Can PM Training Success Be Measured?

Posted by in Geoff Crane: The Papercut PM Blog

So, I was just over on Elizabeth Harrin’s blog, rabidly trying to catch up on her posts (she’s one of my favourites) after crunch week at university. While I was there, I caught her piece, Is Project Management Training Really Effective?

In the post, she presents some research that indicates project management training appears to provide some value on the surface, but so little is measured, it’s hard to be conclusive. Elizabeth is mostly concerned with a piece of data that suggests training success measurement is “anecdotal feedback or guessing”.


Image courtesy of chandlerparker on Flickr.

I think Ms. Harrin is right to be concerned. What’s the point of implementing any program if you don’t bother to measure the success afterwards?

But I’d like to throw in a wrinkle.

If you go and take a class in making iPhone apps, you come back and sit at your desk and maybe make something nifty like Angry Birds all by yourself. Then you sell your app on the iTunes store, and your company makes a lot of money and YAY that training was really valuable. The point is, you made the app by yourself. Training either gave you a new skill that you could apply on your own, or it didn’t. Measurement is easy.

When I look through the comments on Elizabeth’s post, a lot of people are looking at project management training in a similar light…they’re looking at things like degree of competency in the skill, quantity of new knowledge, and internal behaviour changes that result.

I would suggest that project management training cannot be measured by these benchmarks. And here’s why:

Project management training does not prepare students to deal with resistance. It teaches analysis, it teaches models of thought, and it teaches a logical, baby-step methodology that works.

The problem is, the methodology requires everyone who surrounds the project to be accountable. People don’t like being accountable. It’s icky.

Imagine you’re a brand new project management trainee, and you’ve just come from class. Everything you learned while you were there made perfect sense to you. I mean let’s face it–we PMs are not rocket scientists. You knew when you got back to work you’d make a difference. And then you talked with your first stakeholder:

“Thanks, but we’d rather not box ourselves into a charter.”

What’s your response? “My teacher said you’re supposed to?” Yeah, that’s going to win the argument. But if you’re just starting out, you have no practical command of the material. Unless you also took a negotiations class, what else are you going to say?

So what happens? One by one, the things you learned in class get eroded by the other people who don’t want to take ownership of those tasks that are rightfully theirs. You make concessions. You let accountability fall away. Your project loses integrity (thank you Rick Valerga) because you lose integrity. You didn’t mean to, but you didn’t have the skills to defend your ground.

Has the value of PM training been compromised? I don’t believe so. The PM lessons are every bit as valid as they were before the resistance. The damage to the project occurred because of a lack of skills that were not taught with the traditional analytics.

But what are the comments when the project goes under the bus? “Wow. Timmy’s project management training wasn’t very useful.”

I agree with Elizabeth that PM training must be measured by any company who sends its people to school. However I think there are barriers in the way that would make any measurements highly inaccurate unless steps are taken to remove them.

Personally, I think leadership and negotiation skills should be an essential part of any project management program. I mean if you’re going to do it, do it. Just listening to the PMI is half-assed.