Managing Medium to Large Training Projects

Managing Medium to Large Training Projects

Large training projects are embedded within multifaceted change initiatives and so require more complex project management.

Projects and Complex Change

Woman presenting to board meetingSome training programs impact a limited number of people and systems within an organization. Developing and delivering these kinds of programs is best treated as a small training project with a simple governance structure, streamlined processes and minimal documentation requirements. On the other hand, some training programs play a critical role in moving the organization forward. These kinds of programs are embedded within a more complex change or improvement initiative. These larger initiatives typically aim to bring about change to a number of organizational units, systems or processes all at once or in succession. Each change in the organization is codependent on a successful change in the other parts of the system if the initiative is to have a positive impact on the organization.

One example of this kind of initiative is a mechanical repair shop introducing self-managed work teams. Another example is a manufacturing company implementing a new inventory management system. The role of training in both of these scenarios is to build the capability of employees to work comfortably and competently with the new systems.

For each scenario, there are changes needed that are fundamental to the organizational initiative. For example, the introduction of an inventory management system requires at its core the selection, installation and customization of the hardware that will host the inventory management software, along with same for the software itself. To be successful, each of these changes requires the necessary technical expertise and the proper coordination with the other activities.

Other changes will also need to be made if the training program is to achieve the desired impact. There will need to be changes to people’s roles, policies and procedures, performance measurement systems and employee incentive structures if training participants are to take on board their new responsibilities and be motivated to apply their new skills on the job. (My PRACTICE Approach™ combines all the changes necessary to create impactful training into a practical and coherent model.)

Project Governance

Let us look more closely at the example of the company introducing a new inventory management system and rolling out training for affected employees. Successful implementation of any medium- to large-scale initiative requires proper planning and coordination. Getting the desired results is much more likely with the application of project management methods to the initiative. Setting up a proper project structure at the outset will get the initiative off to a good start, saving a lot of rework, disputation and loss of good people. The project governance structure illustrated in Figure 1 below shows how project governance could be set up and is typical of a governance structure for a large and complex initiative.

Figure 1 – Project governance for larger projects

Chart showing project governance for larger projects
As the chart illustrates, the initiative is divided into three separate but interdependent projects:

  1. Hardware, Software and Procedures
  2. Roles, Incentives and Metrics
  3. Learning and Capability

The arrowed lines shown on the chart indicate reporting lines. The three Project Managers report to the Program Sponsor, with the Program Sponsor reporting in turn to the Steering Committee.

Selecting Project Managers

Each project is assigned a dedicated Project Manager responsible for the deliverables for that project. The Learning and Capability project, for example, could be assigned to a training consultant working within the training function. This person, then, is responsible for all aspects of the design and delivery of the training program to all levels of the company. Their responsibility also includes support activities, such as the design and placement of on-the-job aids and the selection and placement of expert coaches.

To manage the flow of work activities throughout the training project, the training consultant could use the ADDIE model (see Figure 2 below). This phased approach guides all aspects of the needs analysis, program design and delivery and final program evaluation. The other deliverables for the system upgrade are managed by the separately appointed Project Managers. Project Managers are often technical and professional experts in the areas for which they manage. Whether they are experts or not, each Project Manager needs to be proficient in the skill of managing a project of this size and complexity.

Figure 2 – ADDIE model project phases

Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate
In our scenario, the person selected as Project Manager for the Hardware, Software and Procedures project could be a professional Project Manager sourced from the Information Services department of the company. Alternatively, he or she could be a Project Manager nominated by the software vendor. This project is responsible for the installation and customization of the hardware and software required to meet the agreed system design specifications. As Information Services personnel are the system and business process experts, this project is also responsible for the development and implementation of policies and operational procedures.

The Roles, Incentives and Metrics project is typically managed by a Project Manager assigned from the Human Resources department. This project is responsible for performing role and task analyses, recruitment and selection for new roles and the design and implementation of the formal and informal rewards and recognition scheme. Because of their expertise in facilitation, this project is also responsible for getting the management team’s agreement on the leading and lagging company measures of success and the design and implementation of business measurement and reporting systems.

Each Project Manager is allocated a separate budget and expected to deliver their set of outputs according to an agreed timeline. Project personnel are assigned for each project; however, in some cases, they may be shared with other projects or with other line responsibilities. Each Project Manager is also responsible for tracking the progress of their project and evaluating its success against agreed criteria.

The Program Manager Role

With projects such as these, there is a sizable amount of crossover, with the progress of one project depending on the deliverables of the others. For example, the task analysis for new roles (Project 2) cannot be completed until the new procedures are finalized (Project 1). Training program design (Project 3) is dependent on both these two outputs. This is one important reason why an overall coordinator for all of the projects is often appointed.

In many organizations, this high-level coordinator is referred to as the “Program Manager”. This person is depicted in Figure 1 above, sitting underneath the Steering Committee. Do not confuse this Program Manager with the manager of a training program. The manager of a training program will, in some cases, be the Project Manager responsible for the needs analysis and design and delivery of the training program. This role, however, is quite different from the role of a Program Manager overseeing a number of related projects.

The role of Program Manager is critical to the success of any medium- to large-scale initiative. The Program Manager needs to be a person with a broad understanding of the organization and its strategic direction and goals. An effective Program Manager will keep the program focused on the real organizational outcomes required to move the organization forward. A Program Manager drawn from one of the technical specialist areas may focus the program unnecessarily on a narrow set of objectives. Where possible, select the Program Manager from the organizational unit that will be using the benefits derived from the program.

The final piece in the program structure is the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee, shown at the pinnacle of the structure shown in Figure 1, usually consists of the Program Sponsor and other senior people responsible for guiding the overall program. The Steering Committee monitors progress, reviews and approves major changes and makes go/no go decisions at important junctures. For programs with a limited number of key stakeholders, the Program Sponsor could perform this function on their own.


The project structure outlined above gives your organization a guide on how to set up your change and improvement initiative. Setting up the appropriate governance structure and project processes give your organization’s change initiative and its attendant training program the best chance of success.

The key message here is to avoid what unsuccessful organizations do. These organizations implement the core system, such as the inventory management software in our scenario, and leave the rest to chance. With no planning for other supporting systems and processes and no coordination of interrelated activities, such organizations end up wasting a lot of money and fraying a lot of people around the edges.

How organizations set up the planning and coordination function for their initiatives will depend on the organization, the initiative and the particular circumstances. Will the initiative be treated as a local project with a simple structure, or will it be regarded as a larger, multifaceted set of projects requiring a more complex governance structure? From both a training function and a wider organizational change perspective, the trick is to keep the level of bureaucracy to a minimum whilst leveraging all of the elements required for successful change.

Some organizations already have established criteria for determining how a project or program is to be managed. Change leaders in every organization will need to make a judgment on how it will manage each project as the need arises. This article has outlined possible project structures and some options to consider when setting up an overall coordination function.

Further Reading:

No matter what size project you are managing, get all of the key training project documents you and your team need with Leslie Allan’s popular training projects template pack. Complete with 14 fully customizable templates and bonus project measuring and reporting tool, the pack is designed to help you through all phases of your training project. Each template is fully customizable to meet the specific needs of your organization and comes bundled with instructions on how to make full use of its power and versatility.
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