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By Donald J. Ford, Ph.D.
President, Training Education Management LLC and
Adjunct Professor of Management, Antioch University Los Angeles
Much of the work that training professionals perform falls under the general definition of a project: “work performed one time to produce a unique outcome.”1 Examples include instructional design of new courses, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and e-learning implementations, performance improvement initiatives, and organizational change efforts. To be effective as a training professional, especially if you are consultant, you must also be capable of managing projects.
The basics of project management are encapsulated in the graphic below showing the five major phases of a project – Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing.
Each of these phases requires skillful leadership to ensure a successful project outcome. Here are some tips to help you improve your project management skills during each phase of a project.
INITIATING – defining project goals and authorizing project startup
Many potential training projects never get past this step, especially in an era of austerity. To increase the likelihood that your project will get approved, follow these tips:
Tip One: Clarify key stakeholders’ expectations and goals to ensure the project will be able to meet them.
Tip Two: Gain approvals from key decision makers on the goals and scope of the project before moving to the next phase.
1 Horine, Gregory M. Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Project Management. 2nd Ed. Que Publishing, 2009.
PLANNING – defining the tasks and deliverables of the project and selecting the best course of action to achieve the objectives
Many experts consider planning to be the most important phase, during which the details of the project become clear. To improve planning, follow these tips:
Tip Three: Break the project down into manageable tasks and steps and then estimate the time required to achieve each one (aka Work Breakdown Structure).
Tip Four: Calculate the budget for the project based on its work breakdown structure, not guesswork. For each task and step, estimate the time required and multiply that by the labor rate for each task.
EXECUTING – implementing the project plan by coordinating people and other resources
Implementation depends on clear work assignments and efficient time management. To keep projects moving and on track, follow these tips:
Tip Five: Focus on doing the work that is in the project plan and don’t get distracted by competing priorities. If project team members are also working on other things, be sure to reflect their part- time status in work plans and schedules.
Tip Six: Be sure project team members work together effectively by including them in decision making and keeping lines of communication open.
CONTROLLING – monitoring and measuring progress to identify discrepancies from the plan and taking corrective actions to get the project back on track
The controlling phase is often mischaracterized as a rigid hierarchical pyramid with an autocrat at its peak. Instead, control should be seen as tracking progress in order to keep the project on course. Here are some tips to help do this better:
Tip Seven: Be prepared to make adjustments to the plan based on reality. As the poet Robert Burns reminded us, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” Don’t resist change, but embrace it as a natural part of the project.
Tip Eight: Collect and use project data to assess progress and plan changes. Collect regular feedback from project team members and key stakeholders to ensure the project is meeting expectations and achieving its goals.
CLOSING – formally delivering project results and bringing the project to an orderly end.
Projects should end with the same planning and purpose that started them. Unfortunately, many projects limp across the finish line or collapse short of it. To avoid this fate, follow these tips:
Tip Nine: Make sure the client has accepted the deliverables and expressed satisfaction with the outcome before closing out a project. Until we have satisfied our customers, the project is incomplete.
Tip Ten: Take time to evaluate the project’s outcomes and to learn from the project experience. The only way to get better at project management is to use every project as a learning experience.
Once you master the basics of project management, you will have a repeatable formula for planning and implementing solutions that resolve key business problems and ensure future organizational success.
You will also have one more valuable competency to add to your career toolbox, one whose worth is increasing in the complex world we occupy.
Does management expect you to accomplish major goals (e.g., meet a project deadline) and then drop other "little" tasks on you (e.g., provide information for a report or serve on that committee)? Does your work ever seem to conflict with what you want to get done at home, like it did for the central character in the great foreign film, Twilight Samurai (2002)? This gentle warrior and single parent loved raising his two daughters; yet he also had to work his day job at the "warehouse," labor in his garden, and perform his samurai duties whenever the Shogun called. Sound familiar?
University of Houston Professor Steven Brown and his team call this goal conflict - "the degree to which individuals feel that their multiple goals are incompatible." They studied the effect of goal conflict on performance in 153 employees, and found that conflicting goals decrease employee commitment, self-efficacy, and overall performance. (Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies; 6/22/2002).
Here are a three practical tools science says you can use to manage the goal conflict in today's complex, competitive and contradictory work environment:
1. Say Yes to Get to No.Before we can decide how to juggle, we need to decide what to juggle. The Samurai turned down repeated requests by colleagues to join them for a drink after work. He knew he didn't have time for everything, so he focused on the most important things. Do you focus on the fundamental few or get caught up in the meaningless many? A few weeks ago, as I was teaching an organization how to use project management tools to increase productivity, a participant asked how to manage her manager who often dumped last- minute projects on her. I recommended that she first find out what was most important to him, and then align her priorities with his. Whenever he gave her last-minute projects, I suggested she show her boss the list of priorities and ask him where he would place the task if he were in her position. Saying yes to his priorities will lead her to saying no his dumping.
When you say yes to your (and your manager's) most important goals, goal conflict decreases because you, like the Twilight Samurai, will find it is easier to say no to what's not important. What are your priorities? What are they based on? Does a review of your calendar (PDA, Outlook, appointment book...) show congruence between what you say is important and where your time goes? Show me your calendar and I’ll tell you what you value.
2. Believe It to See It.Self- efficacy is a strong belief that we can take the steps to reach our goals is a strong predictor of goal achievement. Professor Brown found that people who had higher self-efficacy spent more time planning how to deal with goal conflict and more effort overcoming obstacles than their low self-efficacy counterparts. The stronger the believing, the higher the probability of seeing results. One way to increase self-efficacy is to use the power of modeling. Modeling directs us to learn from those who are achieving the goals we are striving to achieve. The Twilight Samurai studied with a master in short-sword fighting. He drew on this skill to swiftly deal with issues the emperor dumped on him...so he could get back to his primary goal of raising his girls.
If you struggle with goal conflict, find a coworker who is dealing with similar issues effectively. Ask if you can learn from them by watching and discussing their approach. Then adapt what they do to fit you. If you can't find a role model, perhaps a book, class, or coach will work. I often go to the research literature or Google (Type in, How do I....) to discover what science says, because the essence of science is prediction.
Where can you find accurate information to help you strengthen the belief you can achieve your primary goal?
3. Work Hard to Feel Good.
Professor Brown found that positive emotions resulted not only from achieving the goal, but also from merely engaging in goal- directed behaviors. When participants in his study worked hard, they felt better about themselves whether or not they reached their goal. Working hard led to feeling good independent of the outcome. The Twilight Samurai put his entire being into all his activities regardless of what they were, one day at a time.
This research and the samurai are teaching you to be present in all you do. You can do this by using all your senses as you focus on achieving your goals. Ironically, you’ll feel better about your conflicting goals by focusing on what is right in front of you. The gift of life is the present. What do you hear, feel, smell, and see as you work your way throughout your day?
Next time you feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, or just plain tuckered out... say yes to what's most important, believe you can achieve, and focus on what is in front of you. At the end of the day, how surprised will you be that you feel good about who you are because, like the Twilight Samurai, you have lived well.
Dave Jensen and his team transform proven leadership tools into your success stories. Dave is an executive coach and an engaging speaker at conferences, meetings, and retreats. He can be reached in Los Angeles, CA, at (310) 397-6686 or http://davejensenonleadership.com/.
Relevance, as defined by Wikipedia is a term used to describe how pertinent, connected, or applicable something or someone is to a given matter. It may be the most important word on your path to leadership. Think of the people whom you follow. Are they relevant? Is she or he someone who is pertinent and connected to what you consider important (your goals)? Would you at least hit a speed bump if their relevancy shifted? The stronger their relevance the bigger the speed bump, which could be a brick wall. Relevance is a tool or state you must cultivate to further develop your leadership skills.
When in a difficult, polarizing, or escalating situation do your employees or followers ask WW_D (fill in the blank with your initial)? If they don’t or if they ask as an afterthought to an action that was already taken, then your relevance is low or non-existent. As a leader, relevance keeps those who follow on the course you’ve set. You can’t simply snap your fingers or demand relevance. Relevance must be earned.
Positive Relevance is the tool we are focusing on in this article. This is to say you (as the relevant leader) matter. Your employees, clients, friends, coworkers, peers, etc., all feel your presence and act in accordance with your relevance. Relevance must be defined in terms of expectations, standards, or rules that govern action. In any given situation: What Would You Do? If those following you don’t know the answer to this, then they are acting on assumptions and indicating a low level of relevance.
Let’s use parenting as an example. As a great mother or father, you are likely relevant to your child. You’ve raised her with morals and direction. When she leaves home, she is the master of her actions. However, if the parent is relevant, the child will typically take pause and often redirect an action that is contrary to how she was raised.
If we substitute the players with Manager and employee, the same applies. As the employee is empowered to make decisions, if those decisions are in sync with managerial expectations, then relevance is strong.
Perhaps a more demanding question is how do you build relevance? Clearly it’s not easy, but is a process of endurance. Following is a list of tactics you can use to build your relevance with your employees.
The list is extensive. Being relevant to your employee is not a simple task. Relevance is built through contribution, acceptance, and delivery. You can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for relevance to fill your office. You must engage. You must recognize that you are a component of a machine and not the machine itself. Every action you take that helps define an expectation, inspire action, and repeat the discipline to get the results of success, will lead you to a position of Relevance.
A world-renown research cardiologist at UCSD marched into my office many years ago and announced, “Dave, congratulations! Your abstract was accepted and you’re going to present our research at the scientific conference next month.”
I gulped, “Okay Vic.” I had only completed graduate school three months ago and was completing my internship. This was going to be the first scientific meeting I ever attended, much less presented.
My boss continued, “Oh yes, we also have a rule here that if you go to a conference, you have to teach what you learn to the rest of us when you get back.”
“Vic, do you mind if I ask why you have that rule?”
Vic smiled, “Dave, the only reason to go to any meeting or conference is to improve things after the meeting. If you have to teach us what you learn, there’s a greater chance that your learning will stick like Velcro instead of slipping like Teflon.”
Ever since that conversation 30 years ago, I have continued to refine this powerful process that increases the chances that I (and my audiences) apply what is learned at any meeting, conference, or workshop. Feel free to adapt the steps outlined below to create your Velcro learning.
My first scientific presentation many years ago did not go very well, BUT my debrief to my colleagues back at UCSD about what I learned at the meeting did. In fact, after that meeting, Vic hired me and I spent the next five years researching, presenting, and... trying to make my learning stick like Velcro.
Keep stretching, Dave
I heard the whining engine and screeching tires a split second before the white Miata flew around the mountain curve. I jumped off my bike and stared as the petrified driver wrestled with the wheel. But the next curve came too fast. The driver and sports car plunged off the ledge. I hopped on my bike and rolled downhill 10 yards, to the spot where the tires' last clawed the road. Praying for a miracle, I peered over the edge . . . and saw one.
Instead of plunging 300 feet down the ravine, this guy had landed against several thick bushes 30 feet down. The car was banged up, but upright, and the driver was crawling up the embankment towards me.
As he reached the road, he straightened up and assured me he was fine. He asked to use my cell phone to call for a tow truck, and then encouraged me, several times, to continue my bike ride up the steep mountain road. I did. That's when I decided to count the curves on the mountain and started to think about those curves as feedback.
Webster’s Dictionary defines feedback as “the return to the point of origin of evaluative or corrective information.” Feedback is everywhere. A market-based economy works because consumers give continuous feedback to producers. The human body incorporates thousands of feedback mechanisms that keep us alive. And failure to pay attention to feedback is what almost killed the driver on that mountain and hurts many training and development professionals.
You see, I counted 37 curves from the spot where he went over the edge to the top of that mountain. This means he had 37 opportunities to become aware of, learn from, and adjust to the feedback the mountain and his car were giving him as he raced down. He was getting feedback about the road conditions, his car, and his ability to negotiate hairpin curves... You get the point. He was, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, getting the experience but missing the meaning. How about you?
Are you having experiences, but missing the meaning? Here's a clue... I know I'm NOT learning my lesson when the universe keeps sending me (i.e., I keep creating) the same experience over and over again. It's always Groundhog Day for those who don't learn from their experience. Being open to internal and external feedback, and choosing to learn from it, is what makes an experience meaningful.
Since training and development professionals receive boatloads of feedback from customers, team members, and management every day, here are three tools to help you use feedback to stay on track.
1. Be open to most things, attached to few
If the guy on the mountain had been open to what the hairpin turns were teaching him, he might not have plunged off the road. Do you ever find yourself going so fast or pushing so hard that you miss critical feedback? It happens to me way too often. I become so attached to my way of seeing things that I miss the "corrective information" someone or something is telling me. I’m learning that my point of view is not the only view. I’m trying to slow down and be open to what is going on in the moment. How about you?
2. Write for insight
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes a powerful technique called Morning Pages. She says that if you really want to discover the meaning of something, write three pages by hand, non-stop, and fast, in the morning. Anything that comes to mind, write it down, without editing. The key is to keep your hand moving no matter what splats onto the pages. Morning Pages are NOT meant to be prose, poetry, or journaling. You will be amazed at what this "internal feedback" teaches you. Think of your Morning Pages as a method of listening to who is really on the inside and what is really going on. Life is lived, and experience is given meaning, from the inside out.
3. Ask expansive questions
Do you ever blame yourself or circumstances when life throws you a curve (like a hairpin one on a mountain)? Just the other day, I was lamenting that a conversation with a colleague did not go as planned. I felt I failed by not handling it well. It took me a while to remember that... There is no failure, only feedback. It’s only failure if we don’t learn anything. So, whenever you're hit by unexpected or unwelcome events, ask expansive questions that help you grow through, not merely go through it. A few of my favorite questions are:
What could I learn from this?
How can I view this differently?
How might I use this to serve others in the future?
We all receive tons of feedback as we speed through our day. Yet, if we pay closer attention to this "corrective information,” it might keep us from going over the edge. It may even help us make more meaning out of what happens to us. Perhaps feedback is really feed forward.
There isn’t an article or even a blog site where someone else isn’t complaining about Gen Y or any generation for that matter. I refuse to be that unproductive. I look for the solutions to channeling the talent of all generations into productive and profitable workplaces. We all are a piece of a puzzle whose image is only seen when we are all placed together in the right way. That being said, how do we welcome Generation Y into the workforce with eagerness to incorporate their talent and potential?
Like every generation, there is a distinct yet common dynamic to Generation Y. They are not lazy but simply don’t like wasting time. They are not disloyal but loyal to the right cause. They aren’t addicted to technology but believe in its power to make life more enriched. They aren’t selfish but are simply looking for their place in the world. They aren’t oblivious but are looking for the answers. Essentially, they really aren’t that different but they are misunderstood. Their place in the world and workplace is yet to be determined but make no mistake they are here to stay. So let’s address how to channel their talent.
The following are 10 ways to manage Generation Y.
Be Sincere – They can spot a fake a mile away, whether it is within their ranks or outside. You are not one of them and they will never see you as such. What they will see is your value if you prove it.
Be Part of their Network – They hate to fail and will lose trust in you if you put them in a “sink or swim” situation. They don’t think they know it all. What they feel is that they can get the answers to it all through their networks. Be present in that network.
Provide Technology – To them pen and paper is as antiquated as the horse and buggy. They express themselves through technology. This isn’t an addiction to technology. What it is: a strong drive to find the most efficient way of doing a task.
Allow them to Explore – Tell them what you want, provide recommendations, and let them explore their options. They may find a better way of doing something that was hidden by the malaise of routine that perhaps blinds the rest of us.
Communicate Standards – Sure they want to explore and innovate. More importantly, they want to succeed. You hold the key to that. Coach them so they understand what is needed to succeed. Don’t take their questions as insubordinate or arrogant but as their methodology for discovering truth and meaning, which is what they are looking for.
Provide them with Feedback – They are accustomed to hearing this frequently. There is a need to depart from the type of feedback they are used to hearing. They are not perfect but capable of anything they put their minds to, which is what they have heard from their Helicopter Parents. The truth is they aren’t perfect and there are many things they are not capable of doing (just like all of us). When the feedback is negative it needs to contain a message of hope. They don’t want to feel the discussion is going to change their career trajectory but instead that it helps them to achieve it.
Listen to them – They have innovative and even curious ways of seeing the world. Sure sometimes curiosity kills the cat but at other times it cures a disease or changes a life. The next great idea could come from the mouths of babes.
Trust Them – Give them exciting projects and assignments that clearly demonstrate you see their value. Provide them the needed support through the process. The exposure and meaning you help them discover in their work will create an advocate in them.
Take the Time to Explain – “Do it because I said so” is a management strategy that is as useful as a square wheel. Even if you were victimized by this strategy when you were trenching your way through the labor force to management, realize today that it is extremely ineffective with Generation Y.
Don’t Contribute to the Gap – Everyone is out there talking about how lazy this generation is. Opinions like that are only going to create adversaries and not allies. How successful have you been in the past working with a group of adversaries?
Generation Y is misunderstood by many managers. The evidence of this is in the turnover numbers. Millennials have the ability to instantly re-shift their loyalties and change employers instantly. Be careful not to blink. You may discover as your eyes open that you have another vacancy to fill. You don’t have to fear this because of the solutions noted above.
This is not a conclusive list in any way, shape, or form. We haven’t even discussed encouraging their desire to change the world and the use of social networks (as well as so many more). With the exception of a few tweaks specific to Generation Y, my recommendations are a strong management strategy despite its application to Generation Y. Managers should adopt these tactics to encourage all four generations to reach their potential.
Have you ever noticed people in crisis? I’m reminded of Steve Martin in some of his earlier films like, The Jerk. These people and often each of us take on some of Martin’s shtick humor. They run around without direction, hands flaring in the air. Usually their first steps during the crisis and decisions are askew from their normal ability. They’re in panic mode. As we look back using hind sight, we realize we could have avoided that last minute reaction. We realize the signs were there; we just chose to ignore them. Well, hindsight is 20/20. The reason I bring up that scenario is there are many signs in front of our nose, indicating we are on the edge (if not already over the edge) of a shift in learning.
The classroom may physically look the same. There’s a presenter in the front with a podium and screen. The audience is seated in anonymity relative to the established traditional hierarchy of presenter as ruler. Lesson flow and interaction is at the grace of the mighty presenter. But as you pull back the curtain, you’ll notice things are shifting. The learners are taking control of their destiny. They are gathering information from many different sources. In some cases, the learner is leaving an unskilled presenter in a pool of irrelevance. One of the weapons of this learning revolution is Twitter.
Following is a list of reasons why a Learning Professional should want to incorporate Twitter into the learning experience:
Although I am a huge advocate of Twitter and the backchannel, it’s not as simple as just expecting it. There are some challenges to overcome. The following are some obstacles that the Learning Professional must negotiate to be successful in the new classroom.
Learning Professionals shouldn’t be scared of this change. They definitely should not look at it as fad either. It has grounded itself in the classroom and refuses to be uprooted. Nor should it because of the tremendous value it brings to the learning process. There are still many learning events that don’t have evidence of a technology supported backchannel. However, those numbers are diminishing. Now is the time to get in front of your peers and the inevitable change that is at bay.
Engagement in learning is critical. Often it is the difference between impactful and irrelevant training. The challenge is that learning styles are variant and highly subjective. Therefore, it becomes critical for designers and facilitators to create opportunities where the learners can exercise their preferential style despite the modeling restrictions of ISD or ADDIE. However, there are some common denominators in learning style despite the diversity of preference. One in particular is conversation.
Conversation has been a lasting tool to engage and stimulate learning. The challenge in the classroom is conversation can be very restricted and one dimensional. What happens when a subgroup in the classroom wants to explore a topic more in depth while the instructor proceeds to move forward? What happens when the intellectual repository of the room is insufficient to provide an answer? How does one breach the four walls of the classroom to find a SME? How does a presenter/facilitator get immediate feedback in real time while leading the learning? The answer to these questions is the backchannel.
The backchannel can be dated back to your childhood when your classmate passed you a note asking you any number of questions. Because you were a great student, we’ll say the question was about the teacher’s discussion. Today, we have technology that allows us to tap the backchannel in more creative and open ways. One of the technologies that has emerged as a great source of backchannel learning is Twitter (www.twitter.com ).
Twitter is a micro-blogging tool that fits into classroom and e-learning quite effectively. Twitter allows the learners and facilitator to engage through several methods:
All three of these methods make for a compelling case to use Twitter in the corporate classroom. Chances are you’ve probably heard the case for social media and tools like Twitter, but the bigger challenge is understanding how you can incorporate it into your training agenda.
Twitter is an engagement tool for not only the training delivery process but one that can be used throughout the entire ADDIE or ISD model. Following are suggestions to implement a Twitter strategy into your next corporate training event.
stream who aren’t attending the event live.
As you can see, there are multiple places that Twitter can be incorporated into the ADDIE or ISD model. The backchannel is a powerful and effective tool when used appropriately. There are many tools that you can use to make the backchannel more secure (www.yammer.com) but realize there are limits to closed networks. Managing the backchannel is not a passive task. It is a critical task that is becoming more and more a part of the core competencies of trainers as technology continues to make its way into the corporate classroom.
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