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Is project management training really effective?

There’s a whole industry around project management training. Job adverts declare that you have to be PMP certified or a PRINCE2 Practitioner. But does training actually make a difference to how you do your job?

Training can make you about 26% more effective, according to research by PM Solutions.

Only 28% of organisations bother to measure whether business results improve as a result of training, but these organisations see improvements across 8 measures:

  • Stakeholder satisfaction: 29% improvement
  • Schedule performance: 27% improvement
  • Project failures: 26% reduction
  • Quality: 25% improvement
  • Budget performance: 25% improvement
  • Requirements performance: 25% improvement
  • Productivity: 24% improvement
  • Time to market: 24% improvement (I don’t know how this is different from schedule performance).

Conclusive, right? Wrong

Of course, we can’t tell from the research whether the companies that don’t measure business results still see an improvement. Perhaps they do, but they don’t record it and can’t attribute it directly to training. Their project managers may still be performing better as a result of attending training.

The PM Solutions research doesn’t dig in to how businesses actually measure the improvement in business results. How do you attribute the fact that someone has attended a PRINCE2 course to the fact that they are now producing a result that is 25% more ‘quality’ than last week? This assumes that companies have robust measures in place already to track performance of these business metrics.

And in my experience, they don’t.

Let’s just guess if our training was effective

New research by ESI also casts doubt on the ability of companies to accurately record how useful training really is. Their study (which asked about 10 times as many people as the PM Solutions study) shows that 60% of respondents say that the main method they use for working out if training was effective is anecdotal feedback or guessing.

Guessing? Well, that really justifies my investment in training.

How can we make project management training more effective?

PM Solutions reports that instructor-led classroom training is the most effective method of training.

This was rated effective or very effective by about 70% of respondents. Instructor-led virtual learning, self-directed e-learning and technology-delivered training were all only rated as moderately effective.

“All the best preparation and training experience in the world can flounder if there is no follow-through at the workplace.” ESI research

The ESI study says that the top three strategies for ensuring what students learned on the course is transferred to the workplace are:

  • Providing students with the time, resources and responsibility to apply their new learning
  • Showing that their manager supports their studies
  • Taking a course where the instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.

It also concludes that post-learning tools are important to help transfer the knowledge the workplace after the course. These include post-course discussions with their manager, on-the-job aids, informal support such as social networks or online forums, communities of practice and coaching.

So, to make project management training as effective as possible, it should be:

  • Instructor-led classroom training with training material tailored to your project management processes and methods
  • Supported by your line manager
  • Followed up with on-the-job opportunities to practice what you have learned and discuss it with others.

My company doesn’t do that! What should I do?

First, be grateful that you have the opportunity to do training at all. Many firms are cutting back.

Second, if your company won’t provide that kind of support to help transfer your learning to the workplace, why not do it yourself? You will be the one who benefits ultimately. Making sure you assimilate what you have learned will make you a better project manager, and the better you are, the more career opportunities will be open to you.


  • Prepare properly for your course. Take along examples of your project management templates and processes and ask the instructor how the concepts relate to your work environment.
  • Schedule follow-up discussions with your manager when you are back.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunity the course presents: could you stay in touch with any of the other students for peer-to-peer coaching sessions?
  • Ask the instructor what support materials are available, or what online groups they would recommend. Then join them.

Project management training is an essential part of being a better project manager, but it is hard to quantify how effective it really is to a company, as these two studies show. Rather than rely on your company to help you assimilate the knowledge, take responsibility yourself for making it as effective as possible for you. The company will see the benefits if you deliver them.

What’s your experience of coming back to your job after a course? Have you been asked to demonstrate improvements?


Over 75% of you feel that social media tools provide the opportunity to improve the way you manage projects, according to this year’s Social Media in a Project Environment survey.

The 2011 results show how project managers around the world are using social media tools to manage projects and lead teams. There was lots of interest in the uses of social media for project teams during the last two years (for example, my book, the Virtual Working Summit and Bas de Baar’s work, especially his presentation at the PMI EMEA Congress in Amsterdam).  This year shows that interest and experience of using social media tools at work is continuing.

Here are some of the trends:

Trend results

Comparing the 2010 and 2011 survey results

Many senior managers still fail to see the benefits that social media tools used professionally at work can bring. However, many workplaces are becoming more aware of the importance of tailoring communication channels to how the recipient wants to receive information. We need to tailor the way we communicate with project team members to ensure we are easy to work with, and that we work in ways that make sense to them.

Podcasts are not used enough for learning

One of the most interesting results for me was that podcasts and video podcasts are among the least used tools. When I started working in healthcare I listened to healthcare podcasts on my commute to work. They helped me quickly learn the jargon of my new sector and feel less of an idiot when people in meetings used words that were unfamiliar. There are lots of good project management podcasts, some of which, like The PDUCast, contribute to maintaining your professional credentials (this is an affiliate link).

I strongly recommend that if you don’t listen to podcasts for professional development, that you find some you like and start doing so. If you are responsible for coaching and mentoring project teams consider using them as low-cost, vehicles for training material.

Over 40% use tools unofficially

Social Media in a Project Environment 2011 survey

The scariest statistic from the survey was that 42% of people said that they are not officially sanctioned to use social media tools at work, but they do so anyway, an increase of 4% from last year.

IT managers and PMO teams need to wake up to the idea that employees are finding ways to use social media tools at work whether they have been officially sanctioned or not. Software installed outside of the official channels could be a security risk, it probably isn’t backed up and there is no visibility of it should the company need to provide information for audits or Data Protection Act subject access requests. If you are part of the 42% please talk to your IT team! If you don’t feel you can, please get in touch. I’m really interested in learning more about the reasons behind this result.

Get the full version of the survey results here.


The Arras People 2011 Benchmark Report is out – and this year the study shows some interesting facts about pay.

Pay for female project professionals peaks at the £30k to £40k salary band.  Salaries for women over £65k are rare, and only 15% of women earn over £50k.

Male salaries plateau between £30k and £50k with 47% of the male project community falling into this section.  Another 40% earn over £50k.

Fair enough: you probably will find more women in project co-ordinator or support positions, or in part-time roles.  But when you look at the respondents who specifically identified themselves as project managers, there are interesting parallels.

The gender balance is almost even between men and women earning less than £30k. The most common salary for female project managers falls in the £30k to £40k bracket. We see gender balance again in the £40k to £50k range, but – as reflected in the overall analysis – 30% of male project managers earn over £50k, compared with only 12% of female project managers.

Perhaps it is because we are paid less that women manage the cheap, small projects. Something isn’t right there.

The situation for contractors

The gender pay gap for contractors is widening.  Last year 38% of women earned £349 per day, compared to 32% of men. This year, more men have shifted into the higher paid bracket of £350+ per day, while 49% of women now fall into this bracket.

Only 15% of female contractors earn between £500 and £749 per day, compared to a third of men.

Is maternity pay an excuse for sexism?

Just for the record, sexism at work is not allowed

“Whilst these are interesting changes, it may be in part due to the distribution of gender across roles,” says the survey.  This could well be the case. One respondent reported that ageism and sexism were “still allowed” in the contract market.

Just for the record, sexism at work is not allowed, although you only have to speak informally to women to know that discrimination of all sorts is still very much a part of working life.

Alistair Tebbit, Institute of Directors spokesman, believes sexism at work will get worse with the EU voting to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks on full pay. “It is not desirable for the EU to create a large tax, in effect, on employing women,” he said. “Such a step is unlikely to improve the prospects of women in the workplace.”

MEPs also voted to give men two weeks’ paternity leave at full pay. The European Council now has to discuss the proposals, and this could take some time.

I’m all for laws increasing maternity pay, but I’m also keen to see effort put into enforcing some of the equal pay legislation we already have. In the meantime, women (pregnant or not) have 58 years to wait before they earn the same as their male counterparts. I really hope we can do better than that.


The Social Media & Project Management Survey returns

This year I am once again running the Social Media in a Project Environment survey.

This time last year lots of you completed the survey and the results (which you can access on my blog; scroll down to Social Media Survey Results 2010) provided a snapshot of how social media tools were being used by project managers and in project environments.

In case you missed it, the survey is open until the end of the month, and I would really value your input.

Thanks for contributing!

Take the survey now!

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