Managing Costs for Custom Courses

Managing Costs for Custom Courses

It was during this time that our team also implemented a custom development process to manage our budget. Most vendors make their money on templates ”building a format for the look and feel of every page of a custom course. To control costs and maintain quality, our team developed a required template-management system that limited the number of templates developers were able to make for each course. For the first course, they were allowed to build thirty templates, fifteen more for the second, and fifteen more for the third. Ultimately they have sixty templates to work with, and the cost goes down with each course. We initially paid $38,000 per course hour , and we reduced that price to $23,000, which is extremely atypical for a custom-designed course.

By starting early, our team was able to more than meet the Year Two goals before our established deadlines, and the department stayed within budget. In the first year we were expected to submit our budget on a quarterly basis to prove that the training department was on track, but by Year Two we were so successful that doing so was no longer required.

Last year, when the vice president of HR stood up at the annual meeting to justify the work being done by our department, the CEO cut him off. He said he'd already heard enough about the great things the learning and development team had done for the company from the rest of the executive staff, so he didn't need it recapped for him. We haven't had to prove our budget since then.

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  1. Have gone live. The safest and most effective way to launch technology-based learning is to do it quietly so that you can clean up the bugs before too many people have sampled your wares.

  2. Have marketed the project at every level of the company, from management meetings to lunchroom chats. Marketing is your primary job now. Take it seriously. Every time you sell your project, you establish buy-in and interest from the masses.

  3. Have begun to attack your goals. The sooner you achieve them, the more respect you will earn from organizational leaders .

  4. Have stood up to the naysayers. Don't be beaten down by those who don't support you. Face them, show them that you will not back down, and celebrate those who support you.

  5. Have started working on phase two of your project. There will be no rest for a while. Even as you achieve your primary goals, you must always look ahead to what else needs to be accomplished.

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Chapter 9: Step 9 Assess and Modify


"Life without failure cannot be considered life for nothing has been learned."


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  1. Recognize and eliminate failures.

  2. Monitor usage rates.

  3. Tweak the system.

  4. Remarket to non-users.

  5. Evaluate effectiveness of content.

  6. Sell successes.

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If you followed the strategic plan process as we laid it out, you will have big successes in the beginning. Management will be amazed at your ingenuity, your planning skills, and your attention to detail. By targeting easy-to-implement critical courses in the first phase, you will draw attention to the project, making the most of your big wins early on.

But not every element of the project will go smoothly. No launch is perfect the first time around, because inevitably there will be things you didn't consider. Up to the launch, all of your planning was done in isolation. The transition from theory to practice is a bumpy road filled with obscure obstacles that can bring your transformation to a crashing halt. Expect to encounter these problems and expect to make mistakes ”it's part of the process.

The only fatal mistake you can make at this juncture is to be too rigid about change. Ironically, even though this is a change process, your unwillingness to compromise on planned elements is a common trap that the very people who are promoting change often fall into. We learned this early on with countless clients who became so committed to an idea that even when it was a mistake, they had a terrible time letting go of it. For example, a pharmaceutical company that sells veterinary products hired The Performance Engineering Group (PEG) to determine how it could get the customer population to cross-sell products. The reality, the company discovered , was that many of their clients are introverted, passive, analytical people who abhorred sales of any kind. No matter how strong the company's efforts in this area, it was unlikely to increase its sales through a massive campaign targeting every customer. Instead, PEG helped the company to craft a program that would identify and target the small number of clients with the best cross-sales potential.

By recognizing the failure of its primary objective, the pharmaceutical company was able to avoid spending a large amount of money on a program that was unlikely to produce positive results. The company's willingness to acknowledge the error of the plan was key to turning it around.

That willingness is atypical of most organizations, including Rockwell Collins. Prior to Cliff Purington's arrival at the company, one of the training managers was given the task of creating a course for all nonmanagement employees . Two important ground rules were given along with the task: The first was that the new course had to use the preexisting behavior model and supporting tool; the second was that the model and the tool couldn't be modified or changed for the audience. Evidently several years before, when this model and tool were being sold across the company, the individual who gave this training manager the task had assured executive management that this model and tool were completely appropriate for the entire population. The manager had promised his boss that he'd be able to reuse the same assessment tool and model in the new version of the course. The assessment tool, developed by Personnel Decisions International (PDI), included a series of questions asking participants how they would react in different leadership scenarios. It was the first thing users saw when they began the course, and it required them to imagine themselves in difficult or potentially career- threatening situations.

It became clear to us early on that segments of the assessment were inappropriate for the new audience. The questions put this group of users into scenarios that weren't relevant to nonmanagers and made it obvious that this tool had not been developed with them in mind.

We wanted to take those questions out. PDI agreed that it would be best to take them out, but the original project manager wouldn't allow it. He preferred to have employees use inappropriate assessments that would make them doubt the validity of a course than admit to his boss that he was wrong. Even though the mistake could be easily remedied and would have no lasting consequences, the manager's inflexibility and fear of appearing wrong prevented him from changing his approach.

Ultimately the course was turned over to our team, and the change was made. Had the original assessment tool remained a part of the course, it was our opinion that the course would have failed, because some questions demanded that the participants exhibit a high level of courage and outspokenness ”not a common commodity in most organizations. We knew that the participants would look for any reason to discredit the course because of the risks we were asking them to take. It would have been very easy for the participants to reject the entire course on the basis of this flawed assessment instrument.

This is just one example of how an inability to admit mistakes and an unwillingness to reassess your decisions can fatally damage a project. Many managers would rather run a program into the ground than admit to a personal or professional failing. This is dangerous and threatening behavior in a change-management process.

It's best to plan for mistakes and brainstorm up front how you will deal with them. For example, a client PEG worked with spent two full days with its entire staff brainstorming possible glitches in an e-learning initiative. After developing an extensive list of possible problems with the implementation, they then broke into teams and came up with ways to solve the possible problems. The list of problems ran the gamut from mundane to quite esoteric. But they took the time to develop solutions so that when they did go live they would have action plans in place. Only a small percentage of the problems they listed actually occurred, but because they were ready for every scenario, they reacted quickly to the few that arose and there was never a sense of panic or confusion on the part of any of the employees involved in this massive implementation.