Investing in standalone training programs and certifications is one part of the puzzle, but to really drive delivery improvement it’s about taking a more holistic approach. Here PM-Partners Corporate Training & Capability Uplift Manager Manager Nekta Vamvoukakis and Agile Learning Consultant and Facilitator Quinn Dodsworth discuss how to design a capability uplift toolkit to practically support and embed learning over the long term.
Managing a project through to successful completion is fraught with difficulties. Lack of skills and experience within the team is a large contributor, with this highlighted as being one of the biggest challenges facing Agile project managers, according to the 15th State of Agile Report. That same study found that inconsistencies in processes and practices (46 per cent) and general organisational resistance to change (42 per cent) were also hamstringing project delivery.
Strong skills and capabilities are critical to uplifting performance, and even more so in our post-pandemic world. Today’s project managers are not only juggling remote and hybrid teams but many are busier than ever. According to recent figures, almost 60 per cent of PMs are running between two and five projects at any one time, while 15 per cent are overseeing an eye-watering 10 or more projects simultaneously.
When these projects inevitably run over time or budget, leadership – by default – often turns to training. But will training alone solve your delivery challenges?
Practice makes perfect
It’s an unfortunate reality that people typically forget much of what they have learned within days if they do not put it into practice. The Ebbinghaus ‘Forgetting Curve’ has long been used as a visual aid to illustrate the exponential nature of forgetting and the speed with which information is lost if no attempts are made to review the material – in most cases, retention of newly found knowledge drops to below 20 per cent after less than a week.
The Ebbinghaus ‘forgetting curve’
Ebbinghaus also highlighted how regular practice at spaced intervals can promote retention, and numerous studies over the years have added credence to his findings. This means that organisations that focus on one-off training without supporting their staff with ongoing learning and the practical application of those skills in the workplace are wasting an opportunity to not only build their team’s capabilities but extract maximum value from their investments.
In order to address this shortfall, it’s time to take a new approach to training and development – one that focuses on the long-term and brings together a mixture of techniques. Instead of one-off training programs and certifications, it’s about building a more holistic package, or capability uplift toolkit, that considers methods of applying and embedding that learning for continuous improvement and, ultimately, more effective results.
Shifting your approach
Every organisation will need to allocate training resources differently, according to their team size, the number of projects currently running, budgets, skills gaps and more. However, a good rule of thumb is to shift from a pure training-based strategy to one made up of 10 per cent training, 20 per cent coaching and 70 per cent experience/on-the-job application of skills.
The strengths of this 10/20/70 model lie in the mixture of strategies to support greater work performance and capabilities. For example, in the 10 per cent training segment, individuals undertake formal learning through courses, accreditations, masterclasses, e-learning and more. The 20 per cent segment involves coaching, collaboration sessions, giving and receiving feedback, learning in networks and after-action reviews. And the largest segment of 70 per cent focuses on on-the-job learning and application of skills; this is achieved through problem-solving, challenging tasks, auditing and reviewing performance, innovation and reflection.
The result is a highly hands-on learning model that is leveraged to build stronger work performance and capability.
Designing your capability uplift toolkit
The key takeaway from the 10/20/70 rule is that while training is critical to acquiring new knowledge and skills, it should only be one aspect of your capability uplift program. Supplementary techniques to support and drive learning and the application of newfound knowledge when your people are in the role – from team coaching to micro-training – will flesh out your program to help improve your team’s skills and drive consistency.
Here are some of the learning approaches you might like to add to your capability uplift toolkit:
- Modular courses: Rather than overwhelming your people with lengthy training sessions, an effective alternative is to break them down into more flexible, modular courses, for example over four hours. This allows topics to be explored in-depth rather than given only a cursory glance, and it means you don’t need to pull your people off projects for an entire workday.
- 1:1 or group coaching: Coaching from experienced resources who have ‘been there and done that’ is invaluable and can be role or discipline specific for individuals, specialists, or teams. It should be performance measured to drive focus, address capability gaps and provide documented proof of improvements.
- Refresher courses: Over time, your people will inevitably forget much of what they learned during a one-off training session. Quick refresher courses can help them re-examine the key information or address areas they’re struggling with, without having to undertake another full session or modular course.
- Internal success stories: Stories of how others (e.g. co-workers) have benefited from the capability uplift program can help generate buy-in, as they will demonstrate the explicit results of these new learning strategies. The content can also allow others to benefit from ‘lessons learned’ and how the knowledge was applied in their context.
- Communities of practice: Rather than the standard teacher–student dynamic, communities of practice bring together a cohort of specialists where your people can share and learn from each other and drive on-going improvements day to day.
Pulling it all together
Moving away from a ‘training-only’ strategy to a holistic capability uplift program is a big change. As with most transformations, it’s important to do your due diligence and start slow. You want to ensure minimal disruption to your ongoing projects while also setting your teams up for future success.
For example, you could swap out a typical training event, which may last anywhere from a day to a full week, to a short half-day training session plus two to three subsequent coaching sessions. Instead of giving every team member the same information over the course of several days, the information can be distilled down into only the key points, with coaching sessions used to help uncover weaknesses. Those weaknesses can then be addressed by the individual and their coach, with strategies applied in the workplace immediately to embed understanding.
The value of coaching from experienced resources goes beyond boosting your team’s confidence and closing skills gaps. There is also monetary value to be gleaned. A Fortune 500 company that deployed an executive coaching program saw a whopping 788 per cent return on investment, including financial benefits from employee retention. More broadly, 80 per cent of people who are coached claim they are more self-confident, and 70 per cent say their work performance, relationships and communication skills all improved.
Measuring your performance
Of course, to successfully promote an organisation of continuous learning, you need to track how you are faring. Capability assessments allow you to measure the success – or reveal any missteps – in the new learning environment. Getting behavioural data on how teaching is being applied in day-to-day roles can help pinpoint any gaps and then inform how you adapt and redesign your capability uplift program.
These assessments will not only point you in the right direction of the methods you should use to uplift your team’s skills and capabilities, but they will also show the return on investment. Are instances of project over-runs and budget blowouts being reduced, or is there still work to be done? Your capability uplift program should not be static – rather, it should constantly evolve to best support your organisation’s needs.
In a fast-changing workplace, where staff churn is on the rise and teams are moving to remote and hybrid settings, you need to invest in and deploy the right learning strategies to ensure the success of your projects. By shifting from an outdated training approach to one that heroes robust skills and capabilities, you can help your team embrace continuous improvement and drive delivery results.
If you are ready to leverage the strengths of a capability uplift program, PM-Partners can help you deliver the right training and professional development to match your needs. Contact us or call 1300 70 13 14 to get started.