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Getting value driven results from Project management training

All private and public sector organizations invest a considerable amount of money in training, varying from a few employees a year to thousands, with many larger organizations running their own campus in addition to external service provider venues.

With a direct training cost of about R3 000.00 per day plus a rough average R2 500.00 for lost productivity, multiplied by a typical “personal development programme” allocation of 10 days per annum, we are looking at an annual cost of R55 000 per employee. Do the numbers, an average corporate will quickly get to a conservative R200,000,000 p.a., and project management training with all its nuances will take a fair chunk of this.

Training budgets are considerable and getting larger. According to the 2011 ICAS report “Overcoming SA’s skills challenge” South African companies were spending about 3% of their payroll on training, and the government’s employment equity guidance and the Skills Development Act continues to encourage increasing spend on training in both private and public sectors. The dept. of labour report that R57 billion was spent over the last 10 years through the SAQA governed SETA’s alone. In addition the King III report points out that director’s are accountable for developing human capital.

In the project management space there is increasing recognition that good project and transition practices are essential contributors to strategy fulfilment and the realization of measurable benefits. Building this organizational competency in change and managing the associated risks takes considerable effort, and has driven up the levels of project management training.

But is the expenditure on training getting the required results, indeed, what should those results look like and why don’t we get them now?

Here’s the typical approach organizations follow that gets an employee on a project management training event. It starts with project managers wanting to skill up and get certified, so a few internet searches uncover the desired training course and some service providers. The course outline is briefly perused and seems to satisfy the individual’s criteria, but the focus is more about the recognition of the certification than how well it aligns to organizational requirements. Once selected the project manager gets approval, attends the course, updates his CV and ticks off the classroom days against his annual performance target for his personal development days. Because the training is not organizationally aligned our project manager is not able to apply much of what he has been taught, so in spite of the 100 billion Neurons that his brain has at its disposal, Ebbinghuas’s “Curve of Forgetting” kicks in and within a week he has lost 80% of his new found knowledge.

Next year, or earlier if our project manager has a few personal development days left, another course is selected and more time and budget wasted.

Now the project management office steps in to save the day, and some budget. Unfortunately the organization is in the 70% of organizations that are at a project maturity level lower than three, so it does not have a repeatable and consistently used approach to project and portfolio management; it probably has a number of diverse ways of running projects and therefore cannot effectively align the diverse organizational training needs to the individual skills development requirements. Never mind, at least the PMO can get basic project management training going, save budget, and meet its BOS “Butts on seats” performance target (I prefer BT (Brains Trained), hence the focus on getting signed off attendance registers. The next budget wasting step is to select a few training courses, probably a basic level followed by a higher level, maybe some tool training, then over to the procurement department to select a few service providers to deliver the courses. The procurement department have no idea what to look for, so reverts to satisfying their performance target of % saved against median cost. Yes you’ve got it, the cheapest provider is selected, who now has to show a profit, no problem, cut down training time, materials and venue costs, and use junior facilitators; whilst the great ones are looking after the valuable clients; this is a universal rule I’m afraid.

So now we have the wrong employees on an inappropriate training event, delivered by a junior trainer via the cheapest provider. It can get worse, because Procurement and the PMO can satisfy both of their performance targets with even greater gusto by throwing everyone on E-learning events. Great, but this training delivery method requires careful attention and positioning in the learning cycle in order to produce value.

So what should happen to ensure we get the value out of our training?

Let’s start by understanding the capability gaps of both your employees and the organization. For the context of this article your employees means project managers, PMO staff, members of your portfolio committee, programme managers and project steercom members, really anyone involved in projects, transition and change.

You can now identify the real gaps and start planning a training programme that addresses the organizational needs as much as it does the individuals, however the training programme goes way beyond the allocation of the right employee on the right course; you have to look at what must happen prior to and after the training.

Pre-training engagement means managers and employees setting expectations on what the employee will be doing differently following the training event, and how the training experience will assist the trainee and the employer to change behaviour and improve performance. There should also be some organizational preparation and change as well, after all the training programmes overarching purpose is to improve organizational more than individual performance, right?

We can look to Donald Kirkpatrick’s four level training evaluation system to identify the path from training, to performance improvements.

The four levels are 1) Reaction, 2) Learning, 3) Behaviour and 4) Results.

 The initial Reaction level is the typical “smile form” following a course, where learners indicate what they thought of the facilitator, the refreshments and the air conditioning etc.

At the next level, the Learning evaluation assesses how well the trainees have absorbed the content, normally through an exam. My experience shows me that delegates who separate their training from their exam by more than a few days do miserably, whist those who write there test immediately after the training event do much better; Our short term memory is truly short.

Only when we start assessing the third level, called Behaviour evaluation, where we determine whether people can practically apply their new knowledge and change their behaviour, are we really going to see some return on our training budgets. We can say here that the new knowledge, plus action, has now become a skill.

Assessing the Behaviour level is going to require taking some measures prior to training that are able to be assessed post-training as well. Don’t do this from scratch; there are some excellent competency baselines available. Remember that I mentioned that there should be some organizational change? Well you need some measure of this as well.

The fourth of Kirkpatrick’s levels is the Results evaluation. Here we want to see what the impact of the training intervention is on the performance of the organisation. This is achievable if we started off with a well thought out organizational training programme that aligned to our overall project management KPI’s.

This article explains rather briefly how organizations should be getting real value and benefits out of their project management (and other areas) training budgets, against the common, current approach that makes little difference to organizational performance despite the considerable sums of squandered funds spent on training.

In Summery

I trust that I have shown you how basic training has to go beyond basic learning and into applied skills and measurable performance improvements. An excellent training programme, when implemented correctly will directly influence your project management performance, and justify further spend on excellent training.

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