Personal Development Plan

Workforce development activities are focused on expanding employee talent to help workers be more effective and prepare them for new roles (Noe, 2010). While training tends to address specific knowledge and skills with the goal of improving performance, development activities tend to be more future oriented and can help workers take advantage of new technologies, manage change, and prepare for other roles in an organization or their profession (Noe, 2010). Development activities can include education, assessment, job experiences, and mentoring and networking. A personal development plan can help an individual build on his or her strengths and prepare for new professional opportunities. My personal development plan includes ongoing assessment, mentoring, job enlargement, and a personal learning network.

Ongoing Assessment

Ongoing assessment involves routinely gathering data about an employee’s knowledge, skills and performance in order to identify strengths and weaknesses. In my organization, formal performance appraisals are conducted twice a year. Feedback is also collected from colleagues and people who have received training or technical assistance from me. This information helps identify my strengths and weakness, which provides guidance in identifying developmental needs and creating an individual development plan (IDP). It also helps me set goals and objectives, and measure progress. In addition to assessments conducted by my employer, professional organizations establish competencies that can be used as benchmarks to identify developmental needs.  As a Certified Health Education Specialist, my responsibilities and competencies have been outlined by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). NCHEC has identified both entry level and advanced level competencies in 7 areas (NCHEC, n.d.). I can compare my current knowledge, skills and experience to the competencies established by NCHEC to set developmental goals. This approach provides a professional standard that can be used to select developmental activities that are aligned with the requirements for my profession.

Job Enlargement

Job enlargement occurs when challenges or new responsibilities are added to an employee’s job (Noe, 2010). My employer provides job enlargement opportunities by giving me the opportunity to work on special projects. Based on the results of performance assessment and professional development needs, I can work with my manager to identify projects within my organization that can serve as development opportunities for my IDP. These opportunities can involve learning new technologies or techniques, learning about other areas of the organization, or taking on responsibilities outside of my current position such as managing others. Special projects allow me to learn and apply new skills that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to practice. Because the learning takes place on-the-job, the skills tend to be more easily transferred to other work assignments. Special projects also give me the opportunity to work with people who are not on my team, which strengthens positive relationships and expands the number of people in my network.

Mentoring

A mentor is a more experienced professional who helps to develop a less experienced professional (Noe, 2010). Mentors provide career support, advice, and guidance on developing interpersonal skills. I have mentoring opportunities available through my employer that are designed to help me learn the culture of the organization and prepare for more senior positions. I can also develop mentoring relationships outside of my workplace through professional organizations. These can help expand my knowledge of various career paths and identify the types of knowledge, skills and and experience that will be necessary to take advantage of opportunities in my profession.

Personal Learning Networks

A personal learning network (PLN) is a group of people with whom you share common interests who are willing to share their knowledge and experience (Nielsen, 2008). Working collaboratively with the people in your network can help expand your knowledge of the field, transfer learning to practice, and open opportunities to grow as a professional (Bozarth, 2011). It is a collaborative approach to staying up-to-date. Instead of just reading a professional journal article, engaging with a PLN is like discussing the article with colleagues, sharing examples of the new knowledge in practice, and getting feedback on your own attempts to apply the knowledge. PLNs can be developed using web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, social bookmarking and Twitter. This is useful when funds for traveling to conferences and professional activities are scarce. Online PLN’s are also useful for people like me who cross disciplines. For me, structured learning and development opportunities tend to focus on public health or instructional design, but not both. Developing my own PLN allows me to create the best mix of both worlds that meets my specific learning and development needs. It also gives me the opportunity to learn from people in seemingly unrelated fields such as visual communication and game design.

Becoming a life long learner is as much about preparing for the future as it is about improving current performance. Employee development benefits organizations by helping to build a competent and agile workforce. Employee development is also helpful to the individual professional by helping her develop her talents and prepare for a rewarding career path. Employees can work collaboratively with leadership to identify mutually beneficial development activities. Workers can also use professional resources and web 2.0 tools to identify and create their own development opportunities.

Click here to see my recommendations to a pubic health agency for organization-wide workforce development strategies.

References

Bozarth, J. (2011, April 5). “Nuts and bolts: Building a personal learning network (PLN).” Learning Solutions Magazine. Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/659/nuts-and-bolts-building-a-personal-learning-network–pln

Illustration of computers. Retrieved April 15, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900341835.jpg

Image of man talking with mentor. Retrieved April 15, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900400335.jpg

NCHEC. (n.d.). “Responsibilities and competencies for Health Education Specialists.” National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. Retrieved April 15, 2012 from http://www.nchec.org/credentialing/responsibilities/

Nielsen, L. (2008, October 12). “5 things you can do to begin developing your personal learning network.” The Innovative Educator. Retrieved April 13, 2012 from http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2008/04/5-things-you-can-do-to-begin-developing.html

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

April 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm 4 comments

High-Tech Training

Image of a TreeLast year, I was shopping for plants for my garden and noticed that some of the fruit trees had tags with QR codes on them. I was able to use my phone to scan the code and learn more about the tree. I was able to get information about the tree’s light and water requirements, how tall it would grow and other information about taking care of it. I was also able to see tips, reviews and pictures left by people who had “real world” experience with the plant. It was information that helped me make a decision about buying the tree. These same technologies could be applied to training, making it more mobile and collaborative.

Online Learning

Online learning is instruction delivered through the internet (Noe, 2010). Online learning modules can include text, hyperlinks, audio, video, simulations and a variety of interactive elements to engage learners. Since the internet can be accessed almost anywhere on any device with internet capabilities, this means that online learning could be accessed almost anywhere. I was able to learn about growing a peach tree at the moment it mattered – when I was standing in front of one trying to decide if I could grow it. Not only was I able to learn what experts knew about the tree, but I was also able to learn from regular gardeners like me who had some experience with it.  If I had decided to buy the tree, I could have used the online learning when planting the tree, or when something went wrong with it after planting. In this way, the online learning could also serve as performance support.

Video

Video is useful for teaching a variety of process and interpersonal skills (Noe, 2010). It is an effective way to illustrate concepts that are difficult to explain with words, or too costly or dangerous to demonstrate in a classroom. It also allows learners to skip parts they know and rewind parts they need to see again. Video has become easier and less expensive to make and distribute. Almost everyone with a smart phone can create and upload videos right from their device. For trainers, this means that video is not limited to pushing out content to learners. Learners can create their own videos and upload them for review by their peers and instructors. It can be used to ask questions, illustrate examples or demonstrate applied knowledge and skills. Not only could I see a video of how to properly plant a tree, but when my tree got sick I could take a video submit it to the site for advice from subject matter experts or other users.

Groupware

Groupware is collaboration software that allows learners to work together on projects (Noe, 2010). Learners can share resources, organize and analyze content, and work together to complete projects. They do not have to be in the same place at the same time to engage in collaborative learning activities because the software provides the tools to facilitate communication. With groupware, online learning does not have to be a solitary, passive activity. Learns can use the software to engage with others to increase their understanding of the content and build learning communities.

Mobile Devices

Mobile devices allow learners to access and share information. Applications for mobile devices add additional functionality that can enhance Image of a phone with a peach on the screen.learning and collaboration. With a mobile device, learners can access content, share new resources or information, and ask questions (Ahmad & Orton, 2010). Location based applications allow learners to access information that is relevant to where they are. This increases the potential for content to be customized to meet learner needs. If I could tag where my tree is located, I could receive planting and care instruction based on my climate zone.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing refers to a series of services offered over the Internet. These services include applications, infrastructure and platforms. An organization can use cloud services to create, store, and distribute content through a service provider instead of buying, installing and maintaining the software, servers and other resources necessary to accomplish these tasks. (Gilmore, 2010). This can result in cost savings for the organization, increase the speed at which content can be developed and delivered, and offer more flexibility for keeping content up-to-date. For trainers, it means that content can be developed and uploaded to the cloud where learners can download it when needed. Changes and updates can be made to the resources in the cloud, which ensures everyone with access has the most current content. Learners can also use applications in the cloud to share resources and collaborate with each other.  It also offers the potential for trainers to be more innovative. Instead of purchasing expensive software that may only be used a few times a year to develop content, the content can designed with cloud services on a fee-for-service basis (Gilmore, 2010). In addition, time that would have spent building and maintaining the IT infrastructure for training can be spent supporting users and learners and keeping learning objects up-to-date (He, et. al., 2011).

This three-minute video explains the advantages of cloud computing in learning environments. Cloud Computing for Education

New technologies have the potential to reshape the way learners access and use training resources. However, they are only as effective as the work put into designing and developing the learning content they are used to deliver. The learner must be the focus, not the technology, and the content has to be developed and organized to meet their needs. If the benefit of mobile learning is that content can be relevant to the context in which it is accessed, then the designer must understand the context and ensure the material is relevant. Trainers must also understand the advantages and limitations of the various tools in order to make the best use of them. It will not do to simply repurpose a slide presentation for online learning, especially if learners are expected to access it over a mobile device. At the end of the day, trainers must understand the learners’ needs, and identify the best way to use technology to deliver the right content.

References

Ahmad, N., & Orton, P. (2010). Smartphones make IBM smarter, but not as expected. Training and Development, 64(1), 46–50.

Gilmore, A. (2010). Learning in the cloud. Chief Learning Officer, 9(2), 32 – 35. Retrieved April 3, 2012 from http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/mediatec/clo0210/#/34.

He, W., Cernusca, D., & Abdous, M. (2011). Exploring cloud computing for distance learning. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 14(3). Retrieved April 3, 2012 from http://www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/fall143/he_cernusca_abdous143.html

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Tree Image. Retrieved April 5, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MB900442826.jpg

April 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm 5 comments

Planning for A Needs Assessment

A needs assessment is the first step in the training design process. A quality needs assessment helps an organization correctly identify the causes of performance issues, identify problems that can be solved by training, develop the appropriate content, and through the right training, deliver behavior changes that are aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives (Noe, 2010).  To illustrate how a needs assessment can benefit an organization, this post will use the Administration on Aging as an example.

The Administration on Aging is a federal agency that aims to help older Americans

The Administration on Aging provides services to support older American living at home and in communities

maintain their health and independence in their homes and communities by developing a comprehensive, cost-effective network of community and home based services (AOA, 2011). These services include nutrition services, transportation, adult day care, legal assistance, and health promotion programs. They also provide Ombudsmen services for people in long term care facilities, providing elder rights protection to the most vulnerable populations.  The agency funds a network of services at the state, Territory, local and tribal levels to provide services. The agency is facing a number of pressure points that are likely to impact its ability to fulfill its mission. The most important is the “greying” of America. One in every eight Americans is over the age of 65 and the older adult population is expected to increase to 55 million by 2030, a 36% increase (AOA, n.d.). This population is healthier and living longer in the community, but they may also be caring for their own aging parents or their grandchildren. About 9% of older Americans live below the poverty level (AOA, n.d.). AOA must consider how the growth in the older adult population, as well as the changes in their lifestyles will impact the focus of its services and how it provides them. While the older adult population is growing, AOA’s funding levels have remained flat. Similar to other federal agencies, AOA is seeing a significant portion of its workforce reach the age of retirement over the next few years. However, under the current hiring freezes, retiring staff will not be replaced. This means the agency must consider how to structure its work in order to provide services to a growing population with fewer resources. A needs assessment could help the agency identify what, if any issues, need to be addressed with training so the agency can continue to fulfill its mission to provide quality services. A needs assessment would consist of an organization, person and task analysis (Noe, 2010).

In planning a needs assessment for this agency, it would be critical to begin with their stakeholders (Noe, 2010). Stakeholders are people who carry out the mission of the agency, people who have the ability to impact how work gets done in the agency, and people who are served by the agency. Stakeholders not only provide valuable information for the needs assessment, they are also key to the success of any training or development activities that might come out of the assessment. It is important to have their buy-in and support from the beginning. AOA’s stakeholders include agency leadership, staff who carry out the work of the agency, grantees, partner agencies, and older adults and their families served by the agency.

The organization analysis would focus on identifying how training supports the mission of the agency and what resources are available for training (Noe, 2010). Agency leadership would be instrumental in helping to define the strategic goals and objectives of the agency, as well as where it may be headed based on current trends. Given the limited amount of time leaders have, it might be most efficient to schedule interviews to gather this information from them. These interviews would focus on the mission of the agency, how that mission might be shifting, and concerns about how the agency will need to adapt to meet the needs of its stakeholders. In addition to interviews, this designer should also review the agency’s annual reports, applicable policies and laws impacting the agency, and any evaluations of its key programs and training activities. Stakeholders outside of the organization such as partner agencies and the older adults and families served by the agency may be able to offer some additional insight into the how well the organization is fulfilling its mission. As outsiders, they may notice blind spots in performance the agency is unaware of. These stakeholders could be engaged through questionnaires and focus groups. The designer could also review transcripts of the town hall meetings AOA conducts with stakeholders in communities.

Smiling woman in a group.

A focus group is one way to get feedback from stakeholders.

The person analysis would help determine to what extent training would help address performance issues by identifying factors related to knowledge, skills and competencies (Noe, 2010). Training would not modify issues related to other factors like the work environment or agency policies. An important part of the needs assessment process is distinguishing training issues from non-training issues and applying the right strategies to address the specific issues. A person analysis at the AOA would need to focus on assessing the knowledge, skills and abilities of the current workforce and comparing this to the evolving needs of the agency. Training could be used to fill any gaps discovered. Data collection for the person analysis could be conducted through observation and questionnaires.  These approaches would allow the instructional designer to collect objective data about the current level of performance as well as employees’ perceptions about their needs.

A task analysis would describe the work activities carried out by the employees. An organization like AOA might be best served by the use of competency models in this phase. A competency model focuses on how work is accomplished and objectives are met (Noe, 2010). This differs from a job analysis that focuses on what is accomplished. In the type of work that AOA does, it is likely that no two projects are the same. Their employees must have the ability to apply their knowledge and skills to a variety of different situations. A competency model would help the agency identify the knowledge, skills, attitudes and personal characteristics that are necessary to fill the various functions in the agency (Noe, 2010). AOA might also use a competency model to assess how their grantees carry out their work for the agency. This would help AOA understand how to support their grantees and match the right AOA employee to the various grants. This analysis could be conducted by working with agency leadership to identify AOA’s current and future needs. The instructional designer could conduct interviews or focus groups with employees and grantees. The designer could then work with leadership to develop and validate a competency model. This could then be used to develop training and development activities to ensure AOA employees have the capacity to fulfill the work of the agency.

Conducting a needs assessment is essential to developing a training approach that will actually help an organization meet its goals and objectives. The needs assessment helps the organization understand what it is trying to accomplish, what skills and resources need to be in place to meet its objectives, and where there are gaps between current and desired performance. By carefully analyzing the organization, tasks, and people, the instructional designer can collect objective information to describe the needs of the organization. This helps define the performance issues, determine when training is an appropriate approach and identify the necessary content for training strategies. Without this information, the designer and organization are just guessing at what their training needs are. This can lead to wasted resources and missed opportunities. Organizations like the AOA are facing real challenges and must prepare their workforce to adapt in order to continue to fulfill the agency’s mission. In developing a strategic approach to training and development, a needs assessment is the first step to meeting these challenges.

References

AOA. (2011, March 10). “About AoA.” Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/About/index.aspx

AOA. (n.d.). “A Profile of Older Americans: 2011.” Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved March 6, 2012 from http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/Aging_Statistics/index.aspx

Image of man getting his blood pressure checked. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900422344.jpg

Image of woman in group. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from http://officeimg.vo.msecnd.net/en-us/images/MH900202163.jpg

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

March 8, 2012 at 2:08 pm 2 comments

Why Training Matters

Faced with difficult economic conditions, organizations are cutting back on employee training and development (Noe, 2010). When you have fewer staff doing more with fewer resources, training looks expendable. But it is precisely these conditions that make well designed and delivered training an absolute necessity. Staff cutbacks mean that employees need to be cross-trained in various competencies in order to take on new responsibilities and perform them effectively and efficiently (ASPH, 2008). They need continuous learning in order to manage change and keep up with a rapidly evolving knowledge base. And they need to feel engaged and appreciated. Training can encompass a range of learning experiences that are learner centered, and focused on improving performance (Stolovich, nd). It is a planned approach to ensuring that people have accurate knowledge and skills related to the organization’s goals (Noe, 2010). Training helps organizations improve performance to meet their objectives, and helps their employees feel valued and engaged (Noe, 2010; Bradley, 2010). Good training matters to an organization that recognizes the key role it’s people play in its ability to survive and thrive.

Listen to the mp3 version.

Listen to the wav version.

Refrences

ASPH. (2008, December). “Confronting the Public Health Workforce Crisis: Executive Summary.” Retrieved February 28, 2012 from http://www.asph.org/UserFiles/WorkforceShortage2010Final.pdf

Bradley, A. (2010). Shifting away from an employer’s market. Training and Development, 64(7), 16–17.

Noe, R. A. (2010). Employee training and development (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Stolovich, H. (n.d.) “The Truth About Training”.

March 1, 2012 at 8:26 am 3 comments

Analyzing Scope Creep

I have spent my professional career as a health educator developing programs and delivering training and technical assistance in support of those programs. Over the years, I have learned that almost anything can happen on a project. Here is an example of what happened while working on one staff training. First the consultant who was supposed to write the curriculum disappeared. She didn’t return phone calls, show up for meetings, or respond to e-mails. I’m still not entirely sure what happened to her. In the end, I ended up having to write the curriculum. This is when people started adding content to the training.  I would hear things like “You can’t talk about B without talking about A.” and “this would be a good time to go over F.” And my favorite, “while we have everyone together we really should go over topic J (which, by the way, is completely unrelated to the subject of your training).” As a result, the training expanded from half a day to two days. Once the curriculum was put together, two things happened. People identified additional reviewers who were not on the original list of key reviewers, and guidelines changed which required going back and revising portions of the course. In any given project issues similar to these arise and they can cause delays or lead a project off course. These issues lead to scope creep and project managers must be prepared to manage them to keep a project on track (Portny et al., 2008).

Some issues, such as the disappearing consultant, are unexpected. In this instance, the task was reassigned to another team member familiar with the project. This allowed the project to continue to move forward with minimal delays because it was not necessary to bring me up to speed on the plan for the course. Other strategies might have included hiring a new consultant or identifying another staff person to take over the writing. This, however, might have caused delays due to the time needed to identify new people, bring them on board, and orient them to the project.

Other issues, such as people adding content to the course, are fairly typical of large projects that involve multiple stakeholders (Portny et. al., 2008). Once the project is underway, people begin to identify ways to expand it. Some of these additions are useful and necessary. Others represent new content or strategies that are “nice to have” but may not substantially improve the outcomes of the course. While others lead you completely away from the original objectives of the project. In the case of the staff training, I tried to meet the needs of the various stakeholders who provided input. This is what led to the course going from 4 hours to 16. It is important for the project manager to remain focused on the objectives of the course. If the intended plans start to alter the plan or move the project away from the agreed upon objectives, the project manager must communicate the implications of the changes to the stakeholders (Portny et. al., 2008). It might be necessary to negotiate a compromise that addresses the concerns of the stakeholders while keeping the project on track. In some cases, it is necessary for the project manager to say no – or at least, not at this time (Stolovich). Particularly when there are no resources to support new ideas and they are unrelated to the goals of the project.

In my case, I was not in a position to say no to some requests. The organization was spending resources to bring people together and needed to take the opportunity to address broader issues. It was necessary to make it work. It is important for project managers to be aware of broader issues in the environment that she does not control but may impact the project (Portny et. al, 2008). The change in guidelines during the development of the curriculum is another example of this. We knew the updates were coming but we had no idea to what extent they would impact the project. We prepared for this by adding time to the schedule to make revisions. A project manager might also talk to people knowledgeable about these other factors that may impact the project to gauge how the outcomes might impact her project. She could also address this in the design of the project by identifying and separating the portions of the project that might be impacted by environmental factors so the rest of the project can proceed.

Finally, there are some known factors that cause scope creep. Many times, these are related to the culture or processes of an organization (Portny et. al., 2008). For instance, I knew there was a tendency in my organization to spend a lot of time in review as projects neared completion. When this was added to the fact that reviewers often had multiple responsibilities, projects taking longer than anticipated in the review phase was a known risk. In the case of this project, we added more time to the schedule to account for this. A project manager might also try to phase the review process by having reviewers look at smaller pieces of the final product as they are produced which could shorten the over-all time at the end. Clear communication is also important (Greer, 2010). If reviewers are kept apprised of the progress of the project and reminded about when their input will be needed, they can plan their schedules to complete the reviews in a timely fashion.

Scope creep in an instructional design project is inevitable. Left unchecked, it can cause delays, take the project away from its intended objectives, and result in project failure. By being prepared for scope creep, the project manager can work to minimize its impact on the project. This means recognizing known risks and making contingency plans. Clear communication with stakeholders and team members can help keep the project focused on its goals and objectives and also help the team prepared for those unexpected issues that arise.

References

Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stolovitch, H.  “Project Management Concerns: ‘Scope Creep’”. Walden University.

October 14, 2011 at 11:25 am 1 comment

The Art of Effective Communication

This week, we reviewed a piece of communication from one colleague to another requesting an estimate of when the requestor could expect a report. She needed the data in the report in order to move forward in her own work. If she could not get the report in a timely manner, she wanted her colleague to at least send the data. The same message was conveyed in three ways – email, voicemail and in person.

While the e-mail was straightforward, it may not have clearly communicated the requestor’s deadline. Had I been the recipient, it would have been one of hundreds of e-mails I receive everyday asking for something. The requestor asked her colleague for an estimated completion time and mentioned an impending deadline but was not specific about when she needed the information. Had I been the recipient, I would have to make a decision about where to prioritize this amongst all of the other requests, and may not have put it as high on the list as the requestor needed. The voice mail communicated the same information, but because of the audio, it also conveyed a tone that suggested a sense of urgency. The fact that she left a voice mail would have signaled to me that she needed the information right away since no leaves a voice mail these days unless the matter is urgent. In this case, the task would have risen higher on my to-do list than the e-mail. However, depending on what conversations preceded the message, it may have left me more annoyed than the e-mail. I might have felt pressure to drop everything I was currently working on and wondered why she didn’t ask for the report sooner. In the final communication, the requestor stopped by her colleague’s desk. She was able to communicate the importance of her message, but her body language suggested that the deadlines were manageable. Her physical presence meant that her colleague could ask about deadlines and the two of them could figure out exactly what she needed by when. The in-person conversation was probably the most effective way to deliver the message.

What does this suggest about the way we communicate on project teams? Clear communication is essential to the proper functioning of any project team (Portny, 2008). Teams use a combination of written and verbal communication to keep tasks moving forward. Written reports, e-mail, and other documentation are essential because they provide a written record of what is supposed to happen. Clear and detailed written communication is a way for team members to reflect back on what has been discussed and agreed upon. It is the best way to assure that everyone is on the same page.

However written communication has its limitations. People do not have the opportunity to ask questions or for clarification in written communication (Portny, 2008). Written communication is still open to interpretation and people may not receive the information in the way the sender intended. We derive meaning and understanding through interpersonal interaction and face-to-face communication is an important part of establishing trust (Stolovich). In this case, the requestor stopping by her colleague’s office was the most effective way to communicate what she needed, allow her colleague to communicate what he needed, and probably agree to a workable compromise. In addition, people on project teams can easily become overwhelmed with e-mails and documents to review. In person communication is a way to cut through all of the e-mail chatter. However, it is essential that important conversations be followed up with written communication. Again, this helps confirm what was discussed and also helps keeps other team members who may not have been part of the conversation in the loop.

This example illustrates the subtle but important nuisances in communication on project teams. There is an art to finding the best ways of being understood and motivating action. Various forms of written and informal communication have their strengths and weaknesses. In this case, e-mail was too easy to disregard and a voice mail may have made the situation sound like more of an emergency than it actually was. In person communication struck the right tone and opened the possibility for follow-up questions and clarification. Face-to-face communication is necessary for reaching mutual understanding, gaining trust and arriving at workable solutions. Written communication is necessary to confirm agreement and document plans. In either case, it is important that communication, whether it is written or verbal, is open, clear, concise and collegial.

References

Image of people talking. Accessed September 22, 2011 from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=talking&ctt=1#ai:MP900302920|mt:2|

New Message Image. Accessed September 22, 2011 from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=e-mail&ctt=1#ai:MP900390573|mt:2|

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Phone message image. Accessed September 22, 2011 from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=telephone&ctt=1#ai:MP900174856|mt:2|

Stolovich, H. “Communicating with Stakeholders.” Walden University.

September 22, 2011 at 10:00 pm 5 comments

Learning from a Project Post-mortem

A few years ago, I worked on a media campaign to promote a healthy eating program. The goal of the campaign was to get members of the target audience to call the agency I was working for and request the program guide. We hired a spokesperson and conducted a radio media tour along with some print and radio advertising. The campaign was very successful. Our evaluation indicated that we reached the target audience and motivated them to call the 800-number to request the program guide – the two goals of the media campaign. The radio media tour in particular was very successful. So successful, in fact, that we crashed the agency’s call center. The night the radio media tour kicked-off, I was on the train on my way from work to a class when my mobile phone started ringing off the hook (or out of my purse). It turns out that the call center was not fully staffed the day the campaign launched. We achieved our objectives but it likely cost us the good will of audience members who couldn’t get through, and it did not win us any fans within our own agency.

In conducting a post-mortem of this project, I think we made two critical errors. Obviously, the first was not involving a key stakeholder. We had gone through a lengthy approval process that involved the office that oversaw the call center, and had assumed they would notify the call center of the campaign. Our mistake was in not confirming this assumption. In project management, it is critical to understand the project assumptions and verify that they are based on sound rationale (Portny, et. al., 2008). At the beginning of the project we should have confirmed that we were absolutely clear on the approval process including how key stakeholders were notified about the activities, and who was responsible for making the notifications. Furthermore, the call center should have been included as part of the planning process since they were an integral part of the campaign. Had they been at the table, they would have known our timetable for kick-off, and we would have been aware of their training schedule. We could have avoided the days they were understaffed or they could have scheduled their trainings for different days.

The second mistake was underestimating the impact of the radio media tour. We should have spent time developing an estimate of the potential reach based on data from the radio stations. We should have developed plans for how we would respond if no one called, and how we would respond if everyone called. Identifying risks and planning for unanticipated outcomes is a key part of project management (Portny, et. al., 2008). In hindsight, had we stopped to consider what might happen if a large percentage of our target audience called, this might have prompted us to contact the call center, which might have saved everyone from some massive headaches.

While a number of key project management activities were missed, several worked well and contributed to the success of the project. For instance, the project had clearly defined goals and objectives that were achievable with time and resources available. This helped the team identify the project needs and focus on the tasks that were necessary to achieve the final outcome (Allen & Hardin, 2008). There was also a great deal of work put into understanding the target audience and the best way to reach them. There were many choices that could have been made in the execution of the campaign, but we discarded those that would not result in motivating the target audience to call the 800 number. Many projects fail because teams rush to tactics without defining the project and understanding how to achieve the goals and objectives (Portny, et. al., 2008). Taking the time to understand our audience helped us plan tactics that were more likely to work.

The project was also well organized. Clear goals and objective, and a clear needs assessment allowed us to break down the tasks necessary to achieve the objectives in a detailed and logical order. This aided the development of schedules and the assignment of resources to the tasks (Allen & Hardin, 2008). It also aided the development of a tracking plan that helped us evaluate the progress of the campaign. Tracking allowed us to monitor the impact of each channel used and make necessary adjustments to achieve the campaign goals.

In the end, the project team successfully focused on the goals of the campaign and developed a plan that was effective at achieving the campaign objectives. The problem was that the team was not focused enough on the other areas of the organization that were impacted by the campaign. While we were able to achieve our objectives, we had to do damage control to minimize the impact of crashing the call center. This could have been avoided had we validated our assumptions, engaged key stakeholders, and analyzed and managed risks.

References

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.

Image of man with magnifying glass. Accessed September 15, 2011 from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?ex=2&qu=magnifying%20glass#ai:MP900321206|mt:2|

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

September 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm 2 comments

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