As L&D professionals we all invariably happen to do project management activities day-in and day-out. We list down below, some of the main project management aspects and indicate what they mean for an L&D professional.
In L&D projects it means consolidating all the bits that form the whole. It also means strong coordination with various departments needed for smooth execution of the programme.
Integration becomes much simpler with Project Management tools. While selecting tools it is useful to check for the following:
- Can it track specific phases and milestones of our learning programmes?
- Can it provide sufficient data to prepare daily/weekly/monthly reports?
- Can we assign specific deadlines to our tasks? Can it send automatic notifications about approaching deadlines?
- Can we have personal responsibility assigned to each task?
- Does it have a document management feature?
Project Managers often create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which helps them organize the team’s total work into manageable sections, so that integration becomes simpler. Here is a how a very basic WBS looks like.
Managing the Scope
For L&D professionals, scope management is largely about doing goal analysis – it helps in reducing likelihood that you will be misinterpreted. For example “make employees’ approach professional” might mean very different things to different people.
Peter Drucker rightly said: What gets measured, gets managed. Scope statements should include measurable success criteria for the project. It is important to identify the limitations of the training, or items that will not be done as part of the programme, otherwise people might assume / expect certain aspects which were never planned or budgeted. Often it is useful to include a section of “what is not in scope” in the training plan, for clarity. Without sign-off of the scope, the subsequent phases of the training might have issues executing.
How to define scope? Defining scope starts off from understanding what people will need to do differently to meet the business requirement. In the beginning you won’t have low level details, but at least you can start to develop a picture linked to your business processes. Having clarity of scope will help you to manage the expectations of your stakeholders about what the training will and won’t deliver.
Managing the Time
Training time management involves crisply defining activities, sequencing them, ensuring availability of trainees at scheduled times, ensuring trainees do not miss job responsibilities during training times (or plan for mitigating those risks), and so on.
It is very necessary that employees’ supervisors approve their absence, so that training does not affect their work schedules or any related dependencies.
Once again for time management, Project Management tools come to rescue. Some popular tools are Microsoft Project, Smartsheet and Podio.
Gantt Chart: Here is a picture of Gantt Chart, which is an advanced view of a WBS, and is very useful for time management, in terms of showing relationships between activities, dependencies, schedules, and current statuses in terms of percent-complete.
Managing the Cost
The goal here is to get the training interventions completed within approved budget. Often the cost of training programmes is not borne by the client, and this leads to loss of billing for the employees attending the training. In addition to that loss of billing, the company would also bear the cost of the training programme, and all this has to be budgeted so that the ROI for the training is in good shape.
Time management is important here – project costs keep on increasing if you are unable to meet the training milestones. Changes in the scope of the training also can severely affect costs. If that happens, project change control needs to get in place for any changes in costs incurred, and must be approved before moving ahead.
Managing the Quality
For the L&D function, this translates to measuring training quality & effectiveness. Success (a.k.a. effectiveness) of a training programme is considered great when it results into attitude development of the trainees, and not merely knowledge or skills. A training designed for customer service executives can be considered effective not solely on the basis of knowledge (theory of how to serve customers), or skills (hands-on experience by giving opportunities to serve), but more importantly by attitude development (e.g. empathy, or understanding & need of making customers’ lives better). But how do you measure attitude development?
If L&D professionals cannot show the value of their efforts, they are not seen as efficient in the eyes of their stakeholders. Approvers of training programmes often talk about ROI (Return on Investment) & ROE (Return on Expectations) as a measure of training effectiveness. From a project management perspective, it is often useful to isolate the effects of training because that could increase the accuracy and credibility of the ROI calculation.
Effective communication doesn’t just convey facts. It makes people understand the role they play in the project, keeps the stakeholders engaged, and the team members motivated.
Communication must be proactively done. Different stakeholders have different expectations – some want detailed status reports, while others only deem a one-liner adequate with an emphasis to success or failure. It is important to contact the stakeholders frequently, communicate often, and use communication to drive productive conversations. As far as training participants are concerned, it is important to brief them before the training and debrief them after the training session is completed.
Better communication helps us connect to the trainees in ways where they open up and provide us their candid comments & feedback. Being a better listener helps us understand business requirements from leaders better and subsequently design & develop better learning programmes.
The risk of not having your strategy aligned to your employer’s requirements is fatal. It actually goes back to track of the ‘why’ of any training intervention. No part of life is devoid of risk. On the one hand, only responding to training requests creates the risk of being insignificant in the organization (sometimes called comfortable extinction). On the other hand, being proactive, innovative & creative in designing programmes can turn into a strategic opportunity. A shift in the traditional mindset, a knack for disruption and looking at the bigger picture, can make the L&D professional the main catalyst for change in the organization.
Formative & process evaluation approaches can help in reducing risk during summative evaluation. Wisdom lies in willing to tackle any resulting issues quickly (not hurriedly), keeping the stakeholders informed, and staying in constant touch with the long-range view of the business.
As Project Manager, we need to identify, analyze, prioritize, communicate, and track the risks. To combat potential future risks in programme evaluations, look for validity, accuracy and reliability of the evaluating procedures. As such, evaluating procedures are only for objectively assessing participants’ newly acquired skills; the real evaluation happens after understanding how participants really perform on the job.
Learning professionals spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince management that the training ideas we have are worth doing. A typical response from the management is “But what’s wrong with the way we do it now?” When the stakeholder is the funding manager, we need to speak their language. We must be able to crisply define the problem, get them to agree on it, propose training as a solution, and then show them the ROI. Also, although various stakeholder groups readily agree in general about the kinds of results expected from training, they might hold very different views about what is important when it comes to evaluating training.
Some key stakeholders of the L&D function are listed below:
- Trainees’ managers
- Program sponsor
- Training developers & instructors
- Training vendors
- Training managers
Every stakeholder must have psychological ownership on the training effort. That is when they happen to be serious in terms of their support, accomplishments, expectations, and contributions. In the shoes of a project manager, the L&D professional must devise simple ways to measure satisfaction of various stakeholders with their contributions (efforts/time/energy/etc.) that they put in, and their corresponding inducements (benefits/outcomes/etc.).
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