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

In Part I of this post we focused on the first two steps – define need and plan. This post will focus on the next three steps – manage and implement and evaluate

Manage the Project

You have worked with the relevant stakeholders to define the need and have worked with the project team to plan the project. The final project cost, once fully mapped out, was expected to be $125,000 (the project was estimated at $95,000) and would take one and one half months to develop before a pilot group could be run through it. Now…you need to manage the learning and development project ahead of you: developing a program to improve the presentation skills of the corporate sales staff.

To effectively manage the project, you need to monitor progress against your charter and the project plan you developed, including the budget. You spent significant time developing your project plan for the initiative; use it to monitor the project. Adjustments may have to be made to the plan based on actual results, especially to the schedule and resource allocation. That’s OK. Changes are going to occur – especially with learning & development projects! The change management process you developed in the beginning will guide you in addressing and managing changes as they occur on the project.

It is important that as the individual leading the project, you meet regularly with your team members and the appropriate stakeholders to provide status reports, ensure the project remains on track and within the budget, assist in problem solving, etc.

Uh Oh…a Curve Ball!

Let’s assume for our example that the John Andrews, the VP of Sales (one of your stakeholders) has approached you after the project has started. He has noticed that not only do the sales staff need help in developing and delivering effective presentations, they also need support in how to respond to RFPs. Part of the program, John tells you, is that the sales folks aren’t great at developing the proposal in response to the RFP. There is no consistency in responses. While learning how to present well is important, what if they can’t even get in front of the client to present because the proposal was not good. John would like to add a component to the training that focuses on how to respond to an RFP.

You have asked John to complete the change request form and he has done so. Here is what he submitted to you:

Change Request for Learning & Development Project: Presentation Skills for Corporate Sales Staff
Person Requesting Change to Project: John Adams
Change Number: <will be completed by Project Manager upon submission of change request>
Date: June 25
Change Category (please select appropriate category):
X Scope __Cost __Quality __Schedule X Requirements __Other:
Impact of Change (please indicate whether an increase, decrease or a modification)
Scope Increase Decrease? Modification?
Please describe: Add an additional component to the training – change from a 3 day program to a 4 day program.
Cost Increase? Decrease? Modification?
Please describe:
Quality Increase? Decrease? Modification?
Please describe:
Schedule Increase? Decrease? Modification?
Please describe:
Requirements Increase Decrease? Modification?
Please describe: Add a component to the training program to train sales people on how to respond to RFPs to ensure consistency in responses and improvement in chances of winning the business.
Other Increase? Decrease? Modification?
Please describe:
Comments/Other Information: It is important that we add this component to the training as it is a big component of our issues. For me to meet the CFO’s desire to increase bottom line revenue, I really need the sales people to be better at developing their proposals in response to RFPs.
Decision: __ Approve __ Defer __ Reject
Justification for Decision:

Change Control Board Signatures
Name Date Signature

You review the change request form with John to be sure all data is captured. You tell him that, in addition to an impact on scope and requirements of the project, there will also be an impact on the schedule and the cost. He agrees with you that there will certainly be an impact on those areas.

In reviewing the information, prior to submitting the change request to the change control board, you make the following additions:

Impact on cost and schedule: the addition of a new component of 1 additional day of training focused on responding to RFPs will add $35,000 to the cost of the project, bringing the total cost to $160,000 and add another 15 days to development, bringing the total time to develop to just over 2 months. Since the team members were not assigned to another project immediately after this one, they were available for the project if it was extended.

In discussions with the various stakeholders and the change control board, if was decided to accept the change request and it would be a beneficial addition to the program and add value. No adjustments were made to the program goals (see Part I), but it was felt that the addition of the 4th day would enable the team to better meet those goals.

The project has been moving along for about a month fairly smoothly – minor hiccups along the way have been corrected to get the project back on track. Around the beginning of month two, a few problems arose that could really have taken the project off-track, but thanks to a detailed problem resolution process in place, the project was put back on track fairly quickly.

Additionally, there were some issues with contract resources in that two of the resources – both instructional designers – left early in the project due to another opportunity for full time work. Since it was early in the project, there was less of an impact on the project then if they had left later on during development.

The project ended up within budget, but completed behind schedule by 2 weeks. It was determined by the sponsor that the extension in time for release of the program was preferable to putting more money into it in order to speed up the development.

Implement the Project

In this example, we will first roll out the 4 day program with a pilot group of 10 corporate sales individuals. The point of using a pilot group is to test our program before release to all corporate sales personnel.

The pilot group can also be used to determine business impact and ROI by comparing the pilot group with another group of 10 similar corporate sales individual who have not yet taken the program. In an ROI study, utilizing a pilot group enables us an isolation factor to determine a more accurate ROI measurement.

The pilot group overall found the 4 day program valuable. Of particular value were the following exercises:

  • Developing presentations for a client meeting
  • Role playing the presentation – for this, managers from within the company were brought in to the classroom to play the role of the client
  • Videotaping and the feedback from the videotaped sessions
  • Review and analysis of past RFP responses
  • Review of a template for proposals
  • Practice writing a proposal in response to an RFP

Some of the issues with the program included:

  • Lack of time (within the 4 days) to do the work necessary to create the presentations and do role playing.
  • Lack of time to write a proposal in response to an RFP
  • A lack of a detailed enough action planning component for the participants.

While the classroom was primarily “hands on” practice; the participants really needed to spend some time outside of the classroom doing some additional work to be fully prepared. However, since these are sales folks, outside of the classroom (prior to the class and in the evening hours) they were catching up on their work – emailing clients, etc. While they were committed while in the classroom, with minimal time away to manage client projects, it was not possible for them to set time aside outside of the classroom to work on the class activities.

Evaluate and Make Adjustments

The development team along with the stakeholders evaluated the results of the program based on the pilot run of it.

In addition to evaluating the program during the 4 days, a survey was sent to all participants to get their input and a survey was sent to John (VP of Sales) and a few of his sales managers to get their input on changes noticed once the sales person was back on the job. Of the 10 pilot program participants, 8 of them were able to utilize their skills successfully once they were back on the job. Two of the 10 seemed to struggle and fell back to their old way of doing things. The sales manager who oversaw these two individuals was asked to intervene to get the 2 sales people back on track.

While overall it was a successful program, longer term would show the actual business impact and ROI of the training. You’ll recall in Part I that there were specific goals to be reached within a 2 year time period. The learning & development group would evaluate progress towards those goals beginning with the pilot group run of the program.

The following adjustments were made to the program based on feedback from the participants, observation in the classroom and the VP of Sales and his managers:

  • The program would remain at 4 days but would be run as follows:
    • 2 days one week
    • 1 day the second week
    • 1 day the third week
  • In between classroom time, the participants would have assignments to be completed, such as:
    • Creating the presentation
    • Preparing for the role play
  • A pre-assignment would be assigned due on day 1 specifically focused on what the participant felt his/her greatest need was. She/he would be required to get input from co-workers and his/her immediate manager.
  • The action planning component was developed with more detail. The immediate managers of the sales staff were asked to contribute to this component of the learning program. In conjunction with the sales staff reporting to them, the managers were asked to sit down with their staff prior to the first day of class to begin development of an action plan on how they would apply their skills. On the last day of the program, the manager met with his/her employee and fully developed the action plan based on the skills learned in the classroom, the results of the videotaped presentations and the skills that the sales employee felt he/she needed to continue to develop.

The adjustments were made to the program and schedule and rolled out to all other corporate sales staff. The pilot group was given the opportunity to attend any or all of the sessions of the revised program.


Learning & development programs are often the most difficult to manage. In many cases these are smaller groups within organizations, often relying on outside resources that are not always easy to control. If outside resources are able to work remotely that makes managing even more challenging. It is important also to identify the correct stakeholders right from the start and ensure they are communicated with and their feedback obtained. Bring them in on the design of the program. Be sure you are clear on the goals and objectives of the program – without that information you are not able to create an effective program.

A detailed project plan developed at the very beginning will help you to better monitor and control your project. However, expect changes to occur; just be prepared for them. And always test the solution with a pilot group. Make the “tweaks” necessary to ensure the program is meeting the goals and objectives outlined at the very beginning.

Bottom line – put a bit of project management around your program development efforts. It will pay off in the long run!

What are some of your challenges in developing learning programs? Please share with others in the Comments field below. Thanks!

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