Companies
of all sizes spend a significant amount of their IT budgets on software. New
desktop operating systems can enhance security and run more sophisticated
applications, and those new applications can automate tasks previously done
manually or provide easier and faster accomplishment of tasks previously
performed using older software, thus enhancing productivity. But you won’t see
the bottom line benefits of these upgrades unless the end-users of the software
can successfully make the transition. That’s why it’s important to plan an
end-user training strategy before you roll out new software, and make sure the
plan is scalable so it can grow with your company.

Setting training
goals

Your first
objective in providing software training for end-users is minimizing any
productivity losses associated with the software transition. This means you
have to, as quickly as possible, get them up to the skill level required to do
their jobs at least as quickly and accurately as they were doing with the old
software (or manual methods). Then in the next phase, you want the software to
help users do their jobs more
quickly, accurately, and/or securely than before.

It’s
important to be realistic about the timeframes in which you expect to
accomplish these objectives. These timeframes will be dependent on the
complexity of the new software as well as the number of users who need training
and their beginning skill levels. Upgrading to a new version of the same software
already being used can present special challenges. Training might be expected
to proceed more quickly because users are already familiar with a previous
version. However, if there are many changes in the new version or it has a very
different interface (such as the “ribbon” in Office 2007 that will replace the
menus and toolbars users are familiar with in previous versions), users may
actually find an upgrade more difficult than switching to a completely new
software package because of their existing expectations.

Remember
that all software packages aren’t created equal, and neither are all users.

Assessing
end-user needs

An
important element in creating your training plan is to evaluate the technical
skill level(s)
of those who will actually use the software on a daily
basis. Some software, such as a new desktop operating system, may be rolled out
throughout your entire organization. Some application programs may be installed
only in a particular department (such as accounting software in the finance
department or illustration software in the graphic design department) or only
made available to employees with specific roles (for example, secretaries or
department heads).

In many
cases, software end-users are not particularly technically savvy, but you may
have different technical skill levels within a group. It’s important in that
case to provide different levels of training. Technical novices will need more
focused, step-by-step instruction in basics, whereas more skilled computer
users will quickly pick up the basics and benefit from more training that shows
them how to use more obscure or advanced features of the software. Attempting
to train the two groups together will result in the novices being overwhelmed
and confused and the more skilled users wasting time that could have been spent
doing their work.

Training delivery
methods

The next
step is to assess methods of delivering the necessary training. Again, there
are several factors to take into consideration:

  • User skill levels as determined
    by your needs assessment
  • Number of users to be trained
  • Timeframe for rollout of the
    software (and whether you’ll be doing it in phases or throughout the
    entire organization at once)

There are several
different methods for delivering training, and you may want to use a
combination of these, especially in a large organization. The least effective
is, unfortunately, the one used by most small organizations and many larger
ones: the IT equivalent of throwing the kid in the water and letting him sink
or swim. Suddenly the new OS or application appears on the end-user’s computer,
perhaps with a copy of the manual, and it’s up to the user to figure it out and
the company’s IT support desk to untangle the messes the user gets into. Some
better training methods include:

  • Individual hands-on
    instructor–An instructor walks each user individually through the process
    of performing common tasks and answers questions. This is the most
    expensive method, although potentially the most effective.
  • Hands-on classroom style
    instructor-led training–An instructor shows users how the software works
    and how to perform common tasks, with users performing the tasks
    themselves in a classroom/lab setting. Each user or pair of users has a
    computer on which to practice. Classes of 15 to 30 are often effective.
  • Seminar style group
    demonstration–An instructor shows users how the software works and how to
    perform common tasks in a live demonstration. Groups of 20 to 50 are often
    effective.
  • Computer Based Training (CBT)–CD-based
    or online (Web-based) self-paced training which allows end-users to complete
    interactive lessons that walk them through the processes of performing
    common tasks, and the software tests them on their performance and
    understanding.
  • Book-based self-paced
    training–End-users complete workbook lessons in how to perform common
    tasks, often illustrated with screenshots.

Whichever
delivery method(s) you choose, it’s helpful to first conduct a pilot training
program of a small, selected group of users that best represent your overall
user base. This will help you to identify problems and issues with various
training methods before committing to one.

Creating a
training program

End-user
training is more effective and memorable if you tailor it to your own
organization’s use of the software, rather than generic lessons. For example
Microsoft Word instruction should include examples of actual templates that your
users will be using for their documents. Some elements of your lesson plan
should include:

  • The purpose of the software.
  • Tasks the user will complete
    with the software
  • How it differs from previous
    versions or products it’s replacing (if applicable)
  • Common problems users may
    encounter
  • Security issues related to the
    software

Making your
training program scalable

A scalable
training program is flexible enough to accommodate both small numbers of users
(for example, when new employees join the company and need to be trained on the
software) and large numbers (as is necessary in an organization-wide rollout of
a new product).

You can get
many of the benefits of individualized training without the high cost by using
a combination of computer-based training and seminar-style training where users
can ask questions and practice the skills with guidance from an instructor. CBT
has the advantage of being able to scale up or down depending on the number of
users you need to train, and users are able to proceed at their own pace,
rather than having to keep up with or being held back by the rest of the class.