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managing-trainersMany trainers and training coordinators are unexpected project managers. Although you never dreamed you'd be a project manager, suddenly your whole work life revolves around projects. You're the manager on some of these projects, some you participate in, and you compete with others for scant resources. The project manager with the organisational skills necessary to manage this project maze will thrive.

Here is a brief overview of 10 steps to successful project management.

Step 1: Decide if you have a real project to manage
You never planned for this role, but now find that you spend most of your time working on projects. The first thing you need to know is how to tell the difference between a task, a process, and a project. Many of the things now on your to-do list really aren't tasks—they're projects. By treating them as such, you'll work more effectively.

Step 2: Prove your project is worth your time
In both profit and nonprofit entities, there is a limited amount of money and a finite number of people to get things done. Trainers and learning professionals need to be able to discern and document the business reason for any project. When you understand the financial part of project management, you clearly will see the impact of projects that wrap up late or come in over budget.

Step 3: Manage scope creep
Ask 100 people if documenting scope is critical to project success, and I bet that 99 percent of them would say "yes." I also think that at least 70 percent don't document scope at all. Most people feel that describing the scope in writing requires difficult conversations with busy executives and page after page of contract-like text demanding sign-off. They assume it's better just to get going on the project. They're wrong. Learning professionals need to know how to document scope graphically so they can enhance communication and limit scope creep.

Step 4: Identify, rate, and manage risks
A project risk is something that could happen during the project, and it's something you make plans to mitigate or avoid. By brainstorming at the outset about what could go wrong during the project and how such situations might be managed or mitigated, you take some of the pain of interruption out of project work.
Remember, however, that you'll never think of everything that might happen on a project. And sometimes it's not worth the extra energy to preplan for a risk that is not very likely or won't have a great impact.

Step 5: Collaborate successfully
One of the most important things I've learned about project management is the usefulness of collaboration. It sounds simple. But, in practice, collaboration is extremely difficult.
There will be many times when you're angry with someone on the team or with one of the stakeholders because a promise has been broken, a change has been made, or some other bomb has been dropped. At this moment of anger, you choose between collaboration and payback (a project killer). Trainers work in a dynamic environment including stakeholders from different industry background and learners with different needs and motivations,  trainers need to know how to take a deep breath and create collaboration without regard to the turmoil and personal agendas.

Step 6: Gather your team and make a schedule
In many project management classes, you learn how to make a work breakdown structure to brainstorm the tasks needed in a project, and then how to hook all the tasks together along a timeline. It's a good academic exercise, but is rarely done in the real world.
On an actual project, you're given the end date and a bank of resources that usually seem unreasonable and inadequate, respectively, and you have to fit the tasks you want to do into that tight space. Consequently, it's important to know how to create a plan from a fixed date, a fixed budget, and constrained resources.

Step 7: Adjust your schedule
When the project starts, it's challenging to monitor how it's going. Project status meetings can become "who hunts," in which participants spend the entire meeting figuring out who's at fault. Keeping track of all the people whose work you need at critical times is very difficult.
It's better to use quick, repeatable ways to communicate status and keep everyone aligned with the project. Know the warning signs that reveal when a project is drifting into trouble.

Step 8: Embrace the natural chaos of people
Chaos happens—that's a given. But chaos really is just the result of people changing their minds, getting angry and frustrated, misunderstanding directions, and working under stress. Learnng professionals need to be ready to employ the people skills required to build relationships, manage conflict, and negotiate disagreements.

Step 9: Know when you're done
Ending a project doesn't begin when the project is complete; it begins in Steps 1 through 4. Clearly defining and communicating what "done" means throughout a project are critical aspects of ending well.

Step 10: Follow up to learn lessons
The most important and least practiced project management skill is the ability to do a post-project review. Having the discipline to set aside time and reflect on a project, alone or with others, ensures that future projects will be better managed. Trainers can use a standard template to help capture lessons learned during the project when facilitating the project debrief and included into the organisation (RTO) continuous improvment records to ensure the learning from those lessons will be applied in future similar projects.

Note: This post is excerpted from 10 Steps to Successful Project Management.

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HomeImage-CollaborationCollaboration is more than an activity. It is a process with associated behaviors that can be taught and developed—a process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximize individual contribution while leveraging the collective intelligence of everyone involved.

A new whitepaper from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Creating a Collaborative Organisational Culture, co-authored by UNC Executive Development Director Kip Kelly and Alan Schaefer, explores the building blocks for effective collaboration and provides steps for making collaboration work within the workplace.

Kelly and Schaefer discuss how "management and knowledge silos that were created in the 20th century are no longer tenable today if organisations are to succeed." Fortunately, collaboration helps break down those silos so that organisations can be "creative, flexible, and ready to meet the changing, demanding needs of business today."

Creating a Collaborative Organisational Culture outlines specific building blocks that "must live within leaders and individual contributors to ensure that collaboration is part of an organisation's culture," including trust, communication, and shared vision and purpose.

  • Trust. In the collaborative process, trust means creating an environment where everyone can openly express concerns, fears, and differences of opinion without fear of rejection, aggression, or retaliation. Talent management professionals can assess the level of trust in an organisation through employee surveys and confidential one-on-one interviews.
  • Communication. Leaders must communicate why collaboration is important to the organisation's success and must outline the strategy and roadmap for how the organisation will work collaboratively. Both employees and leaders must share and build ideas, constructively criticize, and provide feedback.
  • Shared vision and purpose. This is about taking the time to articulate the "why" to everyone involved in the collaborative process on a particular project or initiative. Leaders must ensure that all employees understand how their work contributes to the goals of the team and organisation and how collaboration will help them meet their goals.

To sustain a culture of collaboration, Creating a Collaborative Organizational Culture advises talent management professionals to consider using the following steps:

  • Define what a collaborative environment looks like for the organisation.
  • Offer training that teaches specific collaborative skills.
  • Make sure the metrics for success are aligned among different business units.
  • Ensure that leaders understand their role in facilitating collaboration and maintaining a collaborative environment.

Finally, Kelly and Schaefer want to remind organisations that "talent management professionals who take the time to teach and nurture these building blocks—trust, communication, and shared vision and purpose—will lay the groundwork to create an organisational culture based on collaboration. As a result, they will see improved employee retention, less conflict, lower stress, an improved competitive advantage, a higher level of performance, and a healthier bottom line."

For more on how to build a culture of collaboration, download the complete UNC Executive Development whitepaper at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Resource Library.

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Industry-drivenIn the framework of the current VET Reform, the Hon Ian Macfarlane, Minister of Industry intends to put the VET Sector in the driver's seat. "The era of training for training's sake is over" the minister stated.

The announcements to update the VET Quality Framework and regulatory structures to a more industry-responsive system have been widely welcomed in the sector.

However, we must avoid fundamental errors if we are to steer clear of a car crash in the near future. The VET sector is not a single car, but a dynamic range of diverse vehicles with different qualitative characteristics. The government must ensure all players have their representatives on the roads, to ensure effective strategic planning, development, and transfer of skills that Australian society needs to achieve its objectives. Traffic jams or accidents must be avoided, as usually the more disadvantaged passengers are the ones to lose the most.

Let's start with the industry's responsiveness.
Industry must drive the "business issues" that training helps to solve. The industry must determine the business needs that will become the "impact objectives" for the training to be delivered.

RTOs must involve the industry in the evaluation of those impact objectives, because that is the real outcome for the industry. But evaluation is a process that starts long before training is delivered.

Evaluation must be considered at the early stages of training design, during the initial development of the training and assessment strategies. RTOs must engage the industry at that stage to ensure impact objectives are aligned with relevant business needs.

What happens next? We change the driver. Once impact objectives are established, we need the expertise of human performance practitioners to lead the process of identifying performance needs and skills gaps that will define the application objectives for the training to be delivered.

Finally, a set of learning objectives is formulated to guide an industry-relevant training experience that needs to consider the students' current skills levels, motivations and needs.

The current regulatory framework is unable to regulate training quality because it doesn't consider either the impact or the application of training. The current standards only regulate the learning objectives and their evaluation: the assessments.

That is our first fundamental error; we want to call this an outcome-based training system but, in fact, we are dealing with an activity-based system instead.

An outcome-based (results-based) system requires consideration at higher levels of evaluation. To include those higher levels into the standards, the regulator must adopt indicators to measure the impact of training to meet business needs. That means including the industry in the regulatory framework. We could achieve this, for example, by including reports from employers as part of evidence considered by regulators in quality audits. We will not achieve this if the data collected from the industry is not at evaluation levels 3 (application), and 4 (impact).

The proposed standards maintain a conceptual mistake using data from the industry at level 2 (assessment). The industry must be involved, but we can only use their expertise about business issues, we cannot expect the industry to validate instructional design processes that RTOs must be accountable for.

A separate problem is the funding arrangements. Government funding accounts for around 80% of all vocational training enrolments in Australia. During a speech to VET practitioners, the minister stated "...the current 'sign- up' culture has seen a churning of people through the system and often left without support once the initial training contract is lodged". What benefit does this training produce for those 1.5 million enrolments that the government funds every year?

Government funding has promoted a distorted market. The inappropriate regulatory framework has permitted a massive pool of unscrupulous RTOs who are negligent and exploit the business opportunities generated through government funding arrangements. Many RTOs live on government funding alone. Taxpayers' dollars have bought inputs (contracts, certificates, training seats) but not enough outcomes.

Improving the RTO's regulatory framework will not be enough to solve the market's disjointed and immature approach. Government funding must adopt new indicators to measure the return on the taxpayer's investment. These indicators must consider the learner's improvements, as an individual (skills learnt, employment status, social variables, etc.). But in any case, these indicators must be used to measure the benefits of the funded training. Funding must be available to address the skills needed in industry, but again together with a set of indicators to evaluate the ROI benefit obtained.

Finally, to maintain the quality of training we must maintain the quality of the training packages. Training packages are a macro level interpretation of the performance needs of Australian business in a particular industry. The outcome of this interpretation is the description of standard work outcomes that serve as benchmarks for training organisations. Again the process of developing and updating training packages must be reviewed, and mechanisms to evaluate industry-relevance of training packages, and ROI studies must be incorporated to improve the current situation.

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