Getting value-driven results from project management training

 Project Management

We are spending millions on 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.

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. Also, he government’s employment equity guidance and the Skills Development Act continues to encourage increasing spend on training in both private and public sectors.

The South African Department of Labour reports that R57 billion was spent over the last 10 years through the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) governed Skills Education Training Authorities (SETA) alone. In addition, the King III report points out that director’s are accountable for developing human capital.

Good change and transition practices are essential contributors to strategy fulfilment.

In the project management space there is increasing recognition that good project and transition practices are essential contributors to strategy fulfilment and the realisation of measurable benefits. Building this organisational 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? What should those results look like and why aren’t we currently getting them?

The typical approach to organizational training is not working.

Here’s the typical approach that organisations follow to enter an employee into 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 appears to satisfy the individual’s criteria, but the focus is more about the recognition of the certification than how well it aligns to organisational 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. When the training is not organisationally 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, Ebbinghaus’ “Curve of Forgetting” kicks in and within a week he has lost 80% of his new found knowledge.

Low project maturity is not helping.

This is where the project management officesteps in to save the day. Unfortunately the organisation is part of the 70% of organisations that are at a project maturity level lower than 3, so it does not have a repeatable and consistently-used approach to project and portfolio management. Therefore, it cannot effectively align the diverse organisational project management training needs to the individual skills development requirements.

It can however, meet its BT (Brains Trained) performance target, and hence the focus on getting signed off attendance registers. Next, it’s over to the procurement department to select a few service providers to deliver the courses. In many cases the procurement departments have no idea what to look for, so reverts to satisfying their performance target of percentage saved against median cost. Yes, that’s right, 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. Meanwhile, the great project management training providers look after the valuable clients; a universal rule I’m afraid.

So what should happen to get value out of training?

Start by understanding the capability gaps of both your employees and the organisation. For the context of this article your employees refers to project managers, PMO staff, members of your portfolio committee, programme managers and project steering committee members; really anyone that’s involved in projects, transition and change.

You can now identify the real gaps and start planning a training programme that addresses the organisational 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 requires 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 organisational preparation and change as well. After all, the training programme’s overarching purpose is to improve organisational performance as well as individual performance, right?

Donald Kirkpatrick’s four level training evaluation system.

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, while those who write their 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, in which 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.

The fourth level 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.

In Summary.

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

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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