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Survival Tactics for HPT Projects

Brian Kleinfelt

Boise State University













The purpose of this paper is to provide tips and techniques for surviving in the world of HPT. In order to be successful, we must have knowledge of many different areas including: business, project management, systems thinking, etc. Each of these areas will be discussed along with some best practices as determined by leaders in our field.



















Understanding Business

Knowledge of the business world is essential for Human Performance Technologists. Corporations, organizations, and institutions employ our services to help be more effective in providing products or services. If we are to be of value, we must be able to show that our work is helping to realize such effectiveness or our usefulness in the workplace will be in doubt. Let’s look at a couple of ways that we can assure our services are useful.

Knowing your Clients Business

It is essential that we become knowledgeable about our clients business. For HPT practitioners working internally, this task becomes easier as projects develop in different areas of the company and they begin to understand the processes and procedure throughout. External consultants, however, do not have the luxury of unlimited time to learn about their respective clients. Nonetheless, “a fundamental requirement of effective performance consulting is that the performance consultant knows his or her client’s business” (Rummler & Morrill, 2004, p.21).

Rummler and Morrill (2004) cite three main advantages that result from knowing your clients business:

         It gives you credibility.

         It increases the speed and accuracy of your response to requests for assistance.

         It increases your chances to proactively identify opportunities to improve performance. (p. 22)

So how do we go about acquiring the knowledge we need about our client’s business and how it works? Rummler & Morrill (2004) recommend building a profile of the company (p. 22). The profile includes basics of the business and how it functions, the performance environment in which the company operates the basic processing system of the company, and the factors that impact performance on an individual level. The level of detail included in this profile will vary greatly upon the organization and the role of the HPT practitioner as either an internal or external employee.

Linking to a Critical Business Issue

            A critical business issue (CBI) is, “a problem or opportunity that is critical to the overall success of the organization” (Rummler, 2002, p.3). HPT professionals must strive to link their performance projects to a CBI. Providing this link will increase the importance and credibility of our projects and increase the probability of it being deemed a success.

Establishing such links will not always be easy, but will provide many benefits. Rummler (2004) identified four reasons why tying your project to a CBI is critical:

         Links your effort to a known, valued business opportunity

         Obtain management support and resources

         Get the design implemented

         Evaluate the success of the project (p. 3)


Project Management

The ability to effectively manage a project is an essential skill for HPT professionals. Project Management includes multiple phases, and numerous competencies within each of those phases. The planning phase, if correctly applied, has the ability to make subsequent phases easier to complete. One area of planning involves identifying project responsibilities and timeline for completion; there are many methods for laying out such information and each practitioner should choose one that they feel will work best for their project.

Keeping your Project on Track

Short timelines are often set for our projects and meeting these stringent deadlines is no easy task. When we get behind schedule we often a trade-off quality for time, and our end product suffers .There are, however, many models and methods exist to keep us on track. Tim Esque suggests the Performance Against Commitment (PAC) chart as a means of assuring team members stay on task and complete the project on time. Figure 1 below is an example of a PAC chart.


Figure 1. Obtained from Tim Esque’s predicting project performance job-aid.


The PAC chart is a combination of a line and bar graph. The line part of the graph denotes the cumulative number of deliverables promised to be completed by a certain time, depending upon the labeling of the x-axis. The bar part of the graph denotes the total number of deliverables that have been completed. This chart functions as a graphic feedback mechanism for members of the project team and allows all individuals involved to see the progression of the project and the likelihood of meeting the project deadline.

            Esque argues that a deliverables matrix (Figure 2) should be developed to enhance the effectiveness of the PAC chart. The matrix contains six columns; deliverables, owner, user(s), quality requirements, commit date, and completed. Esque (1999) points out that the matrix should not track scheduled vs. actual performance measures because, “that would be conceding at the beginning that we expect to slip the schedule” (p. 2).

While I agree that his matrix design is very useful, I would argue with Esque’s assertion that it should be developed for the purpose of enhancing the PAC chart. It seems that the matrix is an essential part of keeping track the project. It does not seem logical that the PAC chart alone would result in increased team member accountability. Instead, it is more likely that the combination of the two documents together brings about such results.


Figure 2. Obtained from Tim Esque’s predicting project performance job-aid.


Working with the Human Landscape

“Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that the finest planning, analysis, and design work would not lead to successful solutions unless the sociopolitical system and human dynamics are taken into account and managed” (Svenson, 2004, p.32). How should we, as performance consultants, approach the human landscape in our organizations? Ray Svenson (2004) identified six key characteristics that can help HPT professionals navigate our way through each business (p.28). In every project that went bad, he had failed to address one of these items. Let’s look at the six characteristics and briefly discuss the importance of each one.

1.      Getting power from the power structure –

The HPT professional must be able to make effective use of the existing power structure of the company to keep the project moving forward. Svenson emphasizes that avoiding conflict, disagreements, or individuals who are not in favor of your intervention can kill your project. You need “…these people to buy in, or implementation will fail, so it is better to have them on the team and deal with their issues in that arena” (Svenson, 2004, p.29).

In his anecdotal story, Svenson (2004) has the HPT consultant, “make sure that each sponsor and steering team member is interviewed as part of the analysis phase. These interviews allow the sponsors and members to give their business input and to get them thinking about the implications of the project for their own departments and for the business as a whole” (p.29). The story emphasizes the fact that dissention will always exist, and coming up with an effective plan to handle it is the best way to make sure your intervention is a success.

2.      Engaging key stakeholders –

“Key stakeholders are the people who will be most affected by the outcome of your initiative” (Svenson, 2004, p.29). It is important to remember that the users or recipients of our intervention play a big part in its success. Svenson’s point here is similar to the one made regarding the power structure: the best way to deal with conflict and dissention is to face it head-on. The more they are involved in the entire process, the more likely they are to eventually become strong proponents of the intervention because they have a personal stake in it.

3.      Finding the natural structure

HPT professionals design interventions based on what they feel will work best in a situation given a set of circumstances. What is devised, although structurally sound, does not always fit into the environment we are working in. We must be cognizant of the fact that there is always more than one way to solve a particular problem, and we must work with our client to select an intervention that is structurally sound and fits within the confines and capabilities of the organization. “The client must feel comfortable with the design and believe that it is within their capacity to sell it to their stakeholders and to implement it” (Svenson, 2004, p.30).

4.      Building confidence through storytelling –

Svenson (2004) said, “When people cannot imagine the new world and their place in it, they are likely to resist going there” (p.30). Storytelling allows us to paint a picture of what things will look like in the post-intervention world and…“together with the charts, graphs, and slides, gives a complete picture” (Svenson, 2004, p.30). When the picture begins to become clearer, everyone involved in the project will be able to tell the story themselves and increase confidence in those around them.

5.      Designing conversations to build commitment –

The first objective is to identify the key players whose commitment is essential, and then to work to increase commitment levels where it is lacking. Svenson (2004) remarks that you must not assume that you have commitment where you don’t (p.31). “You do not really know until you put them on the spot and ask for their commitment or hear what they are saying to third parties about the project. Do not get too excited about public support until you have validated it in private and through third parties” (Svenson, 2004, p.31). Where a lack of commitment is identified, a private interview can be arranged to discuss the reasons why the individual is not yet on board. “Your goal is to have their support for the proposal with the assumption that their objections could somehow be addressed” (Svenson, 2004, p.31). If lack of commitment is widespread among the team, it may be wise to scrap the project.

6.      Managing the predictable mysteries of Human Dynamics –

Our field is about implementing change. Eventually, change becomes the norm for HPT professionals and we forget how change can have profound effects on those involved. Getting a new boss, changing the procedure for a task when we have been doing it the same way for years, adding new technology to the job; these are examples of changes that we all encounter over time and often make our lives more complicated and difficult, if only for a short while. The point is that we must anticipate these feelings so that we can effectively deal with them, while remembering we might not be able to resolve these challenges alone. Enlisting the input of team members can help us understand our client’s employees and gauge potential reactions to the change we bring about.


Systems Thinking

            The second standard of performance technology states that we must “look at situations systemically, taking into consideration the larger context, including competing resources, resource constraints, and anticipated change” (ISPI, 2002). HPT practitioners cannot succeed without taking such considerations into account. Our job is to solve problems, usually at a specific level of the organization. Being able to show that our work met the desired end result (increased sales, decreased development time, etc.) is only beneficial to the company if the net worth of our intervention exceeds the cost. If our decreased product development time results in faulty products that customers won’t buy and the company loses its market share, our work has not been of benefit to the organization.

            This is where our knowledge of systems is crucial. Brethower (2004) notes that, “to the extent that my work is not systemic, it will fail in the long run” (p.8). As HPT practitioners, we must work to ensure the long-term benefits of our work. “Working systemically is not an option. We have the option of working in ignorance or system concepts and principles, of systemic variables. We also have the option of working with knowledge of systems concepts and principles” (Brethower, 2004, p 8). It is this latter option which we must choose if we are to honor the notion of interconnected properties in organizations. If we fail to make such concessions in our work, both our effectiveness and credibility as HPT professionals will slowly fade away.



While the field of HPT is influenced by many other fields, there are specific skills within our area of expertise that are key. This paper is not intended to be an introduction to HPT theory, practice, models, and the like. Instead, focus will be given to determining which HPT skills are most essential for survival in the field.

Essential Competencies

            Klein and Fox (2004) conducted a survey of academics (24) and practitioners (46) with experience in the HPT and Instructional Design fields to determine the most important knowledge, skills and abilities for new HPT practitioners. The major topics and themes presented in the Handbook of Human Performance Technology (Stolovitch & Keeps, 1999) were used to determine the competencies included. In the first portion of the survey, each competency’s importance was rated by the participants based on its importance on a scale of one to four: one equals not important, two equals somewhat important, three equals important, and four equals very important. Table 1 shows the results of the first portion of the survey.


Competency Statement

Average Rating

Distinguish between performance problems requiring instructional solutions and those requiring non-instructional solutions.


Conduct a performance analysis for a specific situation to identify how and where performance needs to change (performance gap).


Evaluate a performance improvement intervention to determine whether or not it solved the performance problem.


Conduct a cause analysis for a specific situation to identify factors that contribute to the performance gap.


Select a range of possible performance interventions that would best meet the need(s) revealed by the performance and cause analysis


Assess the value of a performance improvement solution in terms of ROI, attitudes of workers involved, client feedback, etc.


Define and describe human performance technology.


Identify and implement procedures and/or systems to support and maintain performance improvement interventions.


Describe the general model of human performance technology (the systematic combination of performance analysis, cause analysis, and intervention selection).


Describe the historical and conceptual underpinnings of human performance technology.


Identify the similarities and differences among a variety of specific performance technology models.


Describe a variety of specific performance technology models.



Using the general intervention categories presented by Hutchison and Stein (as cited in Klein & Fox, 2004), the second portion of the survey asked which competencies were the most important in relation to performance interventions. Knowledge and skill in each competency was addressed. Table 2 shows the results.

Intervention Category



Measurement & Evaluation



Instructional Technology






Organizational Design & Development



Job & Workflow






Quality Improvement






Rewards & Recognition



Documentation & Standards



Human Development



Management Science






Resource Systems



Career Development







            The intent of these surveys was to determine what should be included in higher education curriculum for our field. This information is also important for individuals getting ready to begin working in the field. Establishing competency in all of these areas, especially those rated highest by academics and practitioners will allow recent graduates to “hit the ground running” and will provide those entering the field with a good foundation of knowledge that will inevitably expand as we get our feet wet.



            There is no simple path to success as an HPT practitioner. It’s a hard business and we must be constantly expanding upon and refining our knowledge of the world around us. Few professions demand such widespread knowledge, but few individuals can have such a great impact on an organization. The topics discussed in this paper are merely a start, and alone will do little for us. However, as we gain experience in the field and collect more “best practices” as we move along our chances for survival will become stronger.




Brethower, D. (2004). Sense and nonsense in HPT. Performance Improvement, 43(3), 5-11.

Esque, T.J. (1999). Predicting project performance. Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

International Society of Performance Improvement. (2002). ISPI Performance Technology Standards.  Maryland: Author.

Klein, J.D.,  & Fox, E.J. (2004). Performance improvement competencies for instructional technologists. Tech Trends, 48(2), 22-25.

Rummler, G., & Morrill, K. (2004). Know your client’s business. Performance Improvement, 43(3), 21-27.

Rummler, G. (2002). Want results? Link your projects to a CBI. Retrieved October 10, 2004 from

Svenson, R. (2004). Winning every time: Six ways to make large-scale performance interventions succeed. Performance Improvement, 43(3), 28-32.