Is project management training really effective?

(This post contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

There’s a whole industry around certification training for project managers. Job adverts declare that you have to be PMP® certified or a PRINCE2® Practitioner. But does training actually make a difference to how you do your job?

Training can make you about 26% more effective, according to research by PM Solutions (link broken as at 19/7/16).

Only 28% of organizations bother to measure whether business results improve as a result of training, but these organizations see improvements across 8 measures:

  • Stakeholder satisfaction: 29% improvement
  • Schedule performance: 27% improvement
  • Project failures: 26% reduction
  • Quality: 25% improvement
  • Budget performance: 25% improvement
  • Requirements performance: 25% improvement
  • Productivity: 24% improvement
  • Time to market: 24% improvement (I don’t know how this is different from schedule performance).

Conclusive, right? Wrong

Of course, we can’t tell from the research whether the companies that don’t measure business results still see an improvement. Perhaps they do, but they don’t record it and can’t attribute it directly to training. Their project managers may still be performing better as a result of attending training.

The PM Solutions research doesn’t dig in to how businesses actually measure the improvement in business results. How do you attribute the fact that someone has attended a PRINCE2® course to the fact that they are now producing a result that is 25% more ‘quality’ than last week? This assumes that companies have robust measures in place already to track performance of these business metrics.

And in my experience, they don’t.

Let’s just guess if our training was effective

New research by ESI also casts doubt on the ability of companies to accurately record how useful training really is. Their study (which asked about 10 times as many people as the PM Solutions study) shows that 60% of respondents say that the main method they use for working out if training was effective is anecdotal feedback or guessing.

Guessing? Well, that really justifies my investment in training.

How can we make project management training more effective?

PM Solutions reports that instructor-led classroom training is the most effective method of training.

This was rated effective or very effective by about 70% of respondents. Instructor-led virtual learning, self-directed e-learning and technology-delivered training were all only rated as moderately effective.

The ESI study says that the top three strategies for ensuring what students learned on the course is transferred to the workplace are:

  • Providing students with the time, resources and responsibility to apply their new learning
  • Showing that their manager supports their studies
  • Taking a course where the instruction approach simulates the actual work environment.

It also concludes that post-learning tools are important to help transfer the knowledge the workplace after the course. These include post-course discussions with their manager, on-the-job aids, informal support such as social networks or online forums, communities of practice and coaching.

So, to make project management training as effective as possible, it should be:

  • Instructor-led classroom training with training material tailored to your project management processes and methods
  • Supported by your line manager
  • Followed up with on-the-job opportunities to practice what you have learned and discuss it with others.

My company doesn’t do that! What should I do?

First, be grateful that you have the opportunity to do training at all. Many firms are cutting back.

Second, if your company won’t provide that kind of support to help transfer your learning to the workplace, why not do it yourself? You will be the one who benefits ultimately. Making sure you assimilate what you have learned will make you a better project manager, and the better you are, the more career opportunities will be open to you.


  • Prepare properly for your course. Take along examples of your project management templates and processes and ask the instructor how the concepts relate to your work environment.
  • Schedule follow-up discussions with your manager when you are back.
  • Take advantage of the networking opportunity the course presents: could you stay in touch with any of the other students for peer-to-peer coaching sessions?
  • Ask the instructor what support materials are available, or what online groups they would recommend. Then join them.

Project management training is an essential part of being a better project manager, but it is hard to quantify how effective it really is to a company, as these two studies show.

Rather than rely on your company to help you assimilate the knowledge, take responsibility yourself for making it as effective as possible for you. The company will see the benefits if you deliver them.


  1. I’m not one of those readers that comments on articles often, but yours really compelled me. There’s a lot of interesting content in this article that is interesting and bold.

  2. New trainees are really in need of the project management training. This has proven really effective for the company to come up with the new innovative ideas. I really appreciate your concept, Thanks for sharing such a useful blog.

  3. I want to say that good PM’s are also incentives and team builders. The PM’s task is to inspire the members such that they feel entirely involved and responsible for the success.

    1. Definitely! You can’t learn that in a classroom. Or maybe you can – but not normally on the same course as learning the theory of ‘traditional’ project management skills. Soft skills are overlooked in many classroom based project management courses, especially those that lead to certification.

  4. Hey Elizabeth, great analysis on the effectiveness of PM training. Most people prefer instructor led training because it’s more interactive and you can discuss doubts, ideas at the same time. Expert instructors can help you understand intricacies of project management by sharing real time examples and experiences, case studies etc. As far as impact of training is concerned, it’s quite difficult to measure as there are many things involved. For example impact can vary between two project managers depending on amount of work experience they had before getting PM training.

    1. Mike, there are so many things involved with what makes an impact: previous experience, manager support, personal motivation, work/life balance considerations…the list goes on. This does make it really tricky to create any meaningful metrics, but not trying to quantify success at all is also a shaky approach.

  5. I had an interesting phone call yesterday with a reader on my own blog who pointed out that the biggest issue they face is lack of follow-through. Specifically, during the actual learning process, there are a lot of nodding heads. Face it, there’s really not that much in the field of project management that’s hard to understand. Earned value can throw folks for a curve but for the most part we’re talking very simple, logical, baby-step concepts.

    During training, most people get it.

    It’s later, when the skills are needed, that the problem arises.

    “I see why you’d want to implement a risk matrix but we don’t really do things that way here.”

    “Thanks but we’d rather not put people’s names on the issue logs because we don’t like to single people out.”

    “We don’t want to be boxed into a charter.”

    Is the problem that PM trainees don’t have a good grasp of the analytical and tool-based skills to do their job? No! It’s that until they’ve had some practical experience, they don’t have sufficient command of the material to justify it. “Because the training course said so” is a pretty flimsy excuse in the face of resistance. And there’s always resistance, because project management requires people to be accountable.

    This is why I’m always jumping up and down on my blog that the PMI only provides answers to part of the equation. Without leadership and negotiation skills in addition to the analytics from the methodology, PM training can get thrown under the bus the second the student walks out of the classroom.

    LOL sorry for the rant! 😀

  6. This came in on email and with the permission of the author I’m posting it here, as I think he makes some interesting points:
    “I think it is really difficult to measure the impact of PM training. I mean, you have to do a bit of work just to verify whether someone learned anything at all on a training course, but even assuming that you’ve mastered this part, measuring the impact is more tricky. The second level of measurement is whether the person is putting into practice what was learned on the course. In the case of PM training, there are numerous tools and techniques which someone might acquire and decide to put into practice – stakeholder analysis, change control systems, risk planning, etc. But even when a company is capable of observing these behavioral changes and making some kind of measurement,
    this STILL doesn’t measure the actual impact to the company. The actual impact to the company only occurs when the new behaviors change the course of the project. For example, stakeholder analysis and subsequent management averts a costly and damaging argument over the project objectives, using a change control system avoids scope creep, or improved risk planning reduces the impact of a late supplier.

    Unfortunately,  all of these “crisis avoided” impacts are extremely difficult to see – after all, if the crisis didn’t happen, how could you possibly know that it would have happened if the new practices hadn’t been adopted? What’s worse, how can you be sure that you wouldn’t have somehow avoided the problem in another way? After all, even if you hadn’t done stakeholder analysis, you would still have had some kind of communication plan, and if you hadn’t had a formal change control system you might still have rejected attempted scope changes.

    In my opinion, you can only easily measure change if you have a relatively large portfolio of projects and you are capable of making measurements of project success before and after (budget/schedule/quality compliance rates, for example). And, of course, if you can be sure that nothing else changed apart from the training. But is this ever the case?


  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    You allude to one of the key challenges summed up by Kirkpatrick and his 4 levels model.

    1 – Reaction
    – How did delegates find and react to the training (e.g. enjoyment and relevance)?

    2 – Learning
    – Have delegates learned and retained the new skills?

    3 – Transfer
    – Have delegates changed their behaviour as a result of the training?

    4 – Results
    – Is the organisation seeing real tangible benefits arising from the training?

    Training courses themselves rarely go beyond level 2.  My experience is that structured post-learning approaches (e.g. Agile Learning or Action Learning) provide the best way to reinforce the move to levels 3 and 4 (these also require the time, resource, responsibility and management support you refer to).

    However, at the very least you need the basic post-learning approaches you discuss.  Without those your training budget is largely being squandered………..

    1. It always surprises me that companies think that sending someone on a course equals “learning”. Having said that, I’m sure I’ve been just as guilty. On the other side of the fence, providing adequate support for delegates coming back from courses is time consuming and difficult. Not that that is any excuse…

  8. Hi Elizabeth,  
    I would like to add, that the most valuable benefit for myself is the persons who join the course. It’s their feedback and shared experience that let me think about my own behavior, tools, methodology etc..  
    The other impact is the training method itself. If the training is just slide based and teacher centered training instead of student centered training it’s getting hard to follow. Put in as much exercises and group experiences as possible to try and train the new input. Also add discussions about experience of the attending people. Sure the trainer has his or her own experience but the setting or the way thinks work out may be different.  
    Anyway, computer based training would be a no go for PM – but that is just a personal note thinking about social responsibility and social competencies.  

    1. Andreas, is computer based training really a no go for PM? When I did my PRINCE2 recertification, all my pre-course work was computer based, and I could have gone and taken the exam straight after that.

      I agree that the people make the course, you can learn a lot from the people who are in the room with you. It’s important to match your experience to the course because it must be dull to be the most experienced person in the room and not able to learn that much from the other delegates. If you have the opportunity, find out what level the course is aimed at, as that will help give you an indication of the type of roles attending.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *