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The Importance of Planning Training into Projects

by and Natalie Bartos

Projects are an integral part of any business today. We have worked together on various projects in the past six years and in this article we share what we have learnt from our experience. The focus of this article is not change management, but the key factors that need to be considered for the planning of training in projects. We acknowledge change management is an important aspect of any project and requires use of strong change management practices.

Why Is Training Important to Project Success?

To demonstrate the importance of the role that training plays in any project, ask yourself whether it is likely that the business will be willing to "go-live" with the project if staffs have not been trained in how to use any new systems and processes developed by the project.

You will increase your chances of project success if you meet the following business needs:

  • end users are well prepared to support the change and understand any changes to their role
  • support is available for staff during and after the change

Developing an effective training plan to meet these needs doesn't happen by accident. It is important that planning for training forms an integral part of overall project planning.

Planning for Training – A Project Manager's Perspective

You should plan for training at the outset of the project. This is no different to planning other important aspects of the project, such as communications or risk management. Training planning must involve input from a learning professional (e.g., a training instructor, consultant or advisor) who will help you scope and plan the training needs of the project.

This information should be a direct input into your business case development. Don't wait until after the business case is developed to start thinking about training needs and how they will be delivered. This is too late. If you do, it is likely that you will have to make compromises.

Training factors that will influence the development of the business case include:

Scope and Approach

It is important that this is agreed up front so that the business is clear about what training will be delivered. For example, will training be delivered using self-study modules, e-learning modules, hands-on workshops, or a combination of these approaches? Is the project required to update any existing training material that may have changed as a result of the project? Updating existing training material is often overlooked, but can be just as important as creating new training material to introduce new concepts.

Resources

A learning professional can help you to identify the appropriate resources to develop and deliver the training and can recommend whether the training can be delivered in-house or should be out-sourced. Ideally, the training will be developed and delivered using a combination of learning professionals and subject matter experts.

Time

Factors to consider include the lead time to develop and deliver the training. This will vary depending on project complexity, but these tasks may take longer than you might anticipate, particularly if there is a need to update training simulators and/or training environments with new software and training scenarios.

Other matters, such as trainee availability may impact on the timeline to deliver training. This is especially important if trainees include shift workers or part-time employees. Considering these matters in conjunction with a learning professional will improve the accuracy of your estimate and will help to determine the overall timeline for training and whether this is part of the critical path for your project.

Cost

Obtaining cost estimates from a learning professional will help to ensure your cost estimates for training are robust. A learning professional will also help you to identify other training expenses to include in the project budget.

Other Projects, Events and Constraints

It is important to consider the wider environment and the potential impacts this may have on your training plan. Events such as school holidays or other holiday periods are likely to impact on trainee availability. Other projects that are planned to be implemented around the same time as your project should trigger a discussion with your learning professional to determine whether these projects will impact on your training plan.

For example, it may be practical to deliver the training for the projects together. A learning professional can advise whether this approach is appropriate or whether it would be better to stagger training (with sufficient time between each session) to avoid overwhelming trainees.

Failure to plan for these considerations may result in unexpected and potentially high impact changes to the project. Finally, involvement from your learning professional doesn't stop after the project planning phase. The learning professional should be an integral part of your core project team and should have ongoing involvement in the project, just like any project team member. This will ensure that the training plan is kept current and will ensure that your project remains on track to meet expected training outcomes.

Shown below is an example of a project structure with a learning professional as part of the core project team.

Figure 1 – Project structure incorporating learning professional

Project team structure incorporating learning professional

What Key Factors Should the Learning Professional Consider?

As a learning professional, you need to be aware of the projects that are active in the business and how they will affect your business area and the customer you serve. It is important that you have effective communication channels with the business to be aware of projects. Attending management meetings and team meetings will help you pick up projects planned and their implications for the business. You need to work closely with the business project manager to achieve expected training outcomes for the project and discuss the following training aspects:

Resources and Cost

  • Plan your training strategy for implementation of the project and the resources required to achieve the required outcome. This should determine the budget requirements.
  • Determine the timeline to create new material, deliver the training and update existing training material.
  • If it is a project involving IT systems and applications, it is important to know what environment will be available for training. Major IT systems projects should ideally provide a training environment where people can learn without affecting the IT systems production environment.
  • Identify the subject matter experts you will be working with. It is important that people you are working with have the authority to give technical sign-off on the training material. Technical sign-off confirms that all content is technically correct. Only people who are involved from the beginning of the training development life-cycle should be considered for the responsibility of technical sign-off. This will avoid unnecessary delays and complications at the end of the project.

Communication

  • It is important that you attend project meetings and update the project on your progress. Project meetings are also an opportunity to gauge the health of the project and see if anything happening in the project affects the work you are doing.
  • Usually, external consultants have limited knowledge of the business and may not be aware of the organisation structure and business dynamics. It is important that you proactively communicate with the project and make sure they have a training plan that meets the quality and standards of the organisation.
  • Internal training departments are in a unique position where they have the business perceptive of various departments across the organisation. It is important that you share this knowledge and its implications on the projects you are working on.

As a learning professional, you also need to think about your plan for ongoing business as usual and new-start training after the project is completed. Usually, projects have resource and monetary constraints. It is important that learning professionals are flexible, innovative and create learning solutions that meet the business objective, learner needs and quality standards of the organisation.

Copyright © Darshan Shetty and Natalie Bartos

About the Authors
Darshan Shetty

Darshan Shetty holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Open Polytechnic of New Zealand and a Bachelor of Engineering - Computer Science from Mangalore University, India. He has over eight years' experience as a learning professional in New Zealand. Darshan's experience includes working in tertiary, health and energy sectors.

Natalie Bartos is a Project Manager with Transpower NZ Ltd. She is a Project Management Professional (PMP®) and has over eight years' experience in the energy industry. Natalie has led a number of major projects affecting the New Zealand electricity market, all of which required system and concept training.

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