Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Work Planning and Client Relations: The IRS Improves Both

Magazine article Training & Development Journal

Work Planning and Client Relations: The IRS Improves Both

Article excerpt

Work Planning and Client Relations: the IRS Improves Both

It's huge responsibility when your training department must design and develop a broad array of programs for nearly 100,000 employees throughout the country. You must have administrative systems in place to manage all the resources necessary carry it out.

That's the situation in which the Internal Revenue Service found itself. It needed an effective way to manage a large, annual course-design-and-development program for more than 20 job functions; that meant more than 300 training projects. The result was a system that would improve the process for developing the annual training work-plan and the process for increasing accountability for executing each of the work-plan's individual projects. The trainers had another goal, too--improving relations with clients by involving them actively in both processes.

While the system meets the needs of a particularly large, in-house training organization, its features are equally valid for smaller training functions. Regardless of your company's size, if you are part of an in-house training organization, then you have to deal with the same recurring problem: how can you be sure that you and the client are in complete agreement about the nature, scope, and costs of the training project you are about to undertake?

When your organization deals with a private training consulting firm, you can generally find the answer in its response to your request-for-proposal. When the training project is in-house, however, questions of nature, scope, and cost may not be addressed directly. When the training department and the in-house client only agree informally to a general course of action, such an agreement later proves to be an inaccurate reflection of what each party thought was the project's true nature and scope. The IRS's processes for work-planning and course-development-control, with their emphasis on client involvement, not only help to avoid misunderstandings, but also foster professionalism and discipline among the training staff.


The Human Resources Division is a major function at the IRS. In a typical year, the division engages in over 300 course-development projects with its client systems, in addition to its other training-related activities for the IRS (conducting national training programs, providing training guidance to field organizations, evaluating field training functions, and so forth). Those projects reflect training needs arising from new tax legislation, administration initiatives, mission changes, technological advances, and performance issues.

Several years ago, as the scope of the training function was growing, the IRS decided that the function needed a better work-planning system. Conflicting priorities were spreading staff and dollar resources thinner and thinner. Communication difficulties with client management became pronounced as problems in accomplishing work on time began to surface.

The management of individual course-development projects had also become a problem. The time it took to gain consensus about a project's objectives often delayed the start of the project. If the project began regardless of unresolved issues, then it became difficult to complete--resolution of those issues midway through the project sometimes created the need to redo completed work.

To solve those problems, a small task force of training managers came up with a system for work-planning with a subsystem of discrete training-project agreements. They designed them to involve the clients at appropriate phases of the process, so that clients not only contribute to the sound management of the training function, but also help ensure that each training project meets their expectations and needs.

The work-planning system

The IRS work-plans meet four primary objectives. They provide

* a record of each project planned, with a list of staff resources needed for that project;

* the data necessary for building the yearly training budget;

* a data base for management to rate and rank each project, from highest to lowest priority, among all projects included in the work plan;

* a basis for determining whether the training organization is meeting its stated goals. …

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