For those of us in information technology (IT) management, there can be significant frustrations when leveraging training to support improved organizational performance and improve outcomes. Much of individual training efforts, while beneficial to the individual, result in little or no demonstrable change for the organization. This is especially the case when newly acquired skills can only be properly utilized if there is a greater change management effort underway across the organization. For example, sending team members to learn agile development techniques (such as Scrum) will not typically enable individuals to leverage agile in the workplace without significant organization buy-in and some process change. Since IT capabilities are typically core to a company’s overall success, prioritizing the development of management processes to optimize staff skills is vital. Investing in the development of new skills with no supporting organizational process change is typically a recipe for failure.

There are two models that can be used to propel an organization forward, both enhancing the skills and productivity of the staff and simultaneously addressing the need to introduce process change to take advantage of those newly acquired skills.

In the first model, the IT organization wishes to assess a possible process change or is open to a phased roll out, leveraging and learning from early experience. Continuing with the example of agile development, an IT organization may wish to start by training one or two agile development teams (typically a dozen people or so) and show how agile can be integrated into the organization’s environment to increase system development productivity. The goal is to bring their new skills beyond the classroom. An ideal model is to have the same advisor (for example, a Certified Scrum Master), who led the initial training, play a role of helping manage the agile team through its first couple of sprints back in the office (an agile sprint is a short, typically less than 10 weeks, development cycle resulting in a production software release). With the support of the advisor, a newly trained agile team can be highly productive after two sprints, and then move forward without the need for advisor support.

In the second model, the IT organization is working to implement process change across the entire company. In this case, the use of an experienced advisor who is a subject matter expert (SME) can be of significant benefit. For example, if an IT organization wishes to improve its service management capabilities for its customers, it may elect to implement a set of practices known as the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Classes in ITIL abound, but ITIL implementation requires significant cultural and process changes that most IT organizations struggle with. An ITIL SME can accelerate the adoption and benefits of ITIL for the whole company. This expert can help develop the plan for ITIL implementation and then play a key part in rolling out the ITIL training (which would be tailored to different levels within the company from executives to front-line workers). In this model, the advisor is first and foremost the consultant, but also can support adoption as a hands-on advisor and an on-the-job mentor throughout the process.

In both models, the key is to properly address the cultural and process changes together with the technical training for skills development. The use of skilled advisors that have both training acumen and consultation skills based on real-world implementation experience can be invaluable in helping an organization rapidly and successfully adopt new process improvements.