A year before the start of this project, this major player in the computer industry had entered into a brand new business space; providing outsourcing of technical services. In other words, the sales force would walk in and convince corporations that they could save money by having all their IT services outsourced. From their computer mainframes, to their personal computers and technical support; for a fixed monthly fee representing less than what they were currently spending, companies could bring in a group of experts who would run their IT operations. At a time when savings was in the mind of every corporation, this sounded like a very promising proposition. In fact, market share grew impressively within the first year of business; however, profit margins were so low that the outsourcing sector was operating at a loss.
Following several studies, it became obvious where the problem was. The sales force was promising anything the customer wanted to buy, cheaper than the competition and promising a higher level of service; this, without looking at profit margins or the company’s capability to improve the customer’s current IT environment for a lower cost. This process of looking at a prospective business opportunity from a feasibility and profitability perspective is called opportunity qualification. Following the opportunity qualification process yielded a decision on whether or not a particular opportunity was worth pursuing.
It became obvious that a worldwide sales force of 3500 employees needed to be trained in opportunity qualification. Face to face training was off the table because of the amount of students and their geographical location. Hence, a project was launched to develop a CBT where the sales team would learn and demonstrate their ability to qualify opportunities.
I will always be proud of this development. As the company needed to become profitable in this new business, all the stars were aligned for a successful project. Sponsorship was as high as it could be, resources were committed immediately, there were designers, case experts, technical writers, application development personnel, subject matter experts and of course, an excellent project manager; me!!. The development utilized the latest available technology to create an experiential, real life, case based experience. The learner was a character who was placed in a situation to qualify a deal and make a final decision on whether or not to move forward in pursuing it. The training consisted of 5 modules that utilized flash for animation and character creation, real voices to simulate conversations and an electronic coach that would evaluate progress, provide feedback and analyze decisions made by the student. The students’ progress throughout the module was evaluated and by the end of each module, the student would have to make the right decisions at least 80% of the times in order to be allowed to move to the next module. This was definitely one of two training programs that top the list of projects I have ever managed.
If we look at the four phases described by Greer, 2010, the four initial phases: determining need and feasibility, creating a project plan, creating specifications for deliverables and creating deliverables, went very smooth. None the less, trusting the degree of sponsorship, I made a huge mistake: I did not consider that the audience; all sales people, would be more interested in going out to sell than spending a total of at least six hours sitting in front of the computer. Hence, the test and implement deliverables phase did not go as well as anticipated. In fact, it put in grave danger the results of the entire project. In this phase, we missed the mark on the accuracy and effectiveness of our implementation strategy, on the hand off of deliverables to the audience and on our ability to obtain high quality feedback on how to improve deliverables.
Ensuring that stakeholders, including learners, are ready, willing and able to receive and implement the learning solution is an important part of the success of the project. Consulting with the project’s audience and stakeholders is recommended by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer and Sutton, 2008 as a way of identifying and overcoming related project limitations. If given the opportunity to do it again, I would have placed communication steps in the plan that included regular communication with the audience about the intent of the program and progress being made as well as ensuring that sponsors were advertising and promoting the training during sales, team, staff and management meetings. I would have also proposed that management provide learners adequate time off the field in order to complete the training.
The end result to this project was a management directive where all sales employees were given 30 days to complete the training or else. Moral of the story; don’t get so excited about the development that you forget about communicating with the audience you are developing for.