Evaluating Project Management Training: How to Find a Program That’s Worth Your Time and Money

A Project Management Article by Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

As a leader in your organization, you know the value of Project Management principles and tools. You know that good PM education can get your whole team speaking the same project language, streamlines processes for making decisions, and facilitates effective communication among stakeholders. The trouble is, you know that PM trainings vary widely in quality, and can be costly and time-consuming for your organization. Without testing them all out for yourself, how can you discern which PM trainings are worth your time and money?

In this article, we discuss the three areas that anyone considering investing in PM training needs to consider. They are: the program’s education philosophy, instructor qualifications, and program outcomes. When you know what to look for in each of these three key areas, you’ll be well-prepared to decide which PM trainings are worth your time and money - and which are not.

Education Philosophy

At Cheetah Learning, we have discovered for PM training to have lasting impact, it must engage all four levels of learning: awareness, knowledge, skills, and mastery. Most training programs work at the first two levels of awareness and knowledge; it is then left up to you to figure out how to apply the knowledge. The best PM training programs will first inspire students by increasing their awareness of why they need to master PM.  This creates the intrinsic motivation required for students to achieve mastery of effective PM practices for use everyday in their jobs.

In order to show why skill development and mastery are so important, we first need to define the four levels of learning:

Level 1 - Awareness. This is the level of learning where you become aware of the range of knowledge possible but have not yet acquired that knowledge. For example, many people think that doing Project Management requires no specialized training or skills. They are not even aware there is a whole body of knowledge relating to how to do your projects more effectively. When they start to realize that there are in fact numerous skills they could acquire that would help them become more successful with their projects, they have achieved the first level of learning - awareness.

Level 2 - Knowledge. Once people are aware there is a lot more to managing projects than they originally thought and they do, in fact, manage quite a few projects in their lives (even if they are not called a “Project Manager”), then they have intrinsic motivation to acquire more knowledge about how to better manage their projects. This is where most other Project Management training programs come in - they teach you key Project Management terminology and practices, and help you develop an understanding of examples in which this knowledge is put into use.

Learning by example, however, is not the same thing as learning in your own environment. Everything always seems to work out so nicely in the examples, doesn’t it? This is where the limits of “knowledge” are most obvious. To do the hard work of putting skills into practice in the complicated, messy reality of life, you need to move beyond Knowledge to Skills.

Level 3 - Skill. When you develop real skills in an area, you have advanced beyond the level of being able to understand just hypothetical situations. You are now able to identify the most relevant areas of your knowledge and make them work for you. For instance, in Cheetah Learning’s Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program, students develop strong negotiation skills by applying what they learn about negotiating based on their unique personality type.

Cheetah Certified Project Managers not only know the various negotiation techniques that can throw them off, but they are able to swiftly and appropriately respond to these in the heat of the moment because they developed the skills to do so in the Cheetah training program.

Level 4 - Mastery. Skills are closely tied to mastery. Mastery, however, is only reached when you make consistent deliberate practice with your skills - and it always takes time. For example, you reach mastery with your negotiation skills when you consistently practice negotiating using the processes you have learned. Mastery is no small achievement - when you reach this level in one or several skills, you develop expertise in this area.

Training programs in Project Management are a key step to reaching mastery, but the program must be focused on application of knowledge in your own environment. If the program revolves around only memorization of information or lectures with no opportunity to apply what is described, then learning takes place only at the lowest level. When deciding where to go for PM training, make sure to invest in a program that moves you beyond awareness and knowledge and into the realms that matter most - skills and mastery.

Qualifications of Curriculum Developers and Instructors

Many people who teach Project Management simply create presentations using Powerpoint without any special effort in designing a curriculum that will, in fact, help the students achieve the skills required to be successful Project Managers. Effective curriculum design is what differentiates a solid PM training program from one that is not going to do much good.

Find out the methodology the course developers used in designing the the program curriculum; if the program uses a number of different instructors over a period of time, make sure there was a rigorous course development approach and certification process of the people delivering the curriculum. Cheetah Learning has a rigorous course development methodology and certification process for all instructors teaching any Cheetah program. It is why Cheetah is considered the “gold standard” in PM education.

Achieving mastery in a subject area requires a huge investment of time and practice - according to some experts, 10,000 hours of practice. The most effective instructors will have mastery-level command of their field - in this case, Project Management. This means that PM trainers need to have years of experience dedicated to mastering their craft in addition to a thorough understanding of Project Management theories - like what is presented in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

A good rule of thumb for evaluating whether or not an instructor as mastery in the PM field is to ask: is this their full-time job? Many, if not most, PM instructors teach a diverse range of classes - lots of these will have nothing to do with Project Management. On paper, an instructor may seem more impressive for being an “expert” in the PMP® exam, the CPA exam, the GMAT exam, and Six Sigma. In reality, this instructor is likely not an expert in any of these areas.

Cheetah PMP® Exam Coaches for the Cheetah Exam Prep® for the PMP®, for example, have extensive real-world experience in Project Management. They all have experienced the accelerated way to pass the PMP exam and are experts in coaching people to success using this approach. Cheetah employs all of their PMP coaches full-time; because they live and breathe the PMBOK® Guide, these coaches have the mastery needed to help students prepare for the challenging PMP® exam. Cheetah students are also able to get the individual attention they need to be successful in their pursuit of the PMP® certification because Cheetah coaches are not switching back and forth between teaching classes on different topics.

Program Outcomes

Lastly, anyone considering bringing a PM training program to their project team needs to look at the effectiveness of that program in adding value to an organization. What does it mean to add value? There are actually several ways to measure this: team members’ confidence in their skills, exam pass rates, and the program’s impact on an organization’s financial bottom line.

A recent study looked at the effect of taking a PMP exam prep program on Project Managers’ sense of “self-efficacy” - that is, their self-perception of their abilities to accomplish a task or goal. Self-efficacy strongly influences how well people actually perform in their work.

The study measured the self-efficacy of 111 Project Managers before and after taking a PMP exam prep course (95 percent of survey participants took Cheetah Exam Prep® for PMP® Exam) to see how this course affected students’ perceptions of their own abilities. The research showed people felt a stronger sense of self-efficacy after taking the exam prep course. When looking into different PM training programs, look for what data they offer on how their program influences its students’ confidence in their own PM skills.

A second, crucial metric of a PM training program’s effectiveness is their exam pass rate. In the case of programs that culminate in an exam like that for the Project Management Profession (PMP®) credential, you’ll want to make sure that their pass rate has been audited by a third party and includes all of the students who went through their training program.

Even if your training program does not culminate in an exam like the PMP, you can still use an exam format to measure the training’s effectiveness. Good trainers could (and should) end their program with a knowledge assessment to see how well employees that went through their program assimilated the information presented.

Finally, you’ll want to know the bottom-line financial impact a training program has on the organizations whose project teams go through the program. To evaluate how well our on-site PMP exam prep training helps the financial bottom line of our corporate clients, Cheetah tracks the profitability and growth rates of these organizations.

Since we have provided regular trainings for many of our publicly traded corporate clients for ten years or more, we were able to examine the historical data on their organization’s profitability and growth alongside the on-site trainings we provided to that organization each year based on their publicly available annual reports. We were not surprised to find that 90% of Cheetah corporate clients increased their profitability and that 85% of them increased their growth rate in the year immediately following retaining Cheetah Learning for their on-site PM training needs. Consider asking each PM training provider for similar data when weighing your options.

Formal training programs in Project Management have great potential to add value to your organization and increase your project team members’ earning potential. The Project Management Institute’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession report further confirmed the value of PM training; they found that “80 percent of high-performing organizations offer ongoing training for project managers.”

As you know, however, not all training programs are created equal. By asking the right questions about a PM training program’s educational approach, instructor qualifications, and program outcomes, you can feel confident that you are choosing a training provider that will be worth your time and your money.

About the Author

Michelle LaBrosse, CCPM, PMP, PMI-ACP, Chief Cheetah and Founder of Cheetah Learning

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 50,000 people have become “Cheetahs” using Cheetah Learning’s innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.

Michelle La Brosse

Michelle also developed the Cheetah Certified Project Manager (CCPM) program based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality profiling to help students master how to use their unique strengths for learning, doing projects, and negotiating. CCPM graduates are able to choose the right projects and complete those projects “cheetah fast” based on their personality. They also learn how to leverage others’ strengths which significantly improves overall project team performance. When an employer has a cadre of CCPMs on staff, they achieve whatever they set out to achieve in record time. This is why over 90% of Cheetah's clients experience an increase in both profitability and revenue within the first year of retaining Cheetah Learning for their Project Management training needs.

Honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI® Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle is recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

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