Education

Lack of formal end-user training program makes IT look bad

It's a classic story. A new technology is rolled out in the company but no one bothers to show the end-users how to use it.

In a recent blog, I talked about an IT trainer who had been demoted because his supervisor thought he lacked people skills. That blog prompted another TechRepublic member to write in with other questions about training. She wrote:

I work for a large company with at least 350 people in IT, but no training department. One of our biggest problems occurs after a project is completed, and we turn the finished product over to the business. We may have trained a few key individuals, or we've rushed on to the next big project - no looking back. Those key people may not have the skills or the will to train others, then the others get discouraged and refuse to use the product.

Since we have offices throughout North America, and now some jobs on other Continents, the lack of user engagement is widespread, and our work is not used. Naturally, complaints follow and the IT staff appears incompetent.

Do you have advice on the best way to encourage management to adopt the idea that training begins in IT? Do you have any Lessons Learned or Best Practices articles for building and maintaining a Training team?

It amazes me how some companies don't see the value of proper end-user training. They're willing to pay thousands of dollars for a new product that is supposed to improve productivity but aren't willing to do the one thing that will help with that product's adoption in the enterprise. A good end-user training strategy will make new software deployments more cost-effective.

And I understand how frustrating it is for IT when they're work is not used simply because end-users don't know how to use it.

If your CIO agrees with you about the need for a formal training program, he should create a business case for it. (Here's a piece from Patrick Gray on what you include in a business case.) Be sure to include as many numbers as you can to make your case, stressing the bottom-line benefits. Without them, the concept of training can seem kind of soft to those who don't get it.

Once you get something approved, you can set about making the training program effective for all the end-users. One of TechRepublic's regular contributors, Deb Shinder, wrote a great piece on how to plan your end-user training strategy before software roll-out. In it, she talks about how you must determine end-user needs and decide the best way to deliver the training. Another source for what to expect in your training courses is a blog written by William Jones called, Keep your training classes useful with these four rules.

I'd like to pose a question to all TechRepublic members to get an idea of the training situation for your companies. Please take the poll below.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

26 comments
RayJeff
RayJeff

....out of all entities. I've spent the majority of my time in IT working in the education field. And in that arena, a school district, college or university will go through different IT systems every 2-4 years. Whether it's a new information manangement system for faculty at a college or univeristy, or an online grading system for public school teachers. While some school districts, colleges and universities may have departments specifically for end-user training, some do not. And especially if the IT department is small, there is no end-user training program. Usually, when there is an initial traning session (training usually by a trainer from the company) when rolling out the system, a member of the IT department may not be present during the training. Basically, the persons who are being trained, have to fend for themselves, as they have the responsibility of traning others. But, if they aren't so technically inclined themselves, how can they teach others. Then, it usually falls upon the one person in the training who is the resident "IT expert" who has to "accept" the responsibility of being called upon as a subject matter expert on the system for everyone else. I have been put in such situations because I happened to be the IT person in a group on non-IT faculty. And also one management system maybe used by several chools in the ame area; i had been "lucky" have experince using a system that is being rolled out at one school at a previous school.

AV .
AV .

My company supports end-user training and I've done several training programs at work. With some, I've used outside trainers and others I've done myself. My biggest problem is that end-users don't always show up and though the company recommends that end-users take the training, they don't make it mandatory. It becomes a problem for IT because they have to train those people one on one or put up with their lack of knowledge because they don't want to take the time to sit in on a training class. AV

misceng
misceng

The lack of training in the use of a newly created package as discussed in the article is a problem but the trouble can start much earlier. A package is successful when the users accept and use it. They will do so only when it meets their needs. Too often the first step, which is neglected, is getting the user to understand what the new development is about and get their feedback. This can have a dramatic effect both on the way the package is developed and the users will to use it.

mattbrewer
mattbrewer

We always provide some form of training for updates and new releases (online simulation, quick ref guides or short classroom sessions), but as there are only 2 of us representing 1200 users across Europe, several systems & branches have become neglected. We've tried training power users in the branches but expecting them to pass on all they know when they have their day job to do becomes unrealistic. We're therefore going to start a branch training programme shortly where we're doing a thorough desktop analysis to identify where knowledge gaps exist in all our systems & software. We'll then put together a schedule of short classroom sessions customised for each branch to address the main gaps, run them and assess/adjust them before moving on to the next branch. It's not going to be perfect, but with the online tools and guides, it should be a big step forward.

jfuller05
jfuller05

We have training programs for new software, but only if a group of people really need it. A couple of weeks ago we had training for new software that took a day and an afternoon (held on Thursday afternoon and Friday), which took time out of important things to do. So, if it's software that will really help out departments, then it's worth taking the time to train users on how to use it. Unfortunately, if it's software that a majority of users won't use then formal training isn't offered. I train them as needed.

steve
steve

well the company that I work for has made us sit through compulsory online "training" for a rollout of a new ITIL compliant problem/change/etc managements system. Despite having used an earlier incarnation of this product at a previous company, I am totally at sea as a *user* of this system. Completely unproductive and very frustrated. If we can't do it for ourselves how can we do it for others?

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

There's too much software and hardware to support. In addition; skill-sets such and PC repair; programming, customer service, software support; cabling for phone and data; network equipment configurations, data-base maintenance, etc...are often required work for many technical professionals. Some of it all in a days work. How do you teach all of this to new students to make them viable help or marketable professionals? All of these things are usually skills learned after years of experience and not everyone is an expert in all areas. It would be an incredible challenge to bring standardization to IT. In the end; would things improve? I think so.

amir.toister
amir.toister

IT training is a wrong concept altogether. You train to get your work done, not to learn how to use tools. In many cases the problem is that the trainers are IT people that expect users to be reasonable and consistent like computers are (that is the response they expect by nature - that's why they went to study computers) and also don't really understand the business situations and constraints which users encounter while using the software. IT tends to forget that it is people that use IT. Don't neglect People. I recommend studying Coaching (as I did after 25 in IT), to understand people better.

roy.evison
roy.evison

I have heard similar from a number of sources, to the extent where it lies dormant on a system for years.Maybe once you have reached the powers that be you don't want to rock the kayak. This is despite potential savings. Train me to do something that is not in my job description? It would seem that this is not going to be cured soon, especially, in the current economic climate. Roy.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but that is one of the services we sell. Seeing as we do support as well training our internal people with the same stuff and to some extent practicing on them is a twofer. This isn't going to be a general scenario, to be worthwhile you need good trainers, materials, facilities and you need to gear up for it. The training budget for IT is low hanging fruit when the cost pruners come out, setting it up if you can to generate revenue as well will shift it up the tree and hopefully out of reach.

erica
erica

My company takes no initiative when it comes to training. It only happens if the person driving the project sees value to conducting it. I like training users on my newly completed software development projects. It cuts down on the support calls!

yattwood
yattwood

That ANY company asymptotically THINKS about training end-users (or, wonder of wonders - the REMAINING IT STAFF) - is a miracle in this day and age! And, I totally agree with the previous poster - I am currently living the 'Outsourcer-Company-From-India-Makes-Great-PowerPoint-Presentation-To-Upper- Management-Causing-Said-Management-To-Think-They're- Going-To-Save-Money-AND-Be-World-Class' reality - the remaining workerbees are fielding requests for information AND meetings AND supporting current users and systems - while watching the outsourcer's staff come in, knowing (of course) MORE about the systems YOU'VE been SUPPORTING for the past several years! And the workerbees, being 'salaried exempt', of course are NOT paid extra or given compensatory time for all the weekends, nights and holidays spent working moving to the outsourcer's data center, with the expectation of being shown the door in about 18 months to two years.......

ApplSecurityGeek
ApplSecurityGeek

Maybe the end users aren't being trained because the support people are not being trained either. It's a learn-as-you-go world these days; keeping IT costs down means cutting everything to bone including training. Deploying solutions that users don't know how to use and admins don't know how to support makes no sense to those of us in IT, but the bean counters are the ones in charge, and all they think about are this quarter's numbers.

Zykon
Zykon

I FULLY understand this mans issue...I work for a FET College...we have over 500 people (end users) on Admin side and over 10 000 (10K) students...and i get fully aggro if an end user blames you for a "broken" pc...but they cant even use a mouse...let alone work on it...

reisen55
reisen55

Where is your corporate IT support coming from? The concept of an in-house department as opposed to India and outsourcing has already destroyed the reputation of IT. Outsourcing firms say they provide quality support, and sometimes, rarely, some diamonds show up but for the most part it is a horror show. In these environments, you do not get quality. If domestic workers are actually employed, wages of $12 an hour do not attract the best talent either. Gifted individuals are looked down upon with scorn these days because American management is convinced that India is THE PLACE for quality support. And it is not.

Zykon
Zykon

Please let me know how/what you guys do... I'd like to suggest something like that too...we not as wide spread with our business. the furthest site is 400km away from our headoffice...and we also do the train one to train the rest type thing when people go for training...but that doesnt always help...one point missed to one means all the rest misses that point aswell...then call IT dept...i dunno, i didnt get training....etc... anyhooo...

david.skues
david.skues

Two schools of thought here: train the monkey to push the button to get the work done, or train the employee to use the tools available to get the work done better, faster, cheaper and possibly innovate to create entirely new business opportunities. Management often goes for the "replaceable monkey" model and the business suffers for it. The best companies use the "tap your employee's talents" approach and whomp on their competition with better efficiency, customer service and innovations - eg. Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines, etc.

karen
karen

Our IT dept is small, but we are constantly adding modifications, new developments, and so forth to our current system. Our IT department started a continuing education class that would meet 1 to 2 times a week. Management liked it so much, they created a "Continuing Education" department. Each week, they will hold one or two class to teach any new changes to the programs and if nothing new, they will go over existing programs again. This insures that the users have an up to date review often of the programming and how it all works together. This has helped tremendously and IT is no longer accused of breaking everything and making all the decisions. We are a small company, about $60 mil in sales, but this has proven to be invaluable.

david.skues
david.skues

The more I deal with decisions made by accountants the less I believe that accountants should be making any business decisions. We have several systems that automate our business processes, but no one, including IT has been trained to use or support them. As a result, no one trusts the data in those systems and everyone keeps asking IT for ways to export the data in those systems to PDFs, or spreadsheets so that they can share the data in these centrally accessible systems. In short the decision to not spend money on adequate training to use the automated systems results in users "manualizing" the automated system which negates any potential gains in efficiency or productivity. Yet the "bean counters" declare that training costs too much while ignoring that constant manualized workarounds are far more expensive ongoing costs.

mafergus
mafergus

Follow up with your power users? Are their identified resources that may be available to the users? In my experience those have been the key to ensuring knowledge is not only available, but being used.

david.skues
david.skues

Do you have any suggestions on how we can pitch that? This sounds like one of the best ideas I've heard for employee training. This coupled with a "users group" if you have employees competent enough to participate in one.

Kelly_C
Kelly_C

Karen, I work in a similar environment and we have toyed around with this idea in the past (probably more like once or twice a month instead of weekly). Do you have any tips on issues you had to overcome to implement this or how you organized it with changes taking place to many apps that might end up being used by different departments?

mafergus
mafergus

We developed a similar system with a few twists. We developed a core group of power users in each business area. We didn't have any issues with people wanting to learn, but each functional group was so disparate, they didn't/couldn't see the similarities for the common software. These people became invaluable. They liked helping, knew their business unit and helped us to understand those needs as well. This alone was a major aid as it helped us make smarter decisions about software and purchasing. Budgets were being cut, but we cut a deal with a local training house to provide discount training and we used our people to help with the curriculum. It was invaluable to both sides. Courses were then made part of the standard continuing ed that already existed in the company. This support varied between business units, but it put IT training on the same level as the other coursework.

Kelly_C
Kelly_C

Thanks Karen. Great ideas and guidelines to keep in mind. I'll add them to my notes as we pursue this within our own company, and will definitely remember the final item....have patience :)

karen
karen

1. We had to get our "students" interested in learning. To do this we started with classes on Team Analysis and Self Analysis. Eveyone is interested in "Self Analysis" 2. We had to identify the users "skill level" and group them accordingly. You know the "know it all" from the "know nothing" groups. 3. We are continually moving forward and not only train "how to" but "why" the software works as it does. 4. Initially we are targeting our Sales group, but have future plans to include other departments. 5. We are providing outside "guest" to show how other businesses do business. This serves to educate as well as motivate. 6. Keep the classes small. This encourages participation. Three things we have to keep in mind in implementing this is a) Gain their trust b) Keep it fresh and c) Have lots of patience. This is a new concept for us, and we are continually trying new approaches. This has been a learning opportunity for everyone, especially those of us conducting the classes. It's not easy, but the payoff is well worth the effort put forth. Good Luck.

karen
karen

I wasn't involved in the actual classes, I am the programmer/analyst, but I will ask the people in charge and get back with you on this. I am sure they went through a trial and error phase. They probably still are, but I will pose these questions to them and get you a response.

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