Tips on How to Plan Training Projects
Everyone loves a party, right? Well, for the introverts out there, you might enjoy the behind-the-scenes planning more than the event itself, while the extroverts might shrug off the details and just want to jump right into the fun. Regardless, I say “Party?” you say, “Yes!” But what happens if I say “Training?!” Even for those with unending curiosity and love for learning, it’s not quite the same reaction. Interestingly, throwing a party and organizing a successful learning experience have a lot in common.
A few months ago, I planned a party for my son’s college graduation. What goes into planning a party? You have to set a date. You have to make a guest list. You have to invite the guests. You have to decide what you will serve your guests. You have to decide on the location. And you have to decide on the decorations. Finally, you have to determine if you can do all this yourself or whether you need to ask for help. Sound familiar?
The Training “Party”
Let’s look at the list again with training in mind. You have to:
- Set a date: When will the training launch?
- Make a guest list: Who’s your audience?
- Invite the guests: How will you market the training?
- Decide what you’ll serve your guests: What are the learning objectives?
- Decide on the location: How will the training be delivered?
- Decide on the decorations: Will the training have a theme?
- Determine if you can do all this yourself or will ask for help: What can be developed internally vs. getting help from a vendor?
So, how does this list translate to custom learning solutions?
Don’t skip design. This is your map. For the party, I had a clear vision in my head. However, I didn’t take the time to sketch it out. This led to a few frustrating moments (for me) when others involved in the party planning carried out tasks differently than I had in mind. When it comes to training, some things may seem obvious and straightforward, but as development progresses and circumstances change that will inevitably impact the training (team members change, budgets change, launch dates change), it’s easy to lose your focus. A strong design will help execute the plan that meets everyone’s expectations.
However, there are times when design documents and learning paths are skipped. This is never ideal, but sometimes budget and timelines are the priority and design and learning paths are on the chopping block. When this happens, consider an alternative. You may not be able to give two weeks to a full design, but how about a two-hour working meeting to map out the big picture plan? This can go a long way to make sure everyone is aligned on their ideas, approach, and expectations.
Let me share a real-life work example to illustrate what I mean. A few months ago, I was working with a client, who’s in the IT industry, to create web-based systems training. The priority for the client was to get the courses out the door as quickly as possible as the system launch dates were not going to change. Ideal? No. But we came up with some innovative solutions to address this: Develop the solid topics first. Develop interactive PDFs (iPDFs) for less solid topics, which could be edited and updated at the same speed as the systems content became available. The iPDFs later could (did) become e-learning once the content was solid. Between roll-out events, we revisited our deliverables list to be sure all topics and audience groups were covered.
Determine your budget and don’t be afraid to stick to it. While shopping for party treats, I came across some decorations I thought were much “cooler” than the ones we had already purchased. How did I decide which decorations to use? The budget. This removed the emotion and kept the decision simple. As you plan your training, the same thing may happen; you’ll come across great ideas you didn’t think of at the onset or even know about beforehand.
This happened with a client in the financial services industry. We were in the process of creating product training. Budget and timeline were set and there was no turning back. However, at the midpoint, someone on the team came up with the idea to create some short videos. (Case in point; here’s another reason not to nix design.)
What to do? While the videos were a great idea, the budget didn’t have room for this late addition. For this client, we discussed alternative ways to repurpose the remaining budget (e.g., shorten a course, reduce the video from five minutes to two). The video ideas were brainstormed and captured and the decision was made to hold on to the video for the initial launch, but to revisit the idea in the next budget and revision cycles.
Keep your team as small as possible. This can seem counterintuitive when the supposition is typically “many hands make light work,” so here’s what you’ll want to do: Be selective in choosing reviewers who add value and won’t try to “dream” about what’s possible while reviewing the content, thus slowing down the review cycle. Again, design helps resolve this.
Also, be sure that everyone who will need to have input on the project is brought in as soon as possible. It can be very difficult to explain to upper management why an objective was/was not included when they’re seeing it for the first time after eight or more weeks of design and development.
Don’t use more developers than you need, 25 people offering (or sharing) opinions is overwhelming to manage, especially when just three or four people could handle the required tasks.
Be clear on who the decision makers are. If there are 12 people from the client team on a call reviewing a job aid, it’s not an efficient use of time or money (in most cases), and a project manager may not know who has the final say. Ideally, you always want the client to review the deliverables and collect/validate all internal content prior to having a review meeting. This way, you know that all the changes have been vetted and approved.
Did my son’s graduation party go off without a hitch? Nope. Little things popped up here and there, and I realized I would’ve saved myself time and had less haggard helpers if I had mapped out certain things beforehand. But the important thing was that the party met my objective of celebrating my son and his accomplishment, my guests had a good time, and my son was happy with the day. Organizational training is no different; if you can say the training met its purpose and objectives, the learners enjoyed their training experience, and the client was pleased with the deliverables and results, then you’ve just proven yourself to be a successful training “party planner.”