This week, I look at the connection between two distinct fields I'm professionally associated with: project management, which needs no introduction here, and the oddly named but critically important field of human performance technology (HPT).
HPT is concisely defined (here) as "a systematic approach to improving individual and organizational performance." My first hands-on work in HPT came via a position I held at Microsoft in an internally-focused engineering best practices team. More broadly HPT is a core focus area of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI; described here), of which I am a member.
What I really like about HPT is that it acknowledges that individuals and organizations can suffer from all kinds of problems, but not all of them are due to lack of specific skills. This is where HPT diverges from traditional training, which, in my experience as both a training giver and receiver, tends to focus most on addressing skills acquisition at the individual level.
If you're anything like me, you may have found that most training you've been involved with has produced at best nebulous results. There is certainly bad training content and delivery out there, but the larger truth is that training is often applied to cases where lack of individual skills is not the root cause of the visible symptoms that led to the desire for training in the fist place. It's a familiar pattern: we observe or experience some problem (or more likely the symptoms of a deeper, more complex problem) and often our first response is to set up some training. I sometimes encounter this with MS Project training. I'm invited to deliver some Project training to a team, but my preliminary investigation reveals that it's not knowledge of the software that is the root cause, but other (and frankly harder) problems for which training is probably not a good intervention. Such problems include the team's (or larger organization's) inability to properly initiate a project (really a business management problem), skills mismatches between available resources and skills required by the planned work, and more. Proper use of the MS Project software might be the least of the team's problems.
As invested as I am in the traditional training world, I have to say this is often the wrong response. The good trainers I know see it this way too. They ask the hard questions like "Is training really the right response to the stated problem?" and "Do we really know the root cause of the problem?" and "How can we approach such a question?"
HPT, when applied correctly, explores the root cause(s) of a symptom in a thorough and systematic way. My go-to HPT models is the "six boxes" model (introduced to me by Carl Binder and described here), which delves into diverse issues like the individual's motivation and organizational structure, as well as individual skills deficiencies (the traditional focus of training) as key considerations when identifying a problem's root cause.
Now I'll look at how project management and MS Project can relate to HPT.
In HPT, our goal is to move an individual or small organization like a team of knowledge workers from the current, undesirable state to some future, aspirational state. The general term given to that which moves the individual or team from current to future state is intervention. An intervention to address a true root cause of individuals' deficient skills could indeed be traditional training. But an intervention to address, say, a root cause problem of lack of motivation or high staff turn-over could be a new career development framework, for example.
Many interventions can be thought of as projects. One of my favorite project management quotes is this:
"A project is a problem scheduled for resolution."
Remember that the intervention moves the individual or team from the unwanted current state to a desirable future state. In this sense, an MS Project plan is essentially the roadmap to the future state. The HPT analysis answers the questions "What is the root cause of the problem?" and "What intervention could address this root cause?" The Project plan can then help answer questions such as "What does the specific sequence of activities of the needed intervention look like?" and "Who would be involved in carrying out this intervention's plan, when, for how long and at what cost?"
I see MS Project and a thoughtful MS Project plan as a natural next step following initial HPT analysis. However not all performance problems can be addressed by an intervention that we'd see as a suitable plan to build in a tool like MS Project. If you are approaching this subject as a project manager, look at HPT as a rich methodology to give you a vocabulary and set of mental models and execution strategies to help improve your team's (or your own) performance. I you are starting with an HPT perspective, explore project management and MS Project as rigorous and business-standard methods and tools that you can introduce for many interventions.
Hey ProjHuggers, have you encountered training that tried to address something other than the real root cause of a problem? Have you developed or managed Project plans that represented interventions in the HPT sense? Share you wisdom with a comment below.