Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Day 5: The Value of Workshops

Almost bi-weekly I see traffic and posts on the "uselessness of training." Especially in regards to implementation training for IT projects.

In an ideal world:

- The tool would be easy to use and so user-friendly that it would require little to no guidance for getting started.

- All stakeholders would have had a say in the decision so no need for training as sales pitch.

- And the tool would solve an actual problem at both the organizational level AND at the individual level.

In 5+ years of implementation training, I've seen that happen.....once.
And in that one holy grail instance, we just provided FAQs and help desk support.

I fear I have seen a once-in-a-career convergence of events, never to be seen again.
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Since many of us are still expected to do implementation training (because that is a step in a project), this is the model I find useless:

- Drag people into a classroom 2+ weeks before go live.
- Give them a training on how to push the buttons and all of the cool features you are supposed to be able to do with the program.
- Give them an exercise that models the ideal world that they don't live in.
- Send them on their way.
- Pray go-live isn't a complete cluster****

I know this because I've designed and delivered this type of training before.

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What I have been doing for this project is not necessarily "training" using this classic model. And though it has some flaws, the general consensus is that it helped.

Yes, there is an objective. The objective for the Vignette classes is for them to be able to get the work done that they need to get done. For the immediate future - that work is to get their content loaded for the new web site.

And like a good graduate-degreed instructional design-type person, I tried to design backwards from that.

To achieve the objective, we are spending quality time

- Logging people into the live system and fixing their permissions. None of this "training system" business. Yes, there IS a risk training in live, but the removal of having to get back to the desk and finding nothing working because they can't log in.

- Making them nose around in the areas they need to be nosing around in. Again, to make sure they have the correct permissions.

- Asking LOTS of questions about what they are trying to accomplish before AND during the session.

- Focusing only on their immediate concerns in the classroom. Give them other resources they can access later when they need it.

I designed this particular course to give them a few hours to get some of their actual content in the live system. This is their practice. NOT the phony "Here's how WE think you should do it examples."

As with any training, a baseline walk-through helps them visualize what is supposed to happen (especially when the system doesn't crash). I try to grab an actual item they need to turn into a web page. Provides context. I then try to let them loose on the system as quickly as possible.

Having them in the classroom and providing a couple of hours after the actual "training" for them to do real work has been where the true value of the implementation training has been. We can see if there are technical hiccups, access problems, disconnects between the content they need to load and the templates they have to work with.

The time also allows the team to answer questions about why things are the way they are. Or determine better ways to configure the system. Or at least address the thing they are scared of.

The best implementation training, I am finding, is a conversation. To do this, you need to plan for enough flexibility to make at least some changes (both from the IT end and from the end-user process end) so that whatever beast you are trying to implement works for the people who need to use it.

Yes, I hate it when someone feels the need to "redesign the application" 3 weeks before launch. Especially when that someone has absolutely no clue how to turn on a computer, much less what it takes to design, program and configure a major application. And most especially when that person has been involved in all of the decision-making meetings, but suddenly found they had an opinion right NOW (after being repeatedly asked for 6 months prior).

But underneath the whining is good information about usability and potential sticking points for when things go live. All stuff that can be addressed when you start designing tools and resources for those who come after.

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We are now moving to the Open Work Session portion of the training. People will be walking in to ask questions and do some work with help available.

I think this is where the REAL education, for all of us, begins.

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