Staff development is an area that is frequently ignored at the project planning and costing stages. Insufficient training is also (and there’s no coincidence here) a major cause of project failure. There are a number of different types of staff development that need to be considered in planning a project:
- Training/development for the project team in order to allow them to carry out the work
- Training/development for end users in a newly implemented system or a changed process
- General awareness raising and development to prepare the organisation for a change
We will concentrate on the first two because it is our view that the third element, although vital, is often not the duty of the project team.
Many users of this guide will be systems implementers and systems implementations are a very clear case in point where change management should be a separate responsibility.
Change management is about the organisation’s culture and values. A new system can support a changed approach but the system itself is not the change. Unless the organisation is properly prepared for the change, the system will be seen as the cause of change and probably resented.
A good example is the implementation of virtual or managed learning environments. Such environments are necessarily part of an institutional strategy about learning and teaching.
The focus as far as staff are concerned should be about the need to implement e-learning because of student expectations, value to students both in their studies and in introducing skills needed in their working lives and to ensure continued success in a competitive education market. Without those imperatives the VLE will simply be blamed for causing changes to the way people have become used to working. Staff will be resistant to the change because they do not see the need for it and the project is unlikely to be successful in terms of organisational take-up.
You cannot turn an institution into a different type of learning organisation simply by implementing a VLE. Systems projects must run in tandem with change projects – by expecting systems implementers to do both jobs managers are setting them up to fail.
Training and development needs for the project team must be identified at an early stage so that necessary activities can be built into the plan. The team may require an introduction to project work and other team formation activities as well as more project-specific training. In the case of projects with a significant IT component, training may consume a large proportion of the project costs.
Where you are likely to invest a lot in development you may wish to consider covering yourself in the event of staff receiving expensive training then using it to obtain promotion with another employer. It is possible to issue staff with a contract for the duration of the project that specifies a requirement to pay back training costs should they resign within a certain time period. This may be particularly valuable if market conditions suddenly create a demand for the very skills you have invested in.
An alternative is to consider the relative cost of paying a slightly higher salary in order to attract staff who already have the skills to do the job. This will have the added benefit of saving time. We would however caution against buying in key skills on a short-term contract basis unless you have no other option. Contractors are unlikely to develop the same sense of ownership of the project and the skills are lost to your organisation as soon as the project is over. Furthermore they are unlikely to understand the context of educational organisations.
End-user training is essential to ensure acceptance and effective operation of new processes or systems. The timing of training is critical and must be carefully planned. Some users may need training at an early stage in order to contribute to the development and user acceptance testing phases of the project. In the case of other users it is futile to train them too long before they are required to use the new process or system.
In our environment we also tend to work to tight processing cycles. It is no use expecting managers to release staff for training in the middle of student enrolment or exam boards. The commitment of line managers is of course vital to ensuring the success of training. The Executive has a role to play in ensuring that all managers understand the importance of training and send staff to scheduled sessions.
Managers also need to send the right people. The best planned training programme will go awry if managers send inexperienced staff. It is not unknown for system implementation teams to find themselves training staff in the basics of the job role rather than in the use of the new system. Staff also need to have the basic IT skills necessary to benefit from the training e.g use of a keyboard and mouse.