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Ranked right beneath QA, IT training and documentation (T&D) has historically been the least valued department in IT. It gets this rank because it has been viewed by technically-oriented IT departments as needless overhead that does nothing to contribute toward meeting project deadlines or getting new systems written and deployed.

However, as more IT departments make transitions into a service culture, these departments want to become more user-centric and service-oriented. Investing in strong user training and documentation is an integral part of a service culture.

CIOs and key IT managers should be reassessing user training and documentation because those user-facing functions can make a major difference in user satisfaction, system and application acceptance, and overall impressions of IT performance.

SEE: 10 tips for helping your users follow IT documentation (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Trainers and documentation writers make new systems and applications understandable to users because they can put these systems and their functions into plain English that an average non-IT person can understand. The more users understand and appreciate new systems and apps, the greater the likelihood that the apps and systems will be adopted and used in the business over the long haul.

User adoption is critical–it is what ultimately determines a system’s usability and success, or a system’s failure and relegation to shelfware that no one uses and that fails all ROI tests.

The cost of shelfware or wasted IT projects and software is daunting. According to Gartner, any sourcing and vendor management leaders not only have paid software fees for shelfware, but also continue to pay 20% to 22% annual maintenance on them–with 93% of companies still spending on some of their underused software products. IT knows this, but it doesn’t always know how to correct the problem. Investing in effective end user training and documentation can help.

Here are four ways the IT team can improve the results of its training and documentation function.

1. Plan for training and documentation in every project and implementation

In so many projects, training and documentation are barely line items in the plan. If a project is behind schedule, T&D may even be skipped altogether–avoid the temptation to do this. There is nothing worse than foisting a complicated and untrained system upon users and then just letting them run with it. Instead, include system user training and burn-in time to assure user acceptance and confidence.

2. Give training and documentation a place at the project planning table

T&D should never be treated as a second-class citizen in project planning, since it is integral to user acceptance of new systems. Upfront, T&D staff can provide valuable input into the ergonomic design of new systems and what it is going to take to effectively integrate these new products into existing business processes for successful implementation and user endorsement.

3. Invest in new training and documentation tools

There are new software documentation tools that help automate the documentation process for users and internal IT that can make the documenter’s job that much easier. Additionally, simulation and computer-based training tools can assist in getting users trained for new systems. All of these tools deserve a serious look to streamline and modernize IT training and documentation.

4. Develop career paths for trainers and writers

The traditional career path for IT trainers and writers has been to graduate into systems or business analysis; it’s still a good path because these individuals tend to excel as communicators and as user-facing employees. If your IT department is large enough, an alternate path is to advance them to higher managerial positions in T&D.