To remain viable, organizations need to look for a learning environment that not only allows for knowledge transfer but for behavior change that results in performance improvements.
In the federal government, an increased focus has been placed on a workforce that produces results — results that support project efficiency and bottom-line growth. Program and project management have been the tools of choice to achieve these results. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget has required these disciplines as necessary skill sets for those managers who oversee large information technology investments.
Feeling the pressure, agencies are quick to get overseers off their backs with a quick-hit training program. An agency might decide to fulfill OMB’s requirements for qualified project managers by sending their teams through an accelerated Project Management Institute Project Management Professional (PMP) course. This could result in several of the team members obtaining their PMP certifications. Simply obtaining such certifications does not, however, guarantee that the agency will have more successful projects. Training alone does not guarantee improved performance or behavioral change in an organization.
Although a check-the-box mentality for training can satisfy some government training requirements quickly, that approach often means an agency misses out on the ultimate benefits of improved program performance. The progression toward organizational transformation has inspired learning programs that have a blended approach — training and mentoring — toward achieving results. For true transformation to occur, an environment must be established where these new skills can grow and flourish.
For years I have worked with government organizations to develop learning cultures. As a result of those experiences and successes, I want to share a simple map that can help you get started and guide you through a proven best-practice learning program. I refer to it as the four-pronged workforce development approach: assess, develop, mentor and measure.
PHASE 1 Assess
An agency must assess itself to create a balanced learning portfolio that will reach all levels of the organization. During the assessment phase, determine what is important to your organization. Look ahead and consider the results desired in the measurement piece of the map during the entire process. It is important to understand outcomes as you are planning the development of the program. If the goal is to create a project management culture, for example, choose programs that are supported by the Project Management Institute’s Registered Education Provider program. If you are trying to align with the CIO Council recommendations, choose a vendor from its training vendor list. If you are interested in Defense Department best practices, seek training from institutions such as the Defense Acquisition University and National Defense University.
Not everyone in your organization will need the same level or amount of training. But by setting organizational goals, you can make the decision process simpler and more precise. For example, in an agency charged with meeting OMB requirements for having qualified project managers, perhaps only project managers must be certified. But because the overall goal is to create a project management culture, the agency would also want to provide training for project team members and senior leadership who are a part of that culture.
Often, agencies wait until a pretest or online assessment of their organizations’ members is conducted before developing a learning program. These methods can be cumbersome and lengthy. Bringing together the organization’s leaders can quickly result in an understanding of the needs as well as a commitment to the proposed learning program.
PHASE 2 Develop
Agencies develop and provide learning skills and methods tailored toward the working environment, which will enable quicker use and adoption of newfound skills. The learning program should concentrate on developing skills that will help team members not only understand the information but also implement the methods they are learning through changed behavior.
It is important to be aware of and use any policies, procedures and guidelines that an organization already has in place. Linking day-to-day activities that staff members will perform or be involved in after a course ends with the actual course content will create awareness of how the team can apply its new skills in the work environment. If students aren’t able to practice the new skills in a receptive work environment, the skills are almost always lost to some degree.
If your agency does not have an appropriate environment established, I recommend two options:
• After training a core group, use that group to assist in the development of the environment.
• If that isn’t feasible, consider postponing the training until more work can be done to establish a best-practices work environment first.
PHASE 3 Mentor
An agency needs to establish a mentoring program to reinforce the skills after the learning is complete. Students need a way to grow their new skills. After interviewing several government agencies, I found that new project managers often are frustrated after attending a training course that taught them useful skills because, upon returning to their organizations, they met resistance to new ideas or ways of doing business.
One way to address this issue is to establish a community of interest. A community of interest lets a group of people bond through their shared interests. These communities also let members share and expand their knowledge. They can have a positive impact on organizational culture by fostering change though the desire for more knowledge and proficiency rather than forcing change onto an organization.
PHASE 4 Measure
Measurement is probably one of the toughest pieces of the puzzle. Often organizations are reluctant to definitively link education to overall performance results. To demonstrate that the educational programs fulfill more than the letter of requirements, training organizations need to show program results.
The key to high-impact results is the alignment of intellectual capital and advancement of knowledge to the agency’s mission and goals. If you use outside vendors for training programs, consider having them share in the measurement and evaluation of the program’s performance impact.
Demonstrated results, such as an establishment of a successful project management office (PMO), increased scores from OMB on the Exhibit 300 business cases or President’s Management Agenda scores, implementation of effective policies and processes by the entire enterprise, and improved project performance are all potential measures of how program and project management education supports strategic goals.
For example, if your agency had employees undertake capital planning and investment control training with a goal to improve your Exhibit 300 scores, it is important to validate OMB score performance and make explicit connections to the training. Did the scores of the investments led by students of the learning program improve after they had the training? If so, make sure that measure is captured and communicated back to the leaders who originally committed to the program. It is important that organizations see the demonstrated results of their commitments and then adapt their learning programs if measurements don’t show improvements in results.
It is important to think strategically about your training programs so that you spend training dollars wisely. Make sure that training results can be linked to goals and that the environment will support new skills. These linkages — among people, processes and tools — are essential. Creating a successful results-driven culture hinges on educating users on best practices in project management and establishing sound and proven work processes that apply those best practices.