While helping an Executive develop her deployment plan we were asked “Are you sure we shouldn’t just go ahead and train everyone in the company?” After a few questions, we were able to determine the source of the question. While the Executive was researching companies to assist in the deployment a majority of the companies suggested options for training all or nearly all of the company’s employees in a week-long project leader-focused course. The Executive was questioning why we never use this option.
Why would other practitioners suggest training everyone? Well, we can think of 3 reasons for their suggestion. They are operating under incorrect assumptions, they want to focus on what they do well, or they see training as an opportunity to make oodles of money. Let’s analyze each option.
Operating under incorrect assumptions
Many people, including fellow practitioners, operate under 2 assumptions
- “If training some project leaders is good, training everyone is great!”
- “We will achieve a cultural transformation if we train everyone in the improvement tools”
Unfortunately, in practice, these are two of the eleven philosophical assumptions that contribute to deployments failing. While we agree with the idea that improvement training is essential to a successful deployment. We believe that training should be done strategically and with a purpose. The purpose of training in our deployments is to build a complete set of capabilities within an organization to successfully identify key opportunities, lead projects, and support/guide their proper execution to completion. In contrast, traditional deployments focus heavily on training project leaders with a large number of process improvement tools. This serves to create an environment that is not fully able to support and sustain the development and execution of projects.
You may say “But completing projects is how we make improvements, just imagine if everyone in the company was chartering and executing projects. We could fix all of our problems in no time!” Take a step back and think about the impact of energizing every person in your company in identifying and starting improvement projects.
- If everyone started a project how many do you think would be focused on the company’s top issues?
- Would you have sufficient resources to guide and support all of those projects?
- Without sufficient resources to guide and support the projects, how many would be completed?
- If a large number of projects fizzled out without any support or change being made do you think that the company would see the OpEx process as high impact?
- If everyone is working on projects who is running the normal business?
In our discussion with the executive, we asked her the questions above. These questions led to the following discussion.
“Is it clear that if we advised you to race forward and train everyone in your company as a project leader we might do more damage than benefit?”
Client: “Yes, but does that mean that we should only engage a small group within my company in formal project leader training?”
“It does. Initially we want to be very calculated in how many project leaders we train. We want to be able to support the projects that we get underway so that they have maximum impact.”
Client: “But won’t that come off as exclusionary and won’t we be missing the bigger impact of engaging everyone in the company? I thought this was about empowering everyone?”
“Is there a rule that says that the only way to learn continuous improvement methods and make improvements is by completing a week of training and chartering / leading a project that takes 3-6 months?”
Client: “I suppose not”
“We have seen that the most effective learning comes through the act of doing. It is true that projects are led by one person, but successful projects require lots of help. That is why central to your deployment will be the principle of engaging everyone in participating in projects. It takes a team to execute a great project. What type of roles do you think we should have in a great project team?
Client: “A leader…. Team members….”
“How about a project coach and a sponsor?”
Client: “Yeah those seem like key roles”
“Exactly. They are extremely important roles that require a different skill set. We are going to give coaches and sponsors specialized training specific to their roles as coaches and sponsors”
Client: “So we aren’t going to train them in project leader training? what kind of specialized training will they get?”
“They will need to understand some of the same concepts as project leaders but at a different level. More importantly they will be provided training on how to steer, support, and direct project leaders to success. They will be taught how to evaluate project progress, learn what questions to ask of a project leader and how to recognize key project decision points so they can properly influence desired outcomes. Many of the subjects in Operational Excellence projects can get confusing and we will teach coaches and sponsors to see through the shroud of confusing acronyms and statistical jargon”
Client: “Ok so specific coach and sponsor training. I'm still with you”
“Great because it works. After training each person to participate in their specific role the impact is significant and threefold. First of all, it gives the Sponsor and Leader the opportunity to teach the team members throughout the project (teaching helps grow their command of the material), it provides real life experience for more employees to use the tools to improve, and can you guess the third?”
Client: “The first two make sense but i'm afraid I have no idea about the third”
“Think through what will happen when we engage lots of people to participate in projects. In every company we work with we always find hidden stars. People who really take to continuous improvement and have the desire to continue. It will surprise you.”
Client: “and that’s where my next group of project leaders will come from!”
Once you understand the negative effect of mass training it is easy to understand the flaw in the traditional logic. We recommend changing these two assumptions.
Focusing on what they do well, train
In many situations, process improvement training is approached in a very intense academic manner. Most training programs engage employees in week-long or multiple-week classroom sessions. These sessions consist of detailed lectures on all the tools available in a selected improvement methodology. In essence, there is no problem with sitting in a classroom and learning traditional tools. There are thousands of great instructors who do nothing but train. There is a place for classroom learning in this manner, but what it fails to provide the student could kill your deployment.
The problem with a classroom training-focused program is that it does not place a heavy focus on the realities of project execution. Translating theoretical tool learning to real-world problem-solving is difficult and requires a different approach. We acknowledged this reality years ago and have spent significant time developing and testing a customized training approach that focuses on building a student’s capability to develop and execute real-world projects. Some companies either haven’t acknowledged the need, don’t value project execution, or aren’t willing or capable of developing an execution-focused training program. Regardless of the reason, the effect is the same. Utilizing a classroom training program will not be as effective as a program that teaches project leaders to execute projects.
Desire to make oodles of money
Six Sigma and lean mastery takes years to achieve. For this reason, the cost of hiring experts to train is significant. Using this basic logic, if it is possible to make a good amount of money training some of your employees, wouldn’t it reason that someone could make oodles and oodles of money if they trained them all? People would never admit it but some companies follow this logic. We don’t.
Train with a purpose
The goal of a deployment is to help your company improve value for shareholders and customers. The proven way to achieve improvement is not through starting a thousand projects, but in successfully completing impactful projects focused on the company’s most important issues. Achieving this requires a select number of great project leaders and a strong cast of individuals to support the project. For this reason, do not train everyone for the sake of training. Train with a purpose and focus on execution and participation.
A full discussion of our training process is defined in the article “Organizational-focused approach to deployment training.”