Succeed at Project Management Training

Choosing the right techniques is key.

By James Chiarello, Pathfinder, LLC

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So you've done your homework, identified that your project personnel can benefit from project management training and even received approval to roll it out. Now, it's your responsibility as the sponsor of this training to do everything in your power to make the training as beneficial, effective and enjoyable for the attendees as possible.

A large part of being a good project manager is interacting and communicating with other people. So, improving communication should be a primary objective of any project management training.

Numerous training delivery methods are in use today — including virtual classrooms, computer- and web-based training, and webinars — with variations introduced each year. One tried-and-tested method, facilitator-led reality-based training, offers several benefits for training project management personnel:

• dedicated and focused learning time without interruption from day-to-day activities;
• peer interaction, networking and shared experiences;
• ability of the instructor to adapt the delivery of the subject matter to the specific attendees' interest and project specifics; and
• immediate feedback from the instructor to the attendees.

In addition, the organization's allowing people the time demonstrates the importance placed on the training.

Facilitator-led training typically takes place in a large room with one or more instructors working with attendees grouped into teams, to create a real-life project environment. This spurs interaction both informally and through formal situations like workshops and exercises.

THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT
A reality-based environment (reflecting engineering, procurement and construction) is key to effective project management training. Creating such an environment while remaining in a classroom setting requires using hands-on interactive activities to reinforce the content delivered in presentations (e.g., via flip charts or PowerPoint slides). This enables the attendees to apply what they've learned to actual scenarios. These learning activities typically are called workshops or exercises. The sessions take an attendee or team member through a real-life project from its inception to hand-over to the end user. Each progressive workshop provides the attendee with information typically available at that stage. These exercises allow the attendee to practice selected aspects of project management at appropriate times during the project planning and execution phases.

Workshops typically аrе designed for teams of four to six people. These teams answer questions, analyze and solve a problem or sometimes work together to synthesize information so they can reach an outcome. At the start of a workshop, the facilitator details the workshop learning outcomes and then provides support and guidance to the teams during the session to assist them in achieving the outcomes.

Workshops are most effective when the situations or scenarios are based on real-life work activities the attendees see on a daily basis. Using actual ongoing or completed company projects works best. Learning how to perform in a "safe" environment an activity relevant to an attendee's job function tends to make the person pay closer attention, bе more receptive to the training, and interact more frequently and more positively with team members and fellow attendees. Attendees instantly саn see hοw their learning will benefit thеіr day-to-day jobs; thе impact οn productivity іѕ almost immediate.

For most facilitator-led training events, I recommend that workshops make up at least 40% of the time. However, project management training deserves more workshop time, 50%–70% of the total, because of the high degree of communication needed and the constant interaction a project manager encounters every day.

TYPES OF WORKSHOPS
You can incorporate four different workshop techniques:

1. Team-oriented workshops. These are especially important in project management training. Such workshops offer an opportunity for individuals to apply learning through a team experience right in the classroom. Providing a safe environment to test and apply learned behaviors will spur attendees to push the limits of their creativity and to try alternatives they otherwise wouldn't consider. "Learning by doing" or hands-on learning has been proven to increase retention of information. The peer interaction that inevitably occurs helps build collegiality, encourages examination of multiple points of view, points up there may be more than one right answer to a problem, and enhances listening and cooperation skills.

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