Managing Training Initiatives as a Project

Improve the chances of the success of your next training program design and rollout by managing it as a project.


Coordinating Program Activities

Training a group of employees for a specific purpose consumes considerable amounts of the organization's resources. Time and money is spent determining the need, designing the program (or choosing a training vendor) and purchasing materials. Managers spend time organizing schedules and training participants take time out to attend the training. It's in everyone's interests that the organization's resources are not spent in vain.

Savvy managers and trainers realize that successful training programs involve much more than participants learning in an isolated setting, divorced from their real jobs. Effective programs are those in which leaders, supervisors and training participants are all focused on improving an important aspect of workplace performance and organizational results. This improvement, in turn, depends on a number of other changes to the organization taking place. Training programs that get results are typically embedded within a wider organizational initiative.

Think about a recent important training program rolled out in your organization. It may be tied to the implementation of new systems, a company restructure or the development of new business-critical skills, such as leadership or innovation. Most likely, it involved revised procedures and policies that stipulated how employees should perform after the training and why. New role descriptions may have clarified the level of performance required. Monetary and non-monetary incentives may have been tweaked to give participants a personal reason to perform. And performance measures may have been implemented to give feedback to participants on their progress. (Our PRACTICE Approach™ combines all of these elements into a coherent set of practices that organizations can apply to their situation.)

Each of these pieces in the organizational jigsaw puzzle has its role to play. Importantly, one piece missing will compromise significantly the effectiveness of the wider initiative and of the training program. If the leadership team is to succeed in its objectives for the program, it must find a program coordinator to wrap these elements together. Without a coordinator to set a unifying direction for the initiative, the various elements will give rise to a disparate set of activities. Support staffs working on the program may add their own interpretations, follow hidden agendas or go off on well-meaning tangents.

Consider for a moment what would happen without a coordinator to tie the various pieces together. Without a nominated program coordinator, the program sponsors suffer the following risks:

  • procedures and role descriptions may be revised without specific linkage to the behaviors taught during the training
  • communication with managers, employees and stakeholders may be piecemeal and incomplete
  • devised performance targets and incentives may drive counterproductive behaviors

Have you performed a risk analysis for your program? It makes sense to minimize your risks by employing a dedicated coordinator to manage the overall program. One key task for the coordinator is to ensure that all communication takes place with the right people and at the right time. Timing is also critical in ensuring that the training sessions, on-the-job aids, revised procedures, role descriptions, and so on, are all made available in the right sequence and precisely when needed.

Taking a Project Management Approach

To give your program the best chance of success, this coordination function should be part of an overall project management approach to the wider organizational initiative. Treat the change or improvement program as a project using well-accepted project management principles and methods.

You might ask: What is a project? A project is a set of interrelated activities with the purpose of delivering a unique output within a given time frame and resource constraints. The output may be a new machine or manufacturing process, a new product, a computer system or a new corporate strategy. Projects delivering each of these outputs typically contain a training component tasked with skilling people up on using the outputs to bring about the organizational benefits anticipated. So, for example, if the project is delivering a new accounting system, the organization's accountants and other finance staffs will typically be trained in using the new financial reporting conventions and accounting software.

As work proceeds on the project, the project outputs progress through a number of phases. The end of each phase serves as a checkpoint before work progress to the next phase. For the training component of the project, the phases may be linear, with work on the next phase not starting till the work is fully completed in the previous phase. Documents will pass through phases, such as needs analysis, course design and development, course scheduling and, finally, course evaluation. The ADDIE model is the most popular model within this kind of linear approach to managing training projects.

Another approach favored by some organizations is to use an iterative method. This method is used when there is a very short timeline to complete the project. With this approach, earlier phases are revisited, with the work products becoming further refined with each cycle through the phases. So, for example, with this approach, an initial quick needs analysis leads to a prototype release of the course design. Stakeholders reviewing the prototype then work with project team members to further refine the course specifications before creating the final design. For the iterative approach to work, stakeholders, the program sponsor and the project team members must work very closely together. An example of this iterative approach to training projects is the Agile methodology.

Project Management Benefits

Using project management principles and methods not only provides the necessary central coordinating function, it also brings a number of other significant benefits to the design and implementation of your program. These advantages include:

  • managing scope to prevent schedule and budget overruns
  • managing risk to minimize the impact of adverse events on the program
  • managing program change to contain blowouts and unauthorized modifications
  • managing stakeholder expectations and communications to avoid dissatisfaction
  • managing tasks and schedule to preclude defaulting on program outputs

Notice that the above benefits of using project management methods are couched in the negative. This is to give you a picture of what can happen to a program that is not managed effectively. Reverse these to see the positive outcomes that can result from managing program design and implementation as a project. By managing your program as a project, you should receive these key benefits:

  • delivery on time and on budget
  • lower risk of failure
  • committed and satisfied stakeholders.

Getting Started

How the program coordinator manages the project depends to a large extent on the size and complexity of the organizational initiative. For small change or improvement initiatives, the person responsible for overseeing the design and development of the training program may also oversee the other aspects of the change. This is managing a training program in its simplest form.

For medium- to large-scale initiatives, the initiative is best divided up into separate projects. With this scenario, each project will encompass one major element of the overall initiative and will have its own dedicated project manager. In addition, a program manager is nominated to oversee the entire initiative. Your task now is to find out more about project management methods. Work to integrate them into your organization's key initiatives and reap the fruits of your labor.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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A Guide to Project Management

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A Guide to Project Management

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