By Margery Weinstein
The Veteran’s Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA) was challenged by the deputy secretary of the VA “to train all of the VA’s program and project managers, improve VA performance by making an immediate impact, and establish a program management culture within the VA.” The important element of this challenge was that it was not a challenge to train people per se, but to make improvements through training. To meet the challenge, the VAAA designed the VA’s Federal Acquisition Certification-Program/Project Management (FAC-P/PM). Here is how the program works and some of its highlights:
VAAA’s design ensured that it not only complied with the certification requirement, but also that it remained focused on creating a training program that could deliver business outcomes to reduce costs and increase effectiveness.
To start, VAAA program managers reviewed commercially available programs and those that already existed within the federal government that addressed both individual and team competencies.
Because of its alignment with the VAAA’s approach to project management training, Learning Tree was selected as the best value in an open competition between multiple vendors. The VAAA then moved forward by delivering what was achievable and would have an immediate impact, while focusing on incremental improvement toward the ideal training program.
The VAAA delivered three weeks of training to 1,386 personnel in six months in fiscal year 2010 and continued that program throughout 2011.
Rather than teaching theory, VAAA stresses putting the program manager in a scenario that replicates workplace challenges and integrates personal and leadership skills. It designs situations so program managers apply these skills in the safe environment of the academy, even pushing them to the point where they might fail.
True skill mastery is only possible if there is a direct link between classroom training and application in the workplace. For that reason, the VAAA asks learners to select and apply a best practice to a current project. The organization follows and assigns coaches to ensure learners make progress, as well as to help them identify and remove barriers to implementation.
A competency-based assessment is the final step of the FAC-P/PM training program. This hands-on exam provides acquisition professionals, their managers, and senior executives with assurance that program graduates will achieve the competency level needed to manage and mitigate risks associated with simple, average, and complex capital investment programs at the VA.
To support the effectiveness of this training program and its application within the field, an integrated and rigorous three-phased methodology is utilized—develop action plan, assess training effectiveness, and report and evaluate assessment findings—to assess the behavioral improvements of the VA acquisition workforce, and to analyze the performance outcomes of those programs, projects, and environments.
Nearly 90 percent of the interviewed participants confirmed that their project management knowledge/skills increased as a result of the training, with a perceived increase of 3.3 on a scale of 1 to 4.
Some 70 percent of participants reported they have changed or improved their project management behavior through the adoption of many of the skills and best practices taught during the FAC-P/PM training. Seventy-one percent of supervisors contacted indicated positive and noticeable changes in their staff members’ project management behavior.
Seventy-three percent of the interviewed professionals (including those who identified initial performance challenges) report they now are seeing positive impacts on the programs’ or projects’ cost, schedule, or performance targets.
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