Project management in L&D: Part 2

Project management's wisdom and processes can benefit learning and development. In last week's post, I examined the requirements, resources and risks associated with L&D programs. This post focuses on delivering the project (learning program).

Written by Emerald Works
Published 28 July 2016
Project management in L&D: Part 2

A project needs an accurate and complete "requirements capture" to succeed. This should be its first stage if these requirements are unclear, or if they will take a long time to capture accurately. You can conduct a learning needs analysis, for example, to do this.

Use the requirements statement or the product (program) requirement document to establish the project's acceptance criteria. Don't forget the non-functional requirements, because this is where most of its problems will likely arise.

Project management: Quality

You need to have quality procedures in place to catch problems as early as possible and, so, keep costs down.

It's not always obvious - looking at people and their output - whether the program has been effective and successful. You will only know this if you have accepted quality standards.

You should monitor and control the quality of all the defined deliverables in a project (program), but this is impossible unless:

  • You establish quality standards for all the project's generic elements.
  • You set out quality expectations for all the project's unique elements.
  • You put procedures for reviewing quality in place.
  • You actually hold quality reviews.

The project (program) manager shouldn't be the "last call" on quality, because he or she is under pressure to get the project out on time and to budget. Neither of these have much to do with quality.

Project management: Stakeholders

Tim Drewitt, Product Innovator at Kallidus, believes that "the ultimate quality standard is whether the training delivers the intended performance improvement. This requires all parties - including the learner (client) - to have voiced this at the start and to have agreed on the measurement process. Trying to establish this after the event is too late - and is poor project (and L&D) management practice. "Having said that, with digital learning programs, the quality of distribution will sometimes take center stage if it isn't 'got right.' I now 'start with the end in mind,' and have the distribution mechanism confirmed and tested with prototypes before content development starts. Poor distribution can ultimately destroy an otherwise successful learning intervention, so look at the delivery, including the design of the training content. "As L&D professionals, we might think we know best, but it's our learners and subject matter experts who'll set the quality standard of whether the program does what it needs to, and how effective and efficient it is. This could even mean having to compromise on what traditional instructional design quality standards might once have told us."

Project management: Change

Every project (program) experiences change, but it is uncontrolled change that poses the biggest risk. Testing introduces rapid change, and many post-delivery "bugs" are really changes in disguise. Moreover, you can only track change from an agreed "baseline." Drewitt says, "My best baselines have been those that the customer, the sponsor, subject matter expert, and learner have determined. They're the best people to articulate what's happening now, and what the future needs to be. "That's not to say, however, that they can immediately articulate it. Current behaviors and performance often result from ingrained habits that a good facilitator - the L&D consultant - must unpick. "I've sought to establish tangible baselines in terms of what the sponsors would see people doing and hear them saying if the learning had been successful. These become behaviors that you can observe and measure, even before you attempt to correlate business performance with the learning itself."

Project management: Monitoring and managing

When it comes to monitoring and managing the project (program), there's an alternative system to project management's well-known GANTT charts. This approach divides the project into its major processes, and identifies the tasks for each. This
  • Identifies suitable milestones, resource requirements and specific stages in the project.
  • Ensures that task dependencies are known, and that all the elements are considered at a high level before the details are established.
You will be able to track the project in more depth if you have multiple milestones. Only measurable milestones in a project are useful. So "sign-off for the specification" is a good milestone, while "design 50 percent completed" isn't. "There should be a few key milestones worthy of examination and celebration," says Drewitt. "The prototype or pilot is the first one in this regard. "Completing a successful pilot is something to be celebrated, even if it's resulted in substantial changes. Better to give thanks for finding these things now than after the learning materials' formal launch! "The other key milestone is the final roll-out of the finished program. That said, I'd set a milestone at some point after the program has been signed off as complete - to measure how successfully it's been deployed. If the best solution is poorly deployed, it can't be celebrated as enthusiastically as it should be!"

Project management: Scope

Nick Hindley, Associate Director, Performance Improvement and Innovation (RSMM and AIM) at global contract research organization PPD, believes that "scope is critical" when relating L&D to project management. "Too often, L&D outcomes are too generic - for example, 'to improve communication'," he says. "For L&D to deliver on ROI, the outcomes must be specific and linked to actual changes in delivery by the participants. "Then, once you've got a clear outcome, it's easier to identify the key success factors and evaluate them. You do that initially, as the training starts, and again, in the longer term, to assess whether the benefits have been realized. "In my experience, it's best practice to run a pilot course before 'going live' with a large community. You can do this with an initial, live audience of participants or HR colleagues with a clear brief about what they're supposed to be gaining. "With L&D, I've also found it invaluable to have key business leaders involved in the delivery as co-facilitators, project team coaches, and mentors. This adds credibility to the course and provides a stronger understanding for the management team of what they must do to support the training."

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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