Project Management Institute

End user training made easy (what your consultants won't tell you)

Introduction

Training end users is a daunting task, best done by a consultant, right? Well, that may be conventional wisdom, but is not practical long term.

We will show you how to tackle this critical task by using your own people as expert trainers, thus saving money, and bolstering your organization's training effectiveness.

Myths and Truths from Consultants about Training

Training your users on new or existing applications can seem like a daunting task. There's the training plan, the documentation, the approach, and then there's the question of whom the instructor will be. We know it has to be someone who has expertise with the application and has been working with it for years right? Well, that's what our consultants and sales people may tell us. However, this is not practical for ongoing training of new employees and for application upgrades.

We often rely on consultants’ expertise not only to help us with much of our work, but also to provide direction for us to follow with work we take on in-house. Consultants can provide great benefit because they provide unique, hard-to-find expertise and/or incremental resource help for critical tasks/initiatives.

However, many of our consultants also wear sales hats and sometimes confuse when they should be wearing one versus the other. Because of this, there are some myths about training that are floating around as a result of overly ambitious consultants. They have created some self-perpetuating misconceptions and half-truths about how much consultants should be used for training and whether in-house training makes any sense at all. Let's evaluate some of these training questions.

Do packaged applications require consultants for end-user training?

The answer to this question is that it depends. If this is your company's first experience with that particular application and have no (or very little) in-house skills, then you should start your training with a consultant. However, if you have had the applications installed for at least a year and have experienced resources in-house, there is no reason you cannot execute your training in-house.

Is training users on upgrades as complex as the original implementation training?

This one is a myth. Upgrades are what they are. They are an update to your existing system. Inherently that means that the training should not be as complex as that for the original implementation.

While the training for significant upgrades is still serious business, it must be portrayed to users as just that – an upgrade. Part of the battle with training is providing the students with some level of comfort going in as to the complexity of the training.

While in-house training is fine for experienced users, shouldn't you have outside experts do the training for new employees?

This one is a myth if your training program has been properly cultivated. This is a good time to stop for a moment to reflect on an important point that permeates this subject.

For an in-house training program to be successful, it must have, like any other critical initiative, the proper executive support. This includes not only financial support, but also “walking the walk.” Executives and management must verbally and continually provide support and morale impetus for the organization's training program. Absent of this, any in-house training program will have limited success and, ultimately, the organization will be forced to increase its dependency on outside help for training expertise.

Now, back to the question at hand – do you need outside experts for new employees? Again, given the proper organizational support, the answer to this should be no. There are tremendous benefits to be gained by having an in-house training program:

  1. Studies have shown that new employees who are trained by their peers or managers in the organization have a greater interest in learning and increased concentration levels. This can be due to not only the obvious common link they would have as members of the same organizations, but also because students are more likely to want to leave a favorable impression on the instructors when they know they will have to maintain an ongoing relationship with that instructor (versus an outside person whom they may never see again).
  2. Peer training provides for greater buy-in by the recipients and company pride and ownership by the trainers. An overused phrase today is “empowerment.” However, empowerment can be a great thing for an organization and its employees if utilized at the correct junctures. This is one of those times. When you utilize your own end-user employees as trainers, these employee-trainers are given a greater say in the success and direction of the company – they are empowered. They are providing a valuable service to the company. They are engaging in cultural immersion with their new co-workers. They have a say in the continued development and improvement of the organization's training program and thus, its overall customer service.
  3. Because of these two items, an in-house training program can be more cost effective, while being more effective in general.

But end users aren't really cut out to be trainers, are they?

For the most part this is a myth. Although it is certainly true that not everyone is destined to be a great trainer and some people just flat out are not comfortable in that situation, it is not necessary for you to have every single person in the organization become a trainer. However, some of your best trainers will come from the end-user community because they will be able to more directly relate the materials to real life experience for the students, thus enhancing their credibility as a trainer.

From a professional development standpoint, one of the best tools an employee can have in their personal toolbox is the ability to serve as a trainer. Most employees relish any opportunity the company provides them related to ongoing education and alternative experiences to their day-to-day responsibilities. Just as some people join Toastmasters or other organizations to improve their public presence and speaking style, developing training skills over time greatly enhances an employee's skill set and value to the organization.

Even with good training most students will retain only about 10% of what they learn in class, right?

Studies have shown that this is fairly accurate with most conventional training techniques (i.e., readings, presentations, limited hands-on, etc.). However, there are some techniques that can be used to greatly enhance the retention rate (and the enjoyment of the training recipients). However, we are going to come back to this topic later in the paper. For now, we are going to focus on when to use consultants and how to setup your own in-house training program.

When to Use Consultants for Training

First of all, let's be clear that there are times to use consultants and times when you don't need to. This paper is not meant to be a consultant-bashing exercise any more than its intended as a tool to sell organizations on using more consultants for their training needs.

It can be beneficial to use a consultant if the following factors are in place:

  1. This is the first time an organization has used packaged applications.
  2. The organization is utilizing a brand new module from the packaged product.
  3. The organization has had significant turnover, and those that had been used as trainers have all left (or a significant number have departed).
  4. Training is necessary immediately and you have yet fully set up a proper training program.

With any of these factors in place, you should consider using outside help for your training needs. However, don't let short-term needs derail a desire to be more independent in the future. If possible, utilize the training consultants to augment your organization's training plan and program. Include your “train the trainer” segment of the program as part of the consultant's contract, if possible.

Key Elements When Structuring Your Training Program

Following are key aspects of a successful training program.

Executive Sponsorship

As mentioned earlier, executive sponsorship is critical to a successful training program for all the obvious reasons. Very few initiatives in any organization are successful without proper executive sponsorship.

Training Coordinator must have experience with the application

In our work with clients, this is one of the most often overlooked aspects of a training program. It is very important that the person charged with the strategy and leadership of the program understands the idiosyncrasies and specifics of the training (e.g., how the overall architecture fits together, items unique to a package such as Oracle flexfields and how they figure prominently into training and resulting use of the systems).

Trainers must be constantly evaluated

Just as with any employee professional development plan, the trainers should be evaluated and feedback given so that they may improve their delivery and the service provided to their students.

Investment must be made in creating and maintaining formal training materials

Training materials are treated by many students as their “bibles”, particularly if they are very good materials. Therefore, the materials must be given their proper due not only up front, but throughout the life of the system.

Another common mistake by organizations is that they invest in professional training materials up front, but then do not properly invest in ongoing maintenance of the documentation. Soon, the trainers struggle where they should not because their understanding of the system does not match the classroom materials being used by the students. This is frustrating for both student and teacher and embarrassing for the organization.

Maintaining a training program is an ongoing process

Following on our last point about training documentation, the organization must make an ongoing commitment to the training program, or it will eventually fail. Once again, many companies start with grandiose and noble training plans, and when budgets get tight or issues arise that derail company focus, one of the first areas to take a hit is the training program. Although in some situations this is unavoidable, the organization must understand the consequence of letting their training program fall by the wayside. The repercussions can be expensive and difficult from which to recover.

Utilize training consultants for up front “Train the Trainer”

This one is fairly obvious, but still important enough to emphasize. The best use of outside consultants is in a “Train the Trainer” setting. When selecting the consultants for this work, ensure that they have experience training trainers, because this is different than training end-users. Some people who are good at training end users, lack the understanding to carry that through to ensuring that trainer not only understand the material themselves, but also how to relate that material to their students.

Develop a rotating pool of trainers

This is a concept that works better at mid-size and larger organizations because small companies may have a limited pool of end-users from which to select their training staff. The thinking behind a rotating pool of trainers is to allow employees to see the “trainer” position as one that will enhance their career, while not pigeon-holing them into a dead-end position. By rotating whom you use as trainers, you do the following:

  1. Provide a broader group of people the advantages associated with serving as a trainer.
  2. Develop better back-up capabilities as people are ill or leave the company.
  3. Allow trainers to refresh their skills regularly and get re-acquainted with the real world challenges faced by their peers, some of whom they will be training.

All in-house trainers should teach at least one class on a regularly scheduled basis

This item depends on the size of your organization and the pool of end-users from which you will choose your trainers. The ideal time is for someone to teach a class at least every six months. However, this is impractical in many cases, particularly in smaller organizations. So, the main thought is to provide training opportunities for your trainers as often as possible in order to hone their training skills and methods.

Distance Learning – a good idea?

Distance learning has certainly received a lot of good press in the past few years and some organizations have had great success with it. First of all, what is distance learning?

Distance learning can take two primary forms:

  1. Computer-based learning in which the location of the student is fairly irrelevant because the learning is done over the Internet, often in a self-paced environment with an end-goal date in mind to complete the training.
  2. Video teleconference training in which the instructor is projected via a television screen to the student(s), who then also interact via the Internet.

Distance learning can be very cost effective in certain situations. In particular, technical training (e.g., Oracle tools, etc.) can often be done effectively through distance learning. In any type of distance learning situation, it is important to remember that you lose some of the “cultural immersion” advantages of face-to-face training, which often is one of the great secondary benefits of training.

As with any training technique or approach, the bottom line will be to evaluate the learning effectiveness versus the hard cost savings. Distance learning is not usually the most effective way to teach, but it can be effective and efficient in certain situations.

Industry-focused training

This is one of the areas in which consultants can be very valuable up front in customizing your training for your industry. Again, it is critical that your training consultants have experience with the applications you are using and within your industry.

It is very important to have at least some industry customization in your training. Otherwise, the training will not even begin to address the specific challenges your users will face in their jobs day-to-day.

Applications grouping

It probably goes without saying that the most effective off-the-shelf package training is when you group like applications together for training. However, we will take that one step further. Again, we will use Oracle applications as an example. Even if not utilizing Oracle Workflow, training results are greatly enhanced by integrating workflow-related training rather than traditional “waterfall” module-specific training. For example, we will train accounting office clerks according to their specific workflow rather than General Ledger one day, then Payables the next day, and so on. While this may sound blatantly obvious and your organization may already be doing, our experience shows that when push comes to shove, training planning is one of the areas that gets short-shrifted and companies fall into module-specific training because it is the easiest to setup and execute with limited planning.

As we mentioned before, all trainers should be cross-trained on multiple modules, not only to enhance their training skills, capabilities, and understanding, but also to provide additional flexibility to their organization.

Innovative Training Ideas

One of the most important items to remember from this paper is that training is just training unless you do something memorable. At best, employees view most training as an escape from their day-to-day responsibilities. This is not something with which we should be satisfied. We should strive to make training something that everyone in the organization is clamoring to attend.

If training is a fun experience, people not only will want to attend, but they will also be more attentive and focused during the sessions. This, of course, leads to increased learning and retention.

It is also important to remember that although, yes, training does mean learning the intended material, it also provides an opportunity to improve the working environment by enhancing relationships.

One of the best methods of innovative learning is the use of games to enhance retention and build teaming relationships.

Jeopardy!™ and a real-life example

One of our most successful endeavors has been the utilization of a variation of television's jeopardy game show with an updated theme.

The Jeopardy!™ format is perfect for reinforcing concepts and building relationships because we have the game setup as a team undertaking. Let's use one of our live examples to explain how this works.

We have been providing consulting services to the State of Oregon for several years. In one of the Departments, we decided to utilize our Jeopardy!™ approach in 2002 to enhance the learning environment. Typically, our training groups with the State have ranged from nine people up to a high of sixteen.

We will setup the regular course training to occur during the first portion of the day. With any training day that lasts at least four hours (most are at least full day training classes), we reserve the last hour of each day for Jeopardy. Most training sessions end with a Q&A and/or feedback segment and then dismiss the class. We still allow for Q&A and feedback, but we ensure that this happens prior to Jeopardy. We want the final interaction for each day to be Jeopardy, because it not only is a great reinforcement tool, but it is tremendously fun and a great way to leave a positive, enjoyable feeling with the students as they leave at the end of the day.

We utilize categories that we covered that day (or on previous days) as well as a similar format to the television game show. The only exception is that to simplify the process, we ask questions and the participants give us the answers (which is different than the television version in which the contestants are given the answers and must provide the questions).

An example of one of the game boards we create for this is shown below in Exhibit 1:

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Exhibit 1

Depending on the number of participants, we will have between three and five teams. We ensure that we have some fun prizes for the winners, which raises the competitive atmosphere and, hence, the level of concentration.

Following our trial run with the State in 2002, we were asked back by the same group to run this training in 2003. We have since worked with the Department on how to setup their own Jeopardy game and how to determine the types of questions to ask, etc. Our method is being copied across the organization because of its success. Recently, I was approached by one of the State employees who had gone through our initial training. She related to me that she had been in a requirements meeting and a question came up that she was able to answer because she remembered it as one our Jeopardy questions two years earlier. This is the type of tangible evidence that we seek that shows success in a training approach. Stories similar to this have been repeated wherever we have utilized this form of innovative training approach.

Other training methods

There are other innovative training techniques that have shown promise and success for applications. Forms of some of these approaches have been around for years, but have not been widely used with packaged applications. We have used some of these with success. Although some of them aren't as straightforward as the Jeopardy approach, they can be equally beneficial to the students and organization.

Some other training tools are:

  1. End user presentations: The concept here is that if users must present materials to their peers, they are more likely to retain that information after leaving the class.
  2. Challenge training: This is a similar concept to Jeopardy!™ in which competitive board games are created specifically for that organization's applications training.
  3. Training incentives: This is a broad topic, but one of the more successful ideas for our clients has been providing incentives for training and participation in local OAUG chapters and SIGs as well as regional / national conferences

Use your people and have fun!

The two main concepts we want to reiterate here are:

  1. (1)   Utilizing your own employees as trainers provides tremendous benefit not only to the employee themselves but to the organization as a whole
  2. (2)   Training should be fun for all participants. Retention is the key and retention is greatly enhanced when the participants wants to be at the training sessions and is immersed in the session with great concentration. As humans, our concentration improves with the more fun that we have with a topic.

Your training program should not be viewed as an afterthought in your organization. Rather, it can serve as the cornerstone of a successful professional development program and greatly increase cultural pride in the organization.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Copyright ©2004 by Hittner & Associates, Inc.
Originally published as a part of 2004 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Anaheim, California

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