Training developers often wear many hats: instructional designer, graphic designer, eLearning developer, and project manager, or scrum master, to name a few. Today, we are going to focus on the training project management hat so that you can wear it with style and confidence.
As a training project manager, you probably already know this, but we miss a lot of deadlines. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone!
In case you don’t believe me, check this out: According to the Standish Group CHAOS Report, less than a third of all projects are successfully completed.
In addition, according to a detailed study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which involved more than 10,000 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries, only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.
Does that mean that you are failing to deliver more than two-thirds of your training courses and programs on time? Maybe…
Training Project Failure: What is it?
My Management Guide defines it as:
“Project failure is a situation when a given project, which consumes human, material and financial resources, fails to deliver an acceptable Return on Investment (ROI), so it is terminated before the completion, no sufficient value is produced, and no benefit is delivered to the customer. This project is considered “failed” when it does not produce results in an expected way, exceeds its budget and time, and does not meet specifications.”
There are many factors that contribute to training project success (if done right) or training project failure (if done wrong). While no two training projects are exactly the same, the problems that can affect and potentially threaten them are often similar.
You can see a trend here.
Sometimes it is a single mistake that leads to failure. But more often than not, it is several mistakes intertwined.
There are 7 common reasons training projects end in failure. Given the frequency of these occurring, these mistakes can be considered “classic mistakes”. Read them, study them and remember them to avoid falling victim to them. Believe me, you will thank me later.
1. Having Unrealistic Training Project Goals and Deadlines
According to The State of Project Management Annual Survey 2016 conducted by Wellingtone, more than 34% of projects have no baseline.
In addition, a Geneca Survey revealed that only 55% of project managers are clear about the business objectives of their projects.
I would imagine this same stat would apply to training project management too, wouldn’t you?
Training Scoping Meeting
How often do we go into a training project and jump right into development without taking the time to host a Training Scoping Meeting with the stakeholders to complete the Training Analysis template? My guess is that it happens often.
Establish training project goals during the Training Scoping Meeting.
Undefined training project goals are one of the biggest factors in training project management failure. A well-defined training project goal is tied to one or more of a company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) or business strategies.
Yet, the Project Management Institute (PMI) explains that organizations report that an average of three in five projects is not aligned with business strategy.
How often are you ensuring your training projects and programs have a direct link to a KPI or business strategy?
Understanding The Organization’s Priorities
If you are leading the training function, it is critical to have an understanding of your organization’s key strategic priorities. You should examine projects to see how they align with your organization’s strategic goals.
Doing this helps with prioritizing training projects. Terminate projects that are low priority or if they are not somehow linked to the overall organization’s strategy.
2. Letting Changes Get Out Of Hand
As you know by now, I often work in the hybrid training project management methodology: WAgile, which is a combo of Waterfall and Agile.
Even so, it is important to cover what other training project management methodology others are using. Some training functions are all Waterfall while there are some that are Agile. Others are just winging it.
In the linear training project management methodology of Waterfall, regularly changing project scope and requirements can lead to training project failure and missed deadlines.
To reduce the chance of training project management failure, you lock down the scope of the project once you have figured out exactly what the training project objectives are.
Training project scope is everything that needs to be completed to meet the objectives and business goals of the training project.
It is important to document in detail all the stakeholders’ requirements that must be met to make certain a training project is successful. You and the training team can then understand what needs to be completed and how.
If the goals and requirements are not articulated, how will anyone know what success looks like? They won’t. It’s as simple as that.
If goals and requirements are added as the training project moves along, known as scope creep, the rate of project failure increases.
“Scope creep is pervasive in project management and difficult to manage because, as the name suggests, it creeps up on you,” says Kofi Senaya, Director of Product at the mobile app development company Clearbridge Mobile.
Scope creep looks like: “Hey, Shawntay Michelle, can we add an infographic? Oh, and two or three two minute animated videos?”
If you are working with a deadline for delivery, scope creep will impact the deadline. Have you ever heard of a one-month training project taking 12 months to complete? It happens.
Here’s the good news – strong training project management can curtail scope creep. This means you truly need to own wearing the training project management hat.
Sometimes, you may need to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ and explain how adding a few extra things here and there pushes on the delivery date. These tough conversations are a reality for us as training developers and training leaders who are responsible for training project management.
3. Using a Training Project Management Methodology Ineffectively
Poorly managed projects are doomed for failure from the get-go. With so many training project management methodologies available, there is likely at least one that you could easily implement.
Which one you use isn’t as important as using your preferred methodology effectively. Training project management guides every step of the development of the training project, so it is super important.
At the Instructional Design Company, we use a Waterfall and Agile combined approach, referred to as WAgile to meet deadlines while offering a bit more flexibility.
Here are some common training project management methodologies to consider:
- Waterfall project management
In this approach, you finish a project by completing it in stages and step by step. You create a project plan upfront and work it linearly.
- Agile project methodology
This methodology breaks down projects into small pieces. They are completed in Sprints until the work is complete.
- WAgile project management
This combines Waterfall and Agile. In training, we are often given a deadline (Waterfall) to work from that aligns with a release or launch of some product or new system. Then, apply Agile principles (i.e. breakdown all of the granular tasks and put them into a backlog).
In WAgile, we use the deadline to work backward from to load up our Sprints with the work that needs to be completed. If we find the due date given is unrealistic based on the work we have in our backlog, we communicate why it does not work and what does. This approach enables you to accommodate the necessary project changes as they occur.
4. Lacking Communication
“While nobody will refute the importance of constant communication to successful project management, once a project is underway it’s easy to miss times to meet with the team or provide updates to key stakeholders,” explains Bob Drainville, president of the time tracking app maker Timesheet Mobile.
Many projects fail when communication lacks with everyone involved in the project. Communication is the oil that allows effective decisions to be made across an organization.
Where communications breakdown, the effectiveness of the decisions made can rapidly turn sour and negative. Even in our own personal life, we understand that a lack of communication can cause huge problems.
Therefore, it is vital to communicate clearly and frequently with all involved in the training project. This includes the training team, the business owner of the training project, vendors, stakeholders, executive management, and other departments.
Don’t work in a silo. Communicate and collaborate with those around you.
5. Lacking Resources, Tools, or Skillsets
How can you expect a training project to be successful if it lacks the necessary resources, tools, and skillsets? The answer: You can’t. That is an unrealistic expectation that will ultimately lead to training project failure.
Resources can be anything from materials to personnel. Tools are exactly that: Tools. What tools do you need to build the training project? Storyline? iSpring? Captivate? After Effects? Skillsets refer to the skills of each member of the team.
It is important to examine the training project objectives to determine what resources, tools, and skillsets you will need to successfully deliver the training project or program.
If you find that you are missing what you need to successfully deliver the training project, you may need to ask for more resources, the acquisition of a tool, or upskill a team member.
6. An Inexperienced Training Project Manager
So many projects, so much mismanagement.
Training project management facilitates the planning, scheduling, execution, and controlling of all work that must be done to meet training project objectives.
The training project manager, who is often the training developer, is ultimately accountable for accomplishing training project objectives.
We all start out as inexperienced training project managers and that is okay. We don’t have to be experts to start. What we need to do is fail forward fast and learn from experiences.
Also, it’s important that we find a mentor who has experience in leading projects. Someone who can help guide the less experienced training project manager successfully deliver a training project.
Mentors can be other training team members, the training manager, or even project leaders from other organizations within the company.
7. Lacking Strong Executive Support
Having an executive sponsor who supports the project and who will go to bat for your project from start to finish, is a big factor in project success.
Yet, some organizations seem to think that they can still find success without executive support. They will later find out that it doomed their project from the beginning. I did.
Some years ago, I worked for an individual who told me he didn’t believe in training and that he wasn’t trying to offend me, but didn’t see value in a training function. Can you imagine how that made me feel?
My final project with him was one of my favorite projects of all time. It was truly cutting edge for my team and I. I checked in with him weekly and gave him updates on what we were doing and he kept telling me “Go! Make it Happen.” We did everything he asked us to do.
On the day before we planned to launch, he acted like he didn’t know anything about the project and told me to kill it because other leaders didn’t support it. He didn’t want to launch it.
This made me so upset with him. He told me he didn’t believe in the work of me and my team, who did amazing work. Actually, he did not believe in any training team. There was no support from him and he definitely would not go to bat for us.
The project was dead. It never saw the light of day. Looking back, it died even before it started. I’m not sure anyone outside of our team ever saw it, even my boss who killed it. I doubt he even looked at it. Why would he? He didn’t believe in training.
What You Can Do
To help mitigate situations like this, host training scoping meetings at the onset of the training project. Invite executive sponsors, subject matter experts, and anyone else who will need to be involved in the development of the project.
Ask for input, complete the Training Analysis template, establish weekly meetings to discuss the project, and ask everyone to commit to the success of the project.
There are many mistakes that can plague a training project, but all can be prevented or at least reduced.
What about you? What do you think?
Drawing upon your experience, what are some major reasons for training project failure or success? What did you learn from them? Please post below. I would love to hear from you!
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