Dr Project

May 2015

Dear Doctor Project
I sent my staff on a very intensive 3-day project management workshop. It’s been several months now but I’m not seeing any significant change in how they’re managing their projects. They’re all working on projects but managing them the same way as always. I just don’t know what to do. Was the training a waste of time?

Sincerely,
Senior Leader

Dear Senior Leader

Your question is a good one! Training is essential in project management so it’s important to apply it correctly and strategically to ensure you get impact and return on your investment. Here are some observations and suggestions to help you.

I did some research on your organization and reviewed the project management training that employees were given. Generally speaking, it’s important to note that there was a very small percentage of staff that received training; only 0.5%. When I contacted these employees, here is what they told me. In general, participants expressed that the training was excellent and that they had learned a lot in the 3 day program they had gone through. In fact, all of them felt highly motivated to apply the learning after the session ended and tried to work with others to teach and apply the project management methods, project planning tools and project management templates that they had learned. However, they found it difficult to educate their co-workers and team members who had not gone through the training.

The majority of your project team members were not trained. They didn’t want to spend the upfront time required to: create the team, scope out the project and develop a detailed project plan. They didn’t understand the benefit. In many of the project teams, only one of the members had been trained. This made it difficult for them to convince the rest of the team of the value of doing things differently. Furthermore, their project sponsors, who had also not received training, had no reason to support doing things any differently than before. As a result, the trained individuals eventually gave up on the methodology they had learned because the majority of their co-workers resisted it.
This feedback shows that while project management training can provide the necessary skills for improving processes and ways of doing things better, it needs to reach a critical mass of people in the organization to truly have an impact and make a difference. In this instance it would seem that your organization did not provide the training to enough people to generate sufficient impact. In our experience 50% of all project team members have to be trained before everyone on the team can be convinced of the value of doing things differently.

So before discarding the value of the project management training, I suggest that you ask yourself some of the following questions regarding your follow through efforts after the training:

  • What did you and/or members of the Leadership Team do to support the training? For example, did you insist that every project deliver a Scope Statement for approval?
  • Did you ask Project Managers to present their Milestone Report, Risk Assessment, or other critical reports?
  • Did you ask for regular project updates so that you’d understand whether project teams were on schedule and on budget? (i.e., planned vs. actuals)
  • Did you insist that no project changes be made without a Change Request being submitted and approved?
  • All these efforts would have helped to ensure that the training was supported and endorsed by employees.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that you have to get a critical mass of individuals trained or this one training session will not have the full, intended impact. And the training needs to be for all levels. For example, Project Sponsors require training on their role and responsibilities to ensure project success. And the leadership and management teams must have some training to learn their roles and responsibilities on projects; they provide resources to projects so must understand how they can best support these resources to get projects completed according to plan.

Another organization I have worked with suffered similarly. Then they decided to accept my recommendations. Within a few years they had trained almost 400 employees (25% of their project team members). It has impacted their culture. Employees say this is now “just how we do projects”. They reached the critical mass. When you walk into their office you can see project teams gathered in various meeting rooms. You walk in and what you see is incredible. They are following a consistent process, all using the same tools, templates and methodologies. In essence; they are speaking a common project management language.

You have a great opportunity to improve project management in your organization. The training you undertook was effective; it just wasn’t provided to enough people to make an impact. My advice to you is to train more employees and provide training for the project sponsors, leaders and other managers. This will help create a cultural change that supports project management in the organization. Don’t rely on these few trained individuals to lead the change or you will continue to be disappointed.

Regards,
Doctor Project

Doctor Project provides helpful advice for managing projects. This article provides tips on how to keep track of project details. Please send your questions, issues, concerns and challenges about your Projects, Project Leaders, Project Management Office (PMO or EPMO) or Project Sponsor to mstanleigh@bia.ca.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca