Managing Small Training Projects

Smart training project managers adapt their project management systems, processes and tools to suit the size of the project.

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Applying Project Management Methods

Organizations reap significant benefits when they treat the design and rollout of important training programs in a disciplined way. Whether the organization is designing and delivering a leadership development program or sourcing a vendor to deliver a course on innovation and creativity, there are a variety of interrelated tasks that need to be undertaken by key people for the program to be a success. It pays to treat the training initiative as a project, using established project management principles and methods.

Which tools and practices you use on your training project will depend on the size and complexity of the initiative. This Expert View considers how to handle a small initiative that involves few organizational units and external training vendors. Small initiatives are also characterized by involving changes to no more than one or two organizational systems and processes.

Training Project Phases

Projects, both small and large, progress through a set of phases. The end of each phase marks a check-off point before the work product moves to the next phase. The ADDIE model is a well-known and respected project-based approach designed specifically to delineate phases for training projects. Since its origin in the 1940s, it has been used on both small and large training projects in thousands of organizations worldwide.

As work progresses through five clearly defined phases, this helps to ensure that no development activity is started before a necessary pre-activity is completed. For example, development of participant materials is not begun before the program design is completed. In this way, rework is minimized, saving costs and much frustration.

The five phases of the ADDIE model are shown in Figure 1 below. The first phase, Analyze, is typically preceded by a project initiation and planning phase. This initial phase determines the costs associated with undertaking the project and the expected organizational benefits resulting from it. This forms the overarching rationale for proceeding with the training program.

A Project Definition document is usually drawn up in this initial phase. This document outlines basic project parameters, such as objectives, scope, milestones and resource requirements. The completed document is then handed over to the person who will be managing the project. A comprehensive Project Plan document, which is typically written for larger projects, is usually avoided for small projects.

Figure 1 – ADDIE model project phases

Diagram showing project phases in ADDIE model

The ADDIE model clarifies the focus of the activities conducted in each phase; what it is that the people in each phase are fundamentally doing. It also states the desired objective of conducting those activities. The objectives are the quality requirements for the outputs of each phase. They state what would count as a successful completion of that stage. The next stage is not proceeded with unless these quality requirements are met.

The model also lists the deliverables expected from each phase. The deliverables are the tangible outputs required at the completion of each phase and usually consist of one or more documents. The deliverables resulting from one phase are then used as the input of the next phase. You can find customizable templates and guides for many of these deliverables in our Training Projects Template Pack.

The two primary characteristics of this phased approach are that:

  • each phase is defined in terms of the expected deliverables, and
  • the next phase is not started until the previous phase has been completed successfully

The end of each phase also marks a review point at which the program sponsor can decide whether to abort the project or proceed to the next stage. People working in each phase of the project complete specific activities. The number of people working in each phase and the exact nature of the activities will, of course, depend on the project. For each phase of your small project, consider which activities and deliverables are relevant. For example, do not create a separate high-level design document if a simple drawing of the high-level design included in the Project Definition document will suffice.

For smaller projects in particular, the linear nature of the phases in the ADDIE model can lead to long development times. Consider using a revision of the ADDIE model known as rapid prototyping. In many cases, this iterative approach to program design and development will lead to significantly faster lead times. Also adapt project management practices to suit the size of your project. This includes selecting the types of document deliverables relevant to your project.

A Word about Words

Be careful to notice the distinction between the term "program" and the term "project". The program is what the training participants experience; what we typically refer to as the training program. The project is the wider set of activities designed to deliver the training program. This wider set of activities is concerned with budget expenditures, resource allocation and scheduling, program design changes, managing risk, and so on.

The Training Professional as Project Leader

Training programs are usually embedded within an organization's wider change or improvement initiative. Even where there is no wider initiative at play, as our PRACTICE Approach™ illustrates, for training participants to be motivated to learn and apply their new skills back on the job, modifications will need to be made to other systems and processes.

Performance targets, policies, procedures and role descriptions may need to be revised to clarify new responsibilities and performance expectations following the training course. In addition, coaching, on-the-job aids, communities of practice and other workplace supports may need to be implemented for program participants to gain the most benefit from the training. Incentive schemes may also undergo modification in an effort to motivate participants to apply their skills the right way.

For small change initiatives and training programs, the question arises as to whom and how many people will manage these various aspects of the project. For large training projects, the answer may be clear. Many people will be required, each with their own specialist responsibilities in overseeing particular tasks and deliverables.

For small projects, most likely the person responsible for overseeing the design and development of the training program also has the capacity to oversee the other changes required. Where this is the case, typically, the training professional is nominated as the project leader responsible for overseeing the entire initiative.

During the training needs analysis phase, the training professional identifies organizational constraints limiting the potential impact of the proposed training program. They also work to get agreement from the people responsible to make the necessary changes to organizational structures, systems and procedures. In addition, they co-opt the support of the required experts and ensure that the work is completed to the agreed specifications. Finally, they work to make sure that the new structures, systems and procedures are implemented in a way that will properly support the training program.

Below are three scenarios that illustrate this form of training project leadership for small projects.

  1. A manufacturing company designs and implements a more structured and formal induction program for new recruits. The training consultant liaises with the Human Resources Manager in the design requirements for a new induction checklist for use by managers and inductees. The training consultant checks that the Human Resources Manager follows through on the design and implementation of the checklist.
  2. A professional services firm wants to retrain its management team in the use of the company's performance management system. The Training Manager advises the CEO and the management team of the need to redesign the confusing appraisal forms and to include employee appraisal metrics in each manager's bonus calculation. After obtaining approval for the changes, the Training Manager oversees the Human Resources department's appraisal form and bonus incentive scheme design changes.
  3. A furniture removalist company intends on training its casual workforce in manual handling techniques. The Learning Adviser works with the management team to agree safety targets and to construct safety metrics. The responsibility for measuring and reporting results is then handed over to the casual workers' operations manager.

For small programs such as these, our PRACTICE Approach™ provides a practical guide for the training professional on the elements to consider when wanting to maximize the impact of training. In addition, the Transfer of Training Checklist included in the guide serves as a useful project checklist for identifying these high impact tasks. The checklist is structured around the ADDIE model, allowing project leaders to assign tasks, set target completion dates and check off completed tasks in each of the five project phases.

Having the training professional oversee the entire project works well for small training projects that are low in complexity. This approach is especially suited in those cases where the training professional has:

  • high credibility within the organization

    (The training professional will need to work with people in other parts of the organization and possibly with higher authority than him or herself.)

  • considerable understanding of the other organizational systems and practices

    (Support systems, such as performance management and incentives, business metrics and online help are complex and interrelated.)

  • a working familiarity with the performance consulting approach

    (The training professional must adopt a systems view in which employee and organizational performance is an interplay of several interconnected factors.)

  • the required time, labor and material resources

    (Delivering high impact training that leverages off the other support systems within an organization takes considerably more time and resources than simply delivering a training "event".)

Where the project involves more organizational units, systems and people and is of greater complexity, it is best to manage it as a large training project. For large and complex initiatives, the planning and effort is divided up into a number of smaller projects. Each of these projects is assigned a dedicated Project Manager to ensure completion of that piece of work.

At the start of each initiative, discuss with the sponsor of the initiative the anticipated size and complexity of the program. You may need to call in other stakeholders and experts to help you decide. Once you have a handle on its size and complexity, you are then well-placed to set up appropriate project management systems, processes and tools to ensure a smooth completion.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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