Systems training – the user’s perspective

This is one of two postings on systems training. The second one will look at some of my experiences of working with systems owners to develop training. In this case let’s begin by looking at systems training from the point of view of a new user.

Jayne holding CV
Meet Jayne – she is just about to join the company

Meet Jayne. She hasn’t joined the company yet but she will in just a couple of weeks. She has worked in the same industry before but she is joining a much bigger organisation this time with more complex processes. When she arrives what will she need to know to do her job well and when will she need to know it?

On day one she might have attended an induction programme that would have given her an overview of, amongst other things, the systems she will soon be using regularly. At this stage I would suggest all she needs to know is that the system exists, what it does and the part it will play in her day-to-day work. She doesn’t need to know the minutiae of the system.

It’s a couple of days before she gets access to the system. She doesn’t need to do anything with it right now as she is already getting busy with other stuff. And this is just one of several systems she is having to get to grips with. All she does is log in and take a quick look around. Perhaps she had to complete some online training in order to gain access to the system.

Now it’s week four. She’s had her induction training which referenced the system. She completed the mandatory e-learning to gain access to the system. Only now does she start using it in earnest. What support is there now?

By now, in many organisations, she will have two options. The first one is to ask the guy in the corner. He knows the systems and has experience of using it in the real world. That can be good but it can also have its problems. He might know the system well but he may have picked up bad habits along the way that he is now about to pass on to Jayne.

The second option is to log back in to the company’s LMS (another system!) and find out the e-learning she completed all those weeks ago in order to be granted access. That included a lot of demonstrations of the system including one of the process she wants to complete now. It’ll tell her the correct way of carrying out the actions. Trouble is she has to log in to another system and work her way through the original e-learning module to find out the information she needs.

So how can the experience be made better for her?

To suggest a possible solution I am going to reminisce a bit about my early days as a trainer.

My earliest experience as a trainer was in a market research company where I was responsible for the IT and systems training. One of the programmes I inherited was a two-day course on how to complete a series of forms in a Lotus Notes database at the key stages of a market research project. These included the initial client enquiry, a specification for the work to be done, costings, through to requests for invoices to be sent out.

The course consisted of an overview of the system on the morning of day one, after which the delegates were taken methodically through each form and shown how to complete every field. At the relevant points they were also shown how to create new versions of the forms. This would take them up to lunch-time on day two. After lunch they were given a practical exercise where they had to complete all the forms themselves. By the end of the two days they had had a thorough grounding in all the stages of the process.

Whilst the training met the business’s needs at the time, when I joined the department it was recognised that it was due a revamp for a number of reasons.

First of all the business was becoming reluctant to lose members of staff for two whole working days (and the staff were calling out for shorter more focussed training). Secondly whilst the training was detailed it was aimed at one specific job role – quantitative researchers. The responsibilities of other roles with regard to the system was touched on but only briefly. Finally the training took place early in the researcher’s career long before they were likely to start completing the forms on the system.

There were three steps to making the training shorter, more relevant and timely. The first two of these involved making greater use of existing resources.

Firstly I tapped into a network of existing users around the business who would be able to coach new joiners in completing the forms. The business already had a network of “super users” who already had a coaching role – a more formalised version of the guy in the corner.

Secondly I beefed up the online help available. The system had been created in Lotus Notes and a separate database consisting of a series of help pages had been created alongside it. However it had been created a long time ago and was not very user-friendly. It consisted of a series of text heavy pages describing in detail lengthy processes. I broke the help pages into smaller bite sized pieces of information adding, where appropriate, screenshots to illustrate the process. I also created links from within the sections of the forms to the relevant help page, making it easier to get the just in time help the learner needed.

My third and final step was to revisit the original training course cutting it down from two days to just two hours. All that remained was the overview section alongside a new section on how to get help, which was delivered in the first week or so of the new joiner’s arrival.

My experience is one example of how Jayne’s training needs could be met. The training in whatever form needs to be relevant to their needs at that moment. Keep it relevant and timely. Ask two questions:

What do people really need to know?
When do they need to know it?

I hope you found this interesting. As mentioned I am currently reflecting on my experiences of dealing with systems owners and will share with you shortly. In the meantime I would be very interested in other people’s experiences in this field. Please add your comments below.

This posting first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on December 2nd 2015