By: Robert Green
Dedicating a little time to training in a consistent, thoughtful way will help you ward off problems before they arise. Here’s how to set up a simple, effective training program for your users.
In a previous installment of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we talked about implementing a proactive CAD management program, so problems can be prevented rather than fixed. One of the key elements of that proactive approach is a plan for ongoing, regularly scheduled user training.
In this edition, we will explore some updated best practices for developing your own training program. Here goes.
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Time Is Money, so Choose Wisely
If time is money, then doesn’t it stand to reason that time in training means money spent on training? You bet it does. Does management like spending money? No. So, it also stands to reason that a great training program should achieve the maximum amount of knowledge transfer with the smallest amount of classroom time — thereby keeping costs down and management happy. But how can you meet all these objectives? By picking your training topics carefully, and prioritizing them to cover only the most relevant topics.
How can you choose training topics that will have a significant impact on your users’ workflows? First, consider the following prompts, and make a list of your answers:
- What processes do users complain about?
- What causes rework?
- What standards and procedures are being violated?
Next, the question becomes how to prioritize the topic list you just made. Consider these metrics:
- Which topic(s) address the greatest number of users?
- Which topic(s) will save the greatest amount of time?
- Which topic(s) will help you prevent more problems?
If you find a training topic that meets all (or even just two) of the criteria given while generating time savings and/or error prevention for a large percentage of users, then you’ve got a winning topic! If you focus your training program on these types of topics, you can’t go wrong.
Stress Substance and Speed over Style
Great training means delivering information in an easy-to-understand manner — and doing so as quickly as possible. Simple training delivered sooner will always beat fancier training delivered later.
Some of the best training sessions I’ve ever delivered were done with very basic course guide handouts and simple examples. Conversely, some of the worst training sessions I’ve ever attended had huge demonstration data sets and ornate graphics, but the instructor simply couldn’t communicate the information clearly.
- It is better to train users sooner with basic examples and course materials than to delay training while you put together an elaborate presentation.
- If you can’t explain the concepts in a way that users understand, nothing else matters.
Examples and Course Guides
What’s the quickest, easiest way to get examples and course guides constructed for your training class? Here’s what I do:
Conceive an exercise. This is what I will use during training, so it needs to be simple enough to understand, yet demonstrate the concepts clearly. Go through the exercise in rehearsal mode and save “before” and “after” cases of each step as you go.
Make screen captures of all menus and pertinent steps. I simply run through the exercise again in rehearsal mode and take screenshots (I use TechSmith Snagit for this task), which I then paste into a Word document to create a simple, chronologically ordered handout.
Put in instructions. Now I simply add basic instruction text among my screen captures, explaining how to work through the exercise.
Check it — and double-check it. I then work through the exercise again, using my completed course guide to check that everything flows correctly. When I’m done making any fixes, I hand off my course guide to a trusted power user for a “sanity and spell check” just to make sure everything is clear.
Train Like a Mentor
When you perform your training, take the same attitude you would if you were mentoring a user one-on-one. Use plain language with an easy conversational style, and don’t be nervous! If you focus on explaining things well, you’ll find that users won’t much care about your delivery style. Just know that if you communicate in such a way that users understand everything, you you’ll be perceived as a great instructor.
Project Your Training
No, I’m not talking about projecting your speech! It’s important to use a projector or full-screen, wall-mounted display so everyone in the room can clearly see your examples and demonstrations. The old saying “show me, don’t tell me” truly does apply when it comes to training; if users can’t see what you’re talking about, they certainly won’t understand it.
If you’ll be running training from your computer or a laptop, take the time to record it using a computer recording software tool (I use TechSmith Camtasia) to capture your demonstrations and discussion. The reasoning is simple: If you record it, then you’ll never have to repeat it.
After the training, simply save your recording to a common format (such as Flash or MOV) and place the video and exercise files on your server so anyone can watch the training again and again until they’ve got it down.
Repeat after me: Never repeat training! Record it instead, and let the user repeat it whenever needed!
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Think you can just do one or two training exercises and be done? No way! If anything, training should be a permanent, ongoing process — and one that’s constantly evolving. Consider the following guidelines:
- Keep building and prioritizing your training list to keep adapting to current needs, and train the highest-prioritized topics first.
- Consider how new projects may change standards or involve new users, and train accordingly.
- Consider how new software updates could change training requirements, and think about any training topics that may be required.
My conclusion is that every time I think I’m done training, some change in software or project load comes along that requires me to start training again. Therefore, I’m of the opinion that training should never stop.
Try adopting these best practices to make training a permanent part of your CAD management task load:
- Set aside a fixed training time slot for every other week.
- Keep the training slot short (I recommend half an hour).
- Use the techniques above consistently, and you’ll produce training material much faster than you think.
Follow these guidelines, and training will become part of your CAD culture – and that’s the goal.
Training doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming or overly complex if you follow my basic training strategies. In fact, you should be able to start knocking out small problem-solving training exercises in just a couple of hours, once you get the hang of it. My hope is that you’ll experience the same success with proactive training that I have. Until next time.
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