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Ask a Trainer: How to Prioritize Training Requests

Tuesday, June 23, 2020
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Tim,

I work as the director of learning for a national logistics and distribution company. A major part of my job is working with our internal stakeholders to identify their learning needs and convert them into actionable projects for our instructional design teams.

The major issue I keep running into is how to prioritize the training requests from multiple stakeholders. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, each of my stakeholders think their request is the most important.

What tips can you share about prioritizing training requests?



You’re right, I have experienced this. Before I started my own company, it happened within almost every company I worked for. And you’re right, each stakeholder wants you to treat them like they’re your only stakeholder. It can be downright frustrating trying to juggle all their “needs.”

Before I share a few tips, I want to first explain why I ended the previous paragraph with needs in quotation marks. It’s important to remember that not all requests are valid, and they won’t always turn into actionable projects. It’s common for stakeholders to think everything can be fixed with training, and this often results in a request for training. Before you even think about prioritizing their projects, you need to validate whether it requires a project in the first place. This is done by conducting a thorough needs analysis to determine why the issue exists and if training is the solution that will fix it.

That will eliminate a majority of those requests. I know that’s not what you asked, but I had to mention it nonetheless. :)

So, how can you prioritize training requests? Here are some tips based on my experience.

Make Your Stakeholders Do It

My first tip is to make your stakeholders own the prioritization process. Now, I know what you may be thinking: If we put the responsibility on our stakeholders, they’ll just keep saying their stuff is most important; however, that’s not necessarily the case. The truth is, it’s not our job to tell our stakeholders their project is more or less important than some other project. Who are we to make that decision? Instead of trying to decide what you should and shouldn’t immediately work on, bring together your stakeholders and have them decide.

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For example, in a previous job where I was experiencing a similar issue, I decided to create a learning advisory committee. This committee consisted of a select group of stakeholders and decision makers, and each month we met to review their projects and prioritize the backlog. Instead of me dictating what was most important, I enabled my stakeholders to decide among themselves. This process allowed me to walk away with a clearly prioritized list upon which my stakeholders could all agree.

Be Transparent About Capacity

My second tip is to be transparent about your capacity. If you decide to involve your stakeholders in the prioritization of your projects, it’s important that you’re transparent about the capacity of your team. Ultimately, this will be the threshold that determines how much work you can tackle within a given amount of time.

To do this, make sure your stakeholders understand what you’re currently working on, how much of your capacity it’s consuming, and when you expect your capacity to open up. Does this mean your stakeholders will always be forgiving about the amount of your workload? Not at all; however, it might give you extra leverage to ask for additional payroll to hire extra help, either fulltime or on a freelance basis.

Negotiate on Project Scope

My final tip is to negotiation on project scope rather than just saying no. As I explained in this previous Ask A Trainer post, the challenge is helping your stakeholder understand their priorities and the price of entry for what they’re asking. Too often, when a stakeholder asks for what seems like an unreasonable request, it’s easy just to say no. However, saying no won’t get you far.

For example, if your stakeholder needs you to develop a full e-learning course within a week, instead of explaining why that’s not possible, try negotiating on the scope of what they’re asking. You may not be able to develop a fully custom, interactive course within a week, but it may be possible to produce a short video. Or you may ask them to deprioritize another project, which could give you the capacity to deliver the other thing(s) they’re requesting. Either way, you’re still working to deliver on their needs while not entirely shutting down their request.

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I certainly hope these tips help. While it’s not always easy managing the needs of your stakeholders, the more you involve them in the decision-making process, the more likely they’ll understand your constraints and make the necessary concessions to work it out.

Best of luck!

Tim



What other tips do you have for prioritizing training requests? Share them by commenting below!



Check out the new ATD Ask a Trainer Video Series on YouTube. Each month we’ll publish a new episode in which Tim Slade answers questions submitted via social media.



Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected] Also, visit the Ask a Trainer hub to check out all of your questions and my answers.



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Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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