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Taking a Project Management Approach in the Creation of Learning and Development Programs – Part I

Learning and development professionals often have quite a lot on their plates – usually with short timelines and unrealistic expectations set upon them. These are frequently one of the smaller departments within a company, utilizing few resources to accomplish projects that, frankly, have a strategic impact on the organization. In many cases contractors are called in to provide support. Learning and development initiatives can be costly to implement within the organization, most especially if you are developing programs for high potentials or for succession planning purposes.  Development of a learning program may include assessments, competency modeling and other initiatives that require significant planning and preparation.  Taking control of your learning and development projects by incorporating a bit of project management processes will enable you to:

  • Better plan and implement programs
  • Better meet the needs of your clients
  • Align programs with other strategic initiatives within the organization
  • Develop improved predictability around timelines and budgets for implementing learning programs
  • Ensure consistency in how programs are developed, piloted and rolled out within the organization
  • Utilize resources more effectively and efficiently

When starting off with a learning & development initiative, follow these steps:

  • Define the need
  • Plan the project
  • Manage the project
  • Implement/roll out the project
  • Evaluate and make adjustments

For purposes of this post, we will follow a case study through the 5 steps above.  The project will be developing a program to improve the presentation skills of corporate sales staff.

This post will cover Steps 1 – 2 above.

Define the Need

Define the specific need for the program to be developed.  Be sure to involve all relevant stakeholders in this step to be sure you are capturing all of the needs.  Your document should include the following:

  • Project Description: What are you developing?
  • Purpose of the Program: What is the reason for the program?  Why is it being developed?
  • Stakeholder list: Itemize the list of stakeholders and their particular goals.
  • Business Objective:  What is the objective of the business in implementing this project?
  • Learning Objectives: What are the learning objectives of the program?
  • Program Goals (ROI): What are the goals of the program?
  • Program Development: How will the program be developed? What will it include?
  • Budget: What is the project budget?
  • Timeline: What is a timeline for completion?

Example Program Need Document: Presentation Skills for Corporate Sales Staff

Project Name

Presentation Skills for Corporate Sales Staff

Project Manager

Alan Birch, L&D Manager

Project Description

Develop an instructor-led course to improve the presentation skills of corporate sales staff that make presentations to external clients.

Program Reason

Date from surveys of lost new client engagements (lost at the presentation stage) has shown that corporate sales staff are not effective at conveying the value that the company brings to the client.  Corporate sales staff cannot differentiate themselves from their competitors and are not confident making presentations at higher levels within organizations.




(partial list)

Stakeholder Name and Title


John Andrews, VP of Sales

Increase sales personnel competency in creating and delivering effective client presentations.

Increase client base.

Janet Tenson, SVP Finance

Increase win rate when up against competitors.

Increase bottom line revenue.

Alex Rodman, CEO

Increase bottom line revenue.

Increase number of client accounts.

Various corporate sales personnel

Increase client base and thereby increase commissions.

Increase confidence in delivering presentations.

Business Objective

Increase the client base and revenue by delivering more effective presentations to external clients – focusing on the benefits working with the company and the value add the company brings to the client; be better prepared to address the competition.

Learning Objectives

Corporate sales staff must be able to:

  • Recognize what makes a presentation effective or ineffective
  • Demonstrate the ability to create and deliver effective sales presentations – through development of a client presentation which will be presented in the class to a mock client audience
  • Understand what are the components of a successful presentation document
  • Confidently present the company to a client – highlighting value add, benefits of working with the company, how the company compares/contrasts to competitors, etc.

Program Goals (ROI)

If the program is effective, within a 2 year time period:

  • Loss of potential new client engagements at the presentation stage will decrease from a current of 52% to 20%.
  • The client base (number of new clients added) will increase year-over-year from a current of 10% to 50%.
  • Amount of revenue from current clients will increase by 5% year-over-year.

Program Development

The course will be an instructor-led course, 3 days in length, with hands-on activities.  Content will include:

  • Review and critique of past presentations for effectiveness/non-effectiveness
  • Videotaped presentations
  • Development of client presentations
  • Lessons learned from client presentations
  • Review of survey results from lost opportunities
  • Review/feedback to participants from in-class presentations to a mock client audience


To Be Determined – estimated at $95,000 for development and run of pilot program. Includes the use of contract resources.

An action planning component would be built into the program to ensure there is a plan in place for participants to apply the skills once they were back on the job.

Plan the Project

Once the need has been defined, clarified and approved by all relevant stakeholders and the budget has been set and approved, begin to plan the project of developing a program to improve the presentation skills of the corporate sales staff.

Build your project plan, including information on:

  • Finalize the objectives of the program being developed
  • Determine resources who will be assigned to the project, such as course developers, subject matter experts, instructional designers, editors, outside contractors, etc.
  • Create the Work Breakdown Structure (see below – Exhibit A – for a high level WBS of this example project)
  • Create the schedule for development and implementation of the program
    • Estimate time to complete all activities
    • Include time for launch and evaluation of pilot program
  • Break down the budget to the various components of the project
    • Include the pilot of the program, binding of materials, instructor costs to lead the session, computer equipment needed, contractor services, etc.  This should be a comprehensive, detailed budget.
  • Develop a change management process for the project – inevitably something will change, be prepared for it
  • Determine a pilot group to “test” the program before final release
  • Develop your communication plan for status updates, etc.
  • Kick off  the project with a meeting of the team members

Exhibit A: This is only a very high level overview of a WBS for the development of the presentation skills program for corporate sales staff.  You would want to go much deeper in the creation of your WBS, including all tasks and activities associated with the project.

High Level WBS

The project planning component should be a significant part of your project.  Detailed planning up front will certainly make the whole project a smoother running one.  Make sure you involve the project team in the planning process; the stakeholders too.  Build a detailed project plan for the initiative.  Remember – something always comes up during a project – especially this type of project – that will make the project take longer than you think.  The more comprehensive your project plan, the better you are able to plan for such issues and manage them easier and more effectively.

Part II of this post will focus on the next three steps: Manage and Implement and Evaluate.

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