Training Won’t Occur Without A Champion Leading the Way


Strategies for User Training 

Everyone hears those words “I don’t know how to do this”, “I don’t do this because nobody has ever shown me how”, and more to the point, “I need training”. From the Information Technology (IT) Department, we receive help desk tickets that something doesn’t work only to find that in most cases the issues are generally due to a lack of training rather than something specific to technology.

When rolling out a new product, feature, or tool, employees often will not take the time on their own to learn something new or to change what they are used to, even if what technology provides is a simpler, faster, or more efficient way to do their tasks. If Leadership is an intentional influence, then those in a leadership or administrative role must take the lead in training. After all, you can’t force cooperation and support and you certainly can’t do the entire project yourself.

For this article, I am addressing training strategies for current employees, not the new employee who is first being introduced to a system, although the training initiative can trickle to the new employee as well. Also, let’s assume that you are the person either doing the training or coordinating training for your users with a subject-matter expert.

Phase 1: Preparation: Identifying training needs

As in most project management strategies, the information gathering stage is normally overlooked but is essential in understanding and pinpointing what exactly is needed. After all, you don’t want to throw you staff into a mechanical engineering class when all they need to learn is how to drive! What information are you looking for? Probably lots!

Every organization is different in how they process and function. Although most business rules may be the same, how each group handles them may be different. As the trainer or the coordinator, you need to find out what exactly are the workflow processes and business rules that drive the staff each day. During this phase you should also identify issues they are having either with their processes or with the system. You also want to get their points of interest, (POI) which will also help to define the list of training goals to accomplish. Your entire training agenda will be built based on the information that you gather.

Something of note, I have found that speaking to staff both individually and as a group will give you the best information.  Sometimes the person who actually does the work has a different experience, need, or opinion then the supervisor and may be reluctant to speak within a group. On the other hand, getting everyone on the same path can only happen in a group. Just remember that for the student, the ultimate goal in training is to make their jobs easier.

Editor’s Note:
Often the impetus for training needs comes from technological changes, not existing processes. A good example of this is the release schedule of software enhancements (e.g., Vista). Part of an ongoing training needs identification process can include reviewing the PDS release notes, including those published in advance. With that in hand, you can determine which new modules or other features warrant closer attention for training (or even revising existing processes prior to training).

A second major impetus for training needs occurs when people move into new positions, especially when those positions require use of new software or new modules in existing software (such as Vista).

At PDS, when we find individuals who are struggling with system issues, they generally fall into these two categories: people who are new to a job and organizations who have not learned and embraced past enhancements.

Phase II: The setup

Now that I have gathered all the workflow processes, business rules, and issues, now what?

Before, training is scheduled, there is the setup. This can take a high level of organization before any training should begin. Focusing on teaching employees skills that are within the context of that employee’s job is essential. Although it is wise to educate a user on the overall picture of the job, it would be wasteful to focus the entire team on aspect not related to their duties. This would then require the coordinator or the instructor to not only understand the entire processes, but to be able to split the students into the appropriate groups and to adequately schedule the training topic to mimic the flow of the processes in order to have the right team members in place.

Although everyone’s job can overlap to another’s job at some point, there always seems to be a question of who exactly may, or should, be responsible for what. This is the optimal chance to define exactly who is supposed to do what tasks, and to determine what focused training would be needed for their specific duties.

Phase III: Training agenda

You have gathered all of the workflow process information, points of interest (POI) and issues from the users, determined who does individual tasks and which teams they will be on for training. When does class start? The answer, AFTER you have generated an agenda that lists what exactly will be covered each hour or day, that includes not only the processes from start to end but also which teams are required to be present for each timeframe. This agenda should also have listed POI and issues to address within the appropriate timeframe. As the coordinator, you will need to provide this information to the instructor and work with them so they can generate an appropriate training agenda. In other words, someone is now the expert on internal processes and needs, and the other is the expert on the system and what may need to be presented during training, based on the listed needs.

This agenda, will need to be reviewed and discussed by all of the involved groups. Depending on the size of the groups to be trained, not everyone on your training list may be available. Someone with appropriate decision making, will have to determine the importance of each individual’s participation or provide an alternative solution. The end result is to include the necessary individuals who need to participate and who can share or cross-train others.

Editor’s Note:
Some training, either in lieu of the formal agenda, or as a prerequisite to it, can be self-study and delivered electronically or physically. As an example, PDS provides a large and growing library of training materials – videos, webinars, user guides, FAQs, and conferences. An effective training agenda can consider resources such as these in an overall strategy.

Phase IV: Training Materials 

If there is a user manual available in an editable digital format, it would be good to highlight the POI and areas of concern that will be reviewed and provided to the students along with the agenda. During training, updating the manual with notations on what was covered in class or any other notes or comments to redistribute after training is complete, would be of benefit. Of course, this step could be done by the instructor or subject-matter expert but if this is not an option, the original user manual should still be provided to the students for them to make note as needed.

Editor’s Note:
Updating materials is also a worthwhile step when utilizing training materials from your vendor. PDS regularly updates our materials based on feedback from clients, so if changes to our materials can better suit your needs for future training, we welcome your comments.

Phase V: Training day

You have all of your information, teams, user manuals and agenda, now it is day one of training. Congratulations, you feel like you have cooked the entire day, a Thanksgiving dinner that will be gobbled up in 15 minutes!
There are many methods of training. Some do remote training where everyone gathers around a projector and the instructor demonstrates something on screen. Some have the instructor on-premise with a projector, doing a demo on screen in front of an audience. Another option, when available, is to send staff offsite for training.

A recommendation, whatever type of training method you plan, it would be best to plan to have everyone in training have a computer with access to a test environment, preferably with your own data in the test environment. The instructor should not be the one touching the computer during training or demonstration but rather have a different driver within each group, who will be performing the actions hands-on. The reasoning for this approach, is that every study of educational processes shows that unless the student actually performs the task that they are learning, the information will likely not stick. Although lectures and demos provide for a good nap, it will not accomplish the goals at hand.

Setting up a training environment that mimics the current system, (with current data) will provide the student with a familiar environment and will allow the student to focus more on what is being taught instead of what data they are looking at.  Example, during a training session, one student had more questions about the information on Jane Doe’s record (generic data) and couldn’t understand the calculations but when presenting the same information using their own data, they understood the calculations mostly because they knew the history of the person and what had been entered. Another side effect of using your own data during training, you may be able to determine if the issues the users are having is really a training issue or if it is really a setup or system issue instead.

Finally, students tend to be more interactive with familiar records during training sessions. They are better able to show an example of an issue or training need with data that they have had questions on.

Editor’s Note:
Don’t forget to make use of schedule vendor training opportunities. PDS is hosting its User Group Association conference this year in May. In addition to educational presentations on all aspects of the system, PDS will also be providing many hours of hands-on, instructor-assisted training.

Phase VI: Training has been completed

Training is over and all POIs and issues have been addressed, and each of your training needs have been met. What do you mean we aren’t done yet? Everyone has gone home!

As the instructor, your job may be done. Other than a customer satisfaction survey or follow-up email, there isn’t much more you can do to ensure that training was actually a benefit and have met all of the goals. But as the training coordinator, you will need to do a follow-up with the staff to confirm that they are putting into actual practice, the things that they have learned. You may even need to perform an “Implementation into your production environment”, or “Mandatory Process Change” type of initiative, where process changes identified during training or uncovered during the discovery process are translated into action. It is a true fact that the more time that passes between training and actually performing the learned tasks, the more chance the student will forget what was taught!

Closing notes

In general these strategies work well for most training scenarios. When training, there are so many different scenarios to consider. The main points are to identify the training needs, listing specific goals, points of interest, and try to address any known issues. Making sure students have direct and immediate access to a training environment before, during, and after training. And above all, encourage networking and communication about what has been learned.

Editor’s Note:
Consider looking into the Vista course management functionality to handle your training needs.

Best of luck to you in your educational initiatives.

Tonia Williams
CIO, IT Director
Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation