Launching a training program can be a daunting task, one that take months or even years to shepherd from its inception (identifying the need for an intervention) to its closure (evaluation). It takes planning, organizing, and managing resources to successfully complete your goals — or, in other words, it takes project management.
Most training professionals aren't certified as project managers by the Project Management Institute, yet those skills are an increasingly important part of a training professional’s repertoire. If your organization isn't managing the development of learning programs as a project, you should.
Instructional Design (ID) is an important process, but there’s much more to developing a complex learning program than simply ID. Project management also helps balance the needs of the learning project with the 647 other concurrent tasks you're probably also working on. So here are a few project management principles all training professionals should try to leverage:
Project Management Tools
There are countless tools that can effectively be used to manage projects, most of which make it easier to manage the life cycle of a project. Regardless of the tool you choose, just make sure it includes a few critical features:
- Does it track specific deliverables?
- Do the tasks described have specific deadlines attached to them?
- Is there personal responsibility assigned to each task?
Managing those three things – deliverables, deadlines, and responsibilities – will help keep your learning projects on track.
Planning and Forecasting
Another aspect of project that management training pros need to consider is the ability to forecast the resources and duration required for learning projects. In many cases, you can simply use past experiences as a basis by which to forecast resources for new projects. In addition, standard project management practices like work breakdown structures are very useful in calculating the duration of a new project.
Of course, work breakdown structures are only useful in calculating durations in situations where durations are not pre-set. Too often, training professionals are involved with projects that consist of “here’s what I need… and here’s when I need it.” When a deadline is in place before an analysis is complete, the definition of "duration" changes. It’s no longer about how long a project will take; it becomes more about how long each task will take, and deciding which tasks will get priority in the constricted timeline.
In those situations, I usually try to present two solutions: The solution for the current situation, and the solution we might offer if there wasn't a deadline. I find this helpful for two major reasons.
- Too often, the deadlines chosen by stakeholders are selected for non-critical reasons. When presented with a well-structured, "We can do it quick or we can do it right" option, stakeholders may be willing to adjust what once seemed like non-negotiable timelines.
- In situations where timelines cannot be adjusted, the two solution approach still has merit. Even though the timeline for the current project is set, sharing the type of tasks needed for a fully developed program will educate stakeholder for future projects.
Constant Communication & Defining Success
There are a number of ways to communicate on projects to keep both stakeholders and partners up-to-date. These tools range from standard project status meetings and conference calls to more technological solutions like shared files and live updates.
Ultimately selecting the right type and frequency for project communication comes down to one simple rule: ask. Different stakeholders have different expectations; some may want detailed status reports while others may only want a brief call to discuss issues only. Find out what the project stakeholder is looking for, and deliver on that expectation.
Measuring success of a learning project involves some core questions, including:
- Was the project delivered on time?
- Was the project delivered on budget?
- Were the learning and performance objectives of the project met?
For me, measuring success happens during one of the first meetings I have with a stakeholder on a project. It’s then that I find out how they measure success. I spend the rest of the project timeline delivering on those metrics.
Training professionals need to have at least some basic project management skills in heir tool belt. Developing and managing a learning program is one thing; managing and adapting to all of the resources and external forces that can impact a program is something else entirely. That’s project management, and it’s a competency that is very much needed by training professionals.
David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and member of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.