Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario or fields a question from a TechRepublic member. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

We have a number of people who need to strengthen their project management skills. Most of them have managed small projects but don’t have the skills and techniques required for managing larger projects. As you know, project management training isn’t cheap. How can we tell whether we’re getting business value for our training dollars?


In most training classes, evaluations are done for the benefit of the training company. The after-class surveys that the trainees complete help the training company determine how well the class material was presented and whether the participants felt that it was valuable. However, the surveys aren’t designed to show the business value of the training to the company that is paying the class fee; that’s your responsibility.

When the trainees return to their company, they may tell their manager how effective the training was. This shallow discussion is usually as far as a company goes to validate whether it received business value. The real test of business value is whether the class resulted in an increased skill level that can be applied to make the trained employees more productive.

While your question was specifically about project management training, the general question can be asked about training in all types of subjects. You know the cost side of training, but how do you tell what the business value is?

What to do before and after training
Here is a process that can better determine the value received for your training dollars. While this method takes work before and after your training, the process could give you a much better sense of the training’s value:

  1. The trainee and a manager should meet a few weeks before the training is scheduled to make sure the trainee is ready for the class. They should discuss how the training can help the trainee on the job and identify opportunities where the trainee can apply the new skills. This information should be documented so that it can be compared with a post-class assessment. The purpose is to make sure that the trainee knows that the training is important and to put in place a plan to have the trainee use the new skills after the training is complete.
  2. Just before the class begins, each trainee should complete an initial survey showing their specific knowledge level of the class material. The survey does not have to be elaborate, but it should provide a sense for how much of the class content the trainee understands before the class begins. If the class is taught internally, this survey is within your control to create. If you’re using an external class, you might need to contact the training vendor. The vendor may have such a survey, or you can work with them to prepare one ahead of time.
  3. A week or two after the class, the trainee should complete the same survey (as in step 2) showing their current knowledge level. Compare the survey results to the preclass survey results to get some sense of how much the trainee learned and retained. If the results are not substantially higher than the pretest scores, the class was probably not very good. If they’re much higher, the actual training class was probably effective. The results can be saved and combined with the next step to show the overall business value.
  4. A few months after the class, the trainee and manager should meet for a post-class assessment. This is the assessment that will reflect whether the training had business value. In this discussion, the trainee and manager discuss the value of the class and whether the training has resulted in increased productivity and increased business value.
    This discussion focuses on the opportunities that the trainee has had to apply the new skills. The class may have been superb, but if the trainee hasn’t been able to apply the new skills, the business value may be marginal. On the other hand, if the trainee is able to apply the new skills and if the training has helped them succeed, then some business value will be shown. The manager should ask for examples of how the trainee is using the skills and what techniques they are applying.

Bottom line
It’s difficult to apply a dollar value to training, but you may be able to categorize the business value as highly effective, marginally effective, or not effective, based on whether the training has actually been applied successfully to the job. These measures can be used on both internal classes and external ones that your company pays for.

If you capture this information for all training classes, you’ll get a much better and more fact-based view of which classes are providing business value to your company, which companies are providing the most value, and even which instructors are providing the most value. You’ll also get a much better sense for whether your company is leveraging the training successfully by providing immediate opportunities to use the new skills.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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