Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reflections on #lrnchat: Training Project Management

Image use courtesy of lrnchat and Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets)

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.


The topic of this week's #lrnchat session was Training Project Management". 

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:
Q1) How does your organization track and manage learning projects?
Q2) How do you forecast resources and durations?
Q3) What methods do you use to communicate progress with your clients/business partners?
Q4) How do you onboard new resources to a project?
Q5) What tools do you use to promote collaboration on a project team?
Q6) How do you measure the success of a project?

Launching a Training Program can be a daunting task.  It can take a great number of months or even years to take a program from its inception (example: the identification of the need for an intervention) to its closure (example: evaluation).  It will likely require the usage of various resources, including personal resources, during the term of the program.

The discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives is commonly referred to as Project Management.  When you consider the length of time, the variety of tasks, the number of people involved, and all the other factors that make the development of a learning program so complex, you realize that the act of keeping the development of of a learning program on track is, in many ways, project management.

Most learning professionals are not certified as project managers by the Project Management Institute, yet project management skills are an increasingly important part of a learning professional's skill set.

This week’s #lrnchat discussion explored the idea of Project Management for Learning Professionals, and how it will be an increasingly important skill for today’s learning professionals.

The chat started by polling participants on how they currently track and manage learning projects.  I think this question skips an important prerequisite: DOES your organization track and manage learning projects? 

If your organization is not managing the development of learning programs as a project, you should.  Instructional Systems Design is an important process, but there’s much more to developing a complex learning program than simply ISD.  Project Management also helps balance the needs of the learning project with the 647 other concurrent tasks you are likely working on.

In terms of actual tools that are used to manage and track learning projects, the responses were not all that different than the tools used to track non-learning projects.  There are countless tools that can effectively be used to manage projects.  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.

From there the discussion moved towards how Learning Professionals can forecast the resources and duration required for learning projects. 

Most of the discussion here surrounded using 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 durations for new projects.

Of course, work breakdown structures are only useful in calculating durations in situations where durations are not pre-set.  Too often, learning 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 the pre-chosen deadline were not in effect.  I find this helpful for two major reasons.

1.    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
2.    In situations where timelines can not 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.

The discussion then moved on to communication.  Communication is a critical part of effective project management, and learning projects are no exception to that.

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.

Onboarding of new resources is another challenge of training project management.  When a new person is added as a project resource, it's important that they be onbboarded as quickly as possible so that they can begin working on their assigned tasks as soon as possible.  Most people agreed that strong project documentation and a one-on-one discussion are effective ways of quickly onboarding a new resource.

Unfortunately it’s often the learning professional that is being brought into a project mid-stream, so we are the ones being onboarded.  In that case it's critical that we make sure we have an understanding of our role and responsibilities so that we can provide the necessary support.

From there the discussion moved towards how we can promote collaboration on projects.  Technology has given us a great number of new ways to collaborate, even across great distances.  We can have discussions and Share documents in just about any social media platform, and we can collaboratively work on documentation via shared workspaces like Dropbox and Google Docs.

For me the best tool for collaboration isn't a technology or even a 'tool' in the traditional sense.  I find that the effective use of accountability is a great way to enhance collaboration.  Accountability is not a bad thing, especially when it is administered by the group as a whole rather than the authoritative position of a 'project manager'.

The chat closed with a discussion on how we measure the success of a project.  Most participants agreed that 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.

I think this chat showed that learning 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.

Until next week #lrnchat-ers!

7 comments:

  1. Dave,

    Great post once again...and a topic I am very passionate about! Unfortunately I missed this #lrnchat.

    I agree with your summary that all learning pros should seek to acquire some understanding of project management - it will serve them well in terms of not only achieving the learning objectives but help them define these objectives from a business stand point and not just a learning need.

    I'm including a link to our #elearnchat session with Terrence & Rick where we cover "7 must haves of PM" for L&D pros: http://www.vimeo.com/23247724

    @pmtrainer

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