, obviously, should occur. A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for all people involved in the program development is created; a schedule with milestones for completion of materials such as student workbooks, instructor guides, training aids, presentation slides, equipment mockups, etc. is formed; and cost estimates of the equipment needed and the personnel used are completed. Additionally, initial decisions on what type of training aids will be needed and how evaluation of the training will be conducted are made.

Just as with any good project plan, additional subsidiary plans for:

  • Communications to team members and stakeholders,
  • Cost control (training is usually the lowest priority for companies; therefore, budgets are usually small
  • necessitating strict cost control),
  • Quality of materials to be used in the instruction,
  • Control of scope changes (change of goals and objectives),
  • Procurement of outside resources such as personnel or materials,
  • and, if needed, risk response,

are written to ensure complete control of the development of the training program.

Project Execution

Execution of a training program development project is, as with any project, the phase where the vast majority of the work (and budget) is expended. All of the materials identified in the planning phase that are necessary for the training program are developed here (student workbooks, instructor guides, training aids, etc.).

Of special note is the creation of the instructor guide. Instructor guides are vital to ensure that inexperienced (and even experienced) instructors cover all of the material and conduct the training in the format decided. It is the roadmap for the instructor. An instructor guide can take many forms. However, the content of the guide should cover, at a minimum:

  • A summary page showing the goals and objectives of the training,
  • Copies of tests, activities, and exercises,
  • The content to be taught (either bulletized or verbatim),
  • Copies of the presentation slides and notations when to show them,
  • Timeframes for each module of the training,
  • Notations indicating occurrences of exercises, activities, and tests,
  • any other notes that will help the instructor give a smooth flowing training session.

It is vital that the Project Manager keep tight control on the schedule to ensure timely completion of all milestones. Many times, the Project Manager will have other personnel such as Content Experts (both internal and external), IT experts, etc. working on this project. Keep in mind, that development of a training program is usually not these individuals' sole job. It is usually an additional task that they have been given and they are only on this project temporarily. Therefore, they may not be as dedicated as the Project Manager to the project and may need to be closely supervised to ensure they meet the deadlines. Here is where the Project Manager gets a lot of practice with his/her interdepartmental relationship skills to get the “buy-in” on the training project from a team member's full time supervisor. This “buy-in” will help to ensure cooperation from these “temporary” team members and future acceptance of the finished program from the organization's employees.

Project Control

Status reports from the various team members need to be received to ensure adherence to the established schedule. The Project Manager needs to keep the stakeholders and sponsors informed of the status of the development of the training program. The primary emphasis in these communications should be the adherence to the schedule and any issues that need their attention.

Complexity of the training being developed, geographical location of team members, and experience of the team members determine the team meeting schedule. In particular, geographically dispersed team members require more frequent meetings via teleconferences, e-mails, faxes, etc. to keep all team members on track with the milestones and their deliverables. Geographically dispersed team members, if this is not their primary job responsibility, can have a tendency to forget about a training project. That old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” really applies here. Additionally, continual close communication with the Content Experts must be maintained to ensure that the material being developed continues to address the established goals and objectives of the training program.

Rehearsals and pilot classes are part of the controlling process in developing a training program. It brings all of the materials, content, and other facets of the training program together to see how the training will progress. Rehearsals and pilot classes allow all people involved to validate the content and verify that it addresses the goals and objectives initially established. If necessary, changes can be made to the content, presentation methodology, training aids, etc. to guarantee that those goals and objectives are met. These rehearsals and pilot classes can also result in the modification of the goals and objectives. For example, it may be determined that the objectives were too “ambitious” making the training program too long or, perhaps, targeted the wrong audience and need to be simplified or intensified.

This is the time to check the quality of the materials used in the training program and, just as important, the quality of the instructors presenting the material. A successful training program needs to have quality, experienced instructors. Too often, a person is designated as an instructor because he/she is technically proficient in the content of the training. However, proficiency in presentation and facilitation skills is extremely important also to ensure that the content is conveyed to the students in a way that will assure actual understanding of the training and that they can see how to transfer it to their job skills toolbox. If possible, choose instructors who have presentation skills. If that is not possible, more rehearsals will be needed to improve the designated instructor's presentation skills. Sending the inexperienced instructor through a presentation skills class would be ideal, but not likely in most cases.

Project Closeout

Project closeout in training program development occurs when the training program is ready to implement. All the materials including the student workbooks, the instructor guides, training aids, presentation slides, mock-ups, etc, are complete. Rehearsals and pilot classes have been conducted to ensure the validity and quality of the material and any approved changes have been incorporated.

Like any project, historical documents need to be written and archived for reference purposes to help in the development of any future training program development. Copies of all of the materials used in the training program should be included, not only as backups but for possible use in other training. A final meeting should occur with all of the people involved to write a Lessons Learned document. This document serves two main purposes. It is archived with the other documents for future reference but it should also be distributed now for use by other people within the organization.


Work, however, never stops on a successful training program. Evaluations of the training need to be conducted to continually ensure that it is adding value to the organization's business goals. The “smiley sheets” that the students complete at the end of the class help determine if the training objectives are addressing the right issues and the tests given to the students during the training help to ensure that the students are learning the material.

Eventually, a few months after the training has occurred, follow-up surveys with the students and their supervisors should be conducted to see if the knowledge gained in the training has actually been transferred to the employees skill set and is actually being used in the daily job. If not, further study needs to be completed to find the reason why it hasn't. Keep in mind that the reason may have nothing to do with the training. It may have to do with the work environment. If this is the case, training will be useless and, instead, actions to change the work environment need to be explored. If it is discovered that the training program does not successfully address the performance gaps, further changes to the training program can be initiated.


I have used the project management process successfully for many years in the development of innumerable training programs. I have found that it works for large or small programs, for softskill and technical subjects, for performance-based and knowledge-based programs, and for programs designed for continual implementation and “one-time” programs. In other words, any time you want to develop a training program. Looking at the development of a training program as a project makes it much simpler to determine the tasks needing to be accomplished and in managing those tasks.

It uses all of the recognized project management techniques identified in the PMBOK® Guide to successfully manage the completion of a unique project – a training program. So, as you see, you don't have to been an expert in Instructional Systems Design. Your knowledge and skill in project management will ensure that you can be successful in the development of training programs for your organization.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2005 Steven W. Nessel, PMP
Originally published as part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings - Toronto



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