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Every project that you and I have ever and will ever manage depends on people’s skills.

The sponsor relies on you as the project manager to successfully lead the team, you rely on the team to have what it takes to create all the deliverables at the required quality, and the end user -- the recipient of what you and the team deliver -- must have the skills to use the product you finally give them.

But what if the skills don’t match up to the tasks at hand? What if a team member is lacking a skill? What if the technology is so new and different that your users will have a hard time with it? The answer is of course coaching, mentoring and training.

And there is no one better than Susanne Madsen ( -- who coaches and mentors project managers into project leaders to come on the program and help us understand these three similar yet different activities.

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classic 1Are you thinking about how to get PMP certified and wondering whether you should take a PMP boot camp, a PMP class, hire a PMP trainer, or whether to achieve this certification simply through PMP self-study?

We have the answer for you in this interview with Jim Coughenour (

Jim is an experienced PMP Trainer and he and I look at the benefits, disadvantages, cost and other factors that you should consider before deciding which way you want to go.

But even if you have already decided that maybe a PMP bootcamp is for you, then I recommend that you should still listen to our discussion because I also ask him to share with us his tips on what you should and should not be including as part of your PMP Exam Prep.

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Many businesses struggle with the question of whether they are getting their money’s worth when sending employees to training. This question can be applied to any type of business training, including project management training, and any other type of business training. You know the cost side of training too well. But how do you determine the business value?

What We Ask Today

The most common way to determine business value today is to ask the trainee whether he thinks the class was valuable. This doesn’t give you much objective information, but it is probably the most that many companies ask in terms of follow-up. Another method is to see how much of the class content can be applied on the job. But again, this is usually done informally, without an attempt to actually see how the performance of the trainee improves.

A Rigorous Approach

There is a process for more rigorously determining the value received for your training dollars. These ideas are not for the faint of heart. They take more preparation and they take more of that most precious commodity – time. However, the results of this process will give you a much better feel for the value that you are receiving from training. You can also start with some of these steps, and try the rest later.

  1. First, the trainee and their manager meet a few weeks before the training is scheduled to make sure the trainee is ready for the class. The manager and trainee discuss how the training can help the trainee on the job. The discussion should include identifying opportunities where the trainee can apply the new skills on their job. This information should be documented so that it can be compared with a post-class assessment done later.
  2. When the actual class begins, each of the trainees should complete an initial survey showing their knowledge of the class material.
  3. Immediately after the class, each trainee should complete a survey rating whether he liked the class, the instructor skill level, the class logistics, etc. These surveys are designed for the benefit of the training company and the instructor. The survey provides a sense for how the class went and how the instructor performed. This survey is not designed to show how much you learned at the class.
  4. A week or two after the class, the trainee completes a post-class survey showing his current knowledge in the subject. For the most part, it is exactly the same as the initial survey from activity #2 above. This is compared to the initial survey to provide some sense as to how much the trainee learned and retained. If this survey comes out close to the original version, it may show that the training was not very effective. You would expect that the post-class survey would show improvement.
  5. Here is the key step. A few months after the class, the trainee and his manager meet again for a post-class assessment, which is a follow-up to activity number one. In this discussion, the trainee and manager discuss the value of the class, and whether the class resulted in increased productivity and increased business value. Part of this discussion focuses on the opportunities that the trainee has had to apply the new skills. In fact, the training may have been superb, but if there have been no opportunities to apply the new skills, then the business value will be marginal.


In most training classes today, the trainee completes the class feedback for the benefit of the training company, and then tells his or her manager how good the class was. This superficial feedback is all that is available to gauge business value. However, the real test of business value is whether the class resulted in an increased skill level that can be applied to your job to make you more productive. This cannot be determined immediately after a class. However, you can get a sense for the business value in two steps. The first is a knowledge survey completed a few weeks after the class, and compared with an initial baseline. This can be repeated a month or two later as well. The next step is to determine in the months after the class whether or not the training has been applied on the job. If you capture this information on all your classes, you will get a much more fact-based view of whether the classes you attend are providing business value to your company.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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It should normally be clear that training will be provided when the project solution is about to be deployed. However, what typically happens is that the work associated with training is also all pushed toward the end of the project. The result is that you may feel rushed to create the training material, and the training might not seem as effective as you wanted.

The key to effective training, as it is with other aspects of the project life cycle, is to start the planning process early. If you wait to consider your training needs until the end of the project, you will not have enough time to do it the way you would like.

Start with the strategy (maybe)

The first possible deliverable to consider is a Training Strategy. You would want to consider this level of planning if your project is complex and there is a large training component. For instance, if you are involved in a project to implement a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application, this type of application obviously has a dramatic impact on the Sales and Marketing users. You may want to create a Training Strategy first to make sure you have an agreement with the customer on the overall direction and approach to take.

All strategy documents on a project are typically done in the Analysis Phase. So, early on, as you are getting your business requirements, you also get requirements for the necessary training. These requirements are used to create an overall strategy, which should then be approved by the customer.

As you probably know from experience, most projects do not have such a complex training situation, and so the Training Strategy document is not needed for most projects.

Create an overall Training Plan

The Training Plan is created during the Design Phase. If you have a Training Strategy, the Training Plan simply contains the additional details required to make the strategy real. If you do not have a Training Strategy, then the Training Plan typically has some initial aspects of strategy, and then quickly gets into the details. The Training Plan would include a description of the audience you are trying to reach (this could include customers and IT staff), an overview of the training needs, and s plan for how you will satisfy the needs. You also need to define how the training will be developed and executed, as well as when the training will be deployed. Remember that training does not only imply stand-up, internal classes. You may consider bringing in outside trainers, using vendor classes, coaching sessions, webinars, how-to instructions, frequently asked questions, computer-based training, etc.

Develop the training content needed

If you complete the planning documents ahead of time, you will be ready to develop the training content at the same time that you are developing the rest of the solution. The Training Plan is not a schedule,.so you will need to add the remaining development and deployment activities to your schedule. However, at this point the confusion has been lifted and it should be clear what has to happen in the training arena.

Test the training content, if necessary

In most instances, the first time you deploy training is actually in a live environment with real users. However, sometimes the training is offered first to an internal group, or even the project team. This serves as a test of the material to make sure that it flows well. It also helps prepare the instructors so that they will be more comfortable delivering the training to the end users. If you are going to hold webinars or any other type of distance learning, you can test the technology and the delivery at this time.


It was mentioned earlier that you typically want to train your users right before the solution is implemented. However, this is a generalization. Actually, the training deployment is based on the timing specified in your project Training Plan. However, what you should notice is that this approach reduces the chance that your training will be rushed, or that your training will somehow miss the mark. Assuming you followed the prior steps, at this point in the project you should have developed (and perhaps even tested) your training content, and you should be ready to go regardless of when the training is needed.


What you see in this approach is that the training delivery also follows a life cycle. Just as you do not want to jump straight into your project Construction Phase, you also do not want to wait to the last moment and then quickly jump into building the training content. Some up-front planning is the key, as well as making sure that you do any construction of training content at the same time that you are constructing your solution. Just as you ensure that the implementation of your final solution will go smoothly, you can also ensure you will have a smooth training deployment by using this structured approach.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at
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Friday, 05 September 2014 22:11

Informal Learning in the Workplace

Informal Learning in the Workplace

Today, organizations are realizing that staying competitive requires continuous improvement. However, organizations want to accomplish this while avoiding spending a lot of time keeping their employees’ skills up-to-date. In these circumstances, informal learning can be a viable strategy to organizations in pursuit of continuous learning.

A study of time-to-performance done by Sally Anne Moore at Digital Equipment Corporation in the late 1990s, (Moore, Sally-Ann, "Time-to-Learning", Digital Equipment Corporation, 1998) showed that formal learning provides only about 25% of learning, whereas the other 75% is absorbed through informal learning. Organizations typically spend a significant amount of their training dollars to provide formal training. Not that this is a misguided effort and is imperative for their workers to learn new skills and provide corporate competitiveness.

More and more organizations today are building mentoring and other informal training into their strategy. Informal learning can be as simple as a hallway conversation or “water cooler” discussions. As communication technology becomes more prevalent and the means to share knowledge through blogs (like this one), chat rooms, messaging services it is advantageous for organizations to harness these tools for knowledge sharing to target informal learning capabilities.

The OECD, originated in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan and is now committed to seek answers to common problems, identify good practices, and co-ordinate domestic and international policies, believes that lifelong learning includes a combination of formal, non-formal and informal learning. Informal learning may the most critical to improving both cognitive and social development throughout a person’s lifespan.

It would follow that organizations should find out where informal learning takes place and then how invest in it to continue its growth and maturation. Such initiatives are typically rooted in the concepts of mentoring and teaming, or "communities of practice." In this approach, management sets the goals, but employees help decide the team's methods.

Setting up such team efforts can be a straightforward process. Employees can be grouped into small teams and encouraged to break from their routines for team discussions. Sometimes these meetings consist merely of social chatter, but often work finds its way into the discussion because it is something all the members have in common. These discussions extend beyond “on the job training” and allows a forum for sharing similar experiences.

Informal learning is often determined and directed by learners themselves as an active and relevant learning process. Learning is often better attained and retained through informal learning than through formal learning, which can be less relevant.

Karen Watkins and Victoria Marsick define informal learning as:

  • Learning from experience that takes place outside formally structured, institutionally sponsored, classroom-based activities.

  • Involving some degree of conscious awareness that learning is taking place.

  • Including elements of action and reflection.

  • Happening as a result of confronting non-routine situations.

Informal learning takes place as part of an effort to achieve organizational results and as a way to meet individual goals. Contextual factors include organizational culture, industry factors such as the competitiveness of the industry, and organizational factors such as incentives, promotion criteria and job security.

Organizational culture has the strongest impact on informal learning. The culture of the organization can often determine its ability to thrive in a competitive environment. The norms, beliefs, values and practices that pervade an organization determine the extent and variety of informal learning.

Cultural variables that are essential to informal learning are divided into two main categories, which together create a corporate culture.

  • Organizational practices – actions that employees perceive as representing the ideas, values and beliefs of the organization, established from top to bottom.

  • Social norms and values – the rules for acceptable behavior, values and beliefs, generated from within the organization’s employees.

Research indicates that an individual’s motivation, personality, mental capacity and perceived level of experience affect informal learning. For example, employees who are motivated to learn will learn more than those who are not motivated. Organizations that create a climate of learning and growth are more likely to internalize the value of learning.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at

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Friday, 22 August 2014 22:19

Training Busy Managers

  Training Busy Managers

Managers today are on a perpetual race against time. We all know that time is a precious commodity and when trying to balance high priority work against learning additional skills, training usually loses out.

Nevertheless, training is necessary because not all managers are leaders and not all of them possess excellent interpersonal skills.

The following are a few pointers on making training programs for managers effective and brief.

1. Dump outdated training design methods

Conventional training programs begin with an icebreaker, move on to introductions, build the environment and then discuss the agenda and objectives. However, most managers have no patience with time-consuming activities that serve little purpose. The conventional training approach should be replaced with one that:

  • Describes the value derived from the session
  • Details specifics on what they will learn from the session and where and how it can be applied immediately
  • Incorporates interactive exercises to provide a forum for learning new ideas from other managers
2. Avoid meaningless charts

Most trainers write almost everything anyone says on a flipchart, with the intention of referring to it later. This is a time consuming and pointless exercise. Discussing the ideas with the group is a better option. Replace flip charts with interactive exercises.

Activities should not be included just for the sake of variety. Develop activities that will allow them to practically apply the training. Discussing real-world case studies is better than 'pairing with a partner' games.

3. Make it fast-paced

Time is money for most companies. Discussing the same point for two-hours can be very frustrating. During team exercises, interact with the team members and coach them to ensure they don't deviate from the point. Keeping their focus on the topic provides “guardrails” to make the discussions productive and interesting. It also prevents pursuing irrelevant discussions and allows the trainer to keep to the agenda.

4. Understand business

The trainer must know and understand current business practices. The trainer must keep current by reading business magazines and utilizing other research tools (e.g. internet) in order to keep informed of current trends in business. They must be informed about innovative practices being employed successfully by other companies. Using real business examples in sessions greatly enhances the credibility of the trainer.

Management training requires the trainer to be well-informed and able to clearly articulate current and innovative business practices and coach the class members. Trainers in this environment must be more prepared than in other training classes. Since they are considered the experts they must be able to demonstrate their expertise!

5. Consider business the top priority

For busy managers, training is just one of the many things performed during the day. When managers express their frustration about being in training programs, ask probing questions about these frustrations and relate how the training can alleviate them. Explain the material in relationship to business demands and how the training can benefit them. Trainers should be prepared to demonstrate how their training can affect the business positively. They must assume that managers are committed, despite being overworked.

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at

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Monday, 11 August 2014 23:04

Brain Gain

Brain Gain

Organizations the world over have been witnessing employee disconnect for decades. There are people who have been working for over 20 years and are earning a good salary, yet are discontent and uninterested in their jobs. For this reason, organizations have been unsuccessful in retaining their most valuable asset - people.

Sad but true

When the CFOs of a few American companies were asked the basis for increased organizational value, two-thirds mentioned employee training. However, when questioned about workforce effectiveness, only one in five CFOs cited formal on-the-job training. HR and top management have been trying to retain their employees by providing training, compensation and other rewards. The returns are nevertheless unclear.

While rewards seem to be the top driver of employee productivity, employees’ inherent zeal and competence can never be ignored. Very often employees are unaware of their contributions to the business goal. Employee contentment is attainable only when the employees are conscious of the influence of their day-to-day activities on the bigger picture of business goals.

The connect factor

World-class organizations never overlook the dynamics of employee engagement. They work on the principle that everyone in the workplace knows where he is heading, and that the vision is clear and goals communicated at all levels.

Training should be an ongoing process. Typically, organizations need to steer clear of the monotonous training sessions employees are often made to attend. Fun with training, outdoor activities and mentally stimulating sessions can be interwoven into the regular training.

Recognition is a human need. People like to be rewarded for their efforts and guided whenever they go wrong. Establishing positive recognition systems will boost employee engagement - the key to higher productivity.

HR tends to focus more on the process than its people. This is a major deterrent to growth. Demographically, countries like India and the United States are more inclined to acquire talent than to develop it. Japan, on the other hand, prefers to build talent. Organizations in Japan have shown higher growth opportunities. Retaining talent involves strong performance-management systems and fine career development. Flexible work schedules and work/life initiatives directly affect retention rates.

Handle with care

An unambiguous approach to training and performance review can work wonders for the workforce.

One organization has a built-in report system for all its employees. Employees are individually classified into their prime roles, their supporting roles and the various other skills they possess. This classification aids in determining those employees who are ready for up-skilling. For example, if it foresees an increased need for programmers in a particular division or project, it identifies top performers in areas that could soon become outdated. These efficient workers are trained in the forthcoming projects so their skills can be upgraded. This organization thus retains its valuable talent and saves time and money hunting for talent. These efforts ensure employee commitment.

On the right track

Once management has identified exceptional talent, a more strategic approach needs to be adopted. Depending upon the nature of work, training needs are identified. Investments go in the direction where the returns are maximized. Simply put, critical jobs and the top performers are considered most vital to the success of the organization.

On the home front

Creating and sharing information is encouraged throughout the organization. Clear communication channels via exchange of information, proposals, results and best practices reinforce a positive workplace. The outcome of this initiative is combined intelligence and greater exposure to varied subjects and thoughts.

Nevertheless, organizations will benefit if they develop a synergy that allows the spirit of high performers to soar. A quality workplace ensures and sustains a quality workforce. What do you have?

At TenStep we are dedicated to helping organizations achieve their goals and strategies through the successful execution of critical business projects. We provide training, consulting and products for organizations to help them set up an environment where projects are successful. This includes help with strategic planning, portfolio management, program / project management, Project Management Offices (PMOs) and project lifecycles. For more information, visit or contact us at 
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Saturday, 16 June 2007 10:12

Deming's 6th Point in Project Management

Job/Task-Related Training

A quality organization understands the value of the people who work in it. The same goes for project management. Training project managers, analysts, and everyone else who regularly works on projects in the company methodology, soft skills, etc. can bring significant rewards.

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