Thursday, April 23, 2009

Agenda? What Agenda?

EMail is not an application that really requires "training."

Most people get a hold of a new email ap, fiddle with it to make sure they can do basic tasks (send email, receive email, add attachments, etc), then they want to be left alone.

Still - we have to be prepared for the group that expects to be walked through the entire process.

The group we had earlier this week was not that group.

Young. Self-motivated. Computer-savvy. Curious.

They had already been fiddling in the new system for a week.

Smartest thing we did - went around the room and asked what their problems / issues were with the new system.

We then chucked the agenda and moved forward as a Question / Answer workshop with their own accounts in Live.

Understand that none of the trainers (including me) had ever been through training on this product. And this group uses BlackBerries (which I have touched once - for the Executive Vice President of Academicky Stuff's training).

Things we knew, we shared.

Things we didn't know, we wrote down and, time permitting, we figured out together as a group.

Things the students discovered, we let them share and wrote down and encouraged them to let us know if they found other cool tips.

Of course, in any group - there is always 1 person who is much slower than the rest. And, of course, this person is the highest ranking person in the room.

Most of the time, our strategy is to make sure we have 2 trainers or a trainer and a tech person in the room to "isolate" the person requiring extra care and feeding.

In this case - he didn't want the trainers to mess with him after he got his initial answers and worked with the team members sitting next to him if he had further questions.

At the end - problems they were having (mostly with Calendar and the BlackBerry) were solved, a few "we need to figure this one out" takeaways were given, and everyone thought the time spent was useful.

The "workshop" format (students bring in their own projects / issues and work on them in real-time) in the classroom seems to be working so much better than the old school talk and practice using "my" examples.

So the next challenge is....how do you train old-school trainers who are used to having an agenda how to facilitate this sort of session? Throw them to the wolves (the way I learned how to do it)? Come up with a "system"? So many of our projects over the next year are going to demand this sort of give and take. How do we get them ready?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Heart IT Folks

I love working with IT folks.

Big reason: I can bounce ideas off of most of them. My favorites love problem solving. And if my idea is too danged crazy, they are upfront about it - giving me careful explanations as to WHY I am crazy and what other options may be available.

Over the past couple of weeks, one of the IT guys and I have been sharing ideas on an application we know only the basics about. The work is for a project that will either a) explode quickly and create a great deal of work in a very short period of time or b) get cancelled. We are all planning for the former and, if nothing else, what we learn from the preparation can carry over into the replacement project.

We have a pretty good process going.

The IT guy sends me a solution to a problem an end-user is having.

I attempt to translate the instructions into "end-user-eze" - often finding more variables for the success / failure of the solution.

We work back and forth until we find a manageable workflow.

I document it into a quick reference.

A little more back and forth to make sure it all makes sense.

Quick reference goes to the help desk folks and the end users.

This process is proving to be surprisingly productive.

One day, we have a grand idea for a wiki to house all of this information and allow the trainers to crib information for public consumption. This will probably happen once the project becomes formal.

I work with awesome people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

RTFM as an option

My relative silence on the interwebs have been a result of a project eating up a lot of my time / stress-coping capabilities / mental bandwidth.

It's an implementation that's not really an implementation. Therefore, no real plan, no standardization, and few resources. Just higher ups demanding things yesterday and us jumping - damn the consequences. These things happen.

In an attempt to get some semblance of control over the process and mitigate potential damage, I sat down and thought of some training options.

I had some goals:
- Minimize "seat time". In every organization, during every implementation - higher ups want people out of the office / away from their desk / out of commission as little as possible.

- Maximize "hands on" time. There is too much research that straight lecture doesn't work.

- Maximize retention. A goal of every training. Maximizing retention helps accomplish the next two goals.

- Minimize resources on-site. We have lots of projects on our plate beyond these "emergencies." As a group - we realized that on-site support for the initial implementation (for this particular group) was unavoidable. When everyone is over-taxed, the quality of service goes down for everyone (especially for the groups not getting our attention).

- Reduce "babysitting" requirements. This is a correllary to the above. More time spent cleaning up / babysitting the prior group means less attention to the next group. This may also be the most immediately measurable piece of the success of the training. If we reduce the number of help-desk calls / panicky visits as a result of the above project, we reduce the overall resources required for the project. Money, attention and resources can be spent on higher priority items (you know, the planned stuff).

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After writing up 4 different training plans and 3 different outlines (with 2 sections - the actual class and stuff we will get asked about later), I got the pit-of-stomach feeling that this was all a useless exercise.

I want to throw up my hands, do a training on how to RTFM, remind them that they are all professional, educated adults, unplug my phone, do an auto-dump of all incoming email, and find a nice hidey hole near a vending machine.

I was feeling pretty guilty about this.

After reading Harold Jarche's recent post, I'm thinking that may be where we are headed anyway.

As Harold pointed out, training functions are headed towards supporting collaborative (people learning from each other) and self-directed (RTFM) work. In this instance, the time we (the IT department) spend with the group serves as part of the collaborative function. Helping people become more independent so they can help each other. The materials - the self-directed function.

Maybe I shouldn't unplug my phone just yet.

Friday, April 10, 2009

WoW - thoughts after a couple of months

I've now been at this World of Warcraft thing for a couple of months.

Ellyz (Zangarmarsh US server), as of last night, is now a level 35 warrior (should ding 36 sometime this evening). I've been playing her exclusively the last couple of weeks.

A few thoughts:

- Many of the low-level characters in the servers I have played on are often folks who have leveled a few characters to 80 and want to try something new. They are not noobs. I've had a couple of people shocked that at level 35 I don't know the entire environment (both physical and cultural). Such is the risk when you come to a community late. Of any sort.....

- A large portion of the people I have encountered (both in-world and in real life) are leveling as fast as possible in order to get to "end-game". I see the same thing in online tutorials - get through the content as fast as possible in order to get to the certificate. Something to keep in mind when I design learning. Many people just aren't interested in "exploring."

- That said, I find that the complexity Blizzard has built into the environment does a nice job of addressing any needs I may have when playing. Some sessions - I meander aimlessly trying to fill in my map. Some sessions - I hunt for monsters to gain tradeable goods (skins, meat and rocks) and experience points for no purpose other than to get goods and experience (known as "grinding"). Some sessions - I try to knock out Quests (often - more focused grinding). Occasionally (OK - twice), I run instances with the guild. That variety - plus the occasional goal - keeps me coming back. For those who are more interested in the process (and are frankly more casual players than the raid and dungeon-focused variety), the variety may attract players (like me) who otherwise would not play (or not keep playing).

- This complexity also encourages you to keep tweaking. Find ways to improve. Much like golf - you can never truly "master" the sport. Hence the growth of interface add ons, blogs, reference sites, etc. Only some from Blizzard - most from the very large user community. It's this type of community I would love to build for our enterprise system. Blizzard gave them the base - the community ran with it.

- Some of the best quest lines have a compelling story. One quest line has you looking for goods to heal a man's daughter. The challenge-levels were just right. I kept going back to Ashenvale - even though I had pretty much finished what I wanted to do there - if only to finish that quest line. Good stuff.

- Some of the worst quests have you grind through a certain number of monsters and pray that you a) find the meandering "boss" or b) pray a special item drops. This is even worse when you are grinding through humanoids - who tend to run and gang up on you. There has been more than one instance where I have wiped out an entire community and not gotten that one special item. Or had someone else take it after I had done all of the dirty work (hmmm....much like life...) Grrrr.......

- I find that my hesitancies with grouping in WoW mirror my hesitancies with grouping in real life. It's one thing for me to make a mistake by myself. I pay my own consequences. Quite another when you are impacting other people. I've gotten better at game mechanics, but I am very unpracticed at grouping and my role in it. The last thing I want to do is wipe a party because I missed something or because I'm not fast enough with the interface. Dungeon play also means you gotta be there for the whole thing. That means setting aside a few uninterrupted hours. The group expects you to be there and your full attention. I often play WoW while watching hockey. As a result - I don't do as many dungeon runs as others in my guild. People have less and less concentrated time. We need to keep that in mind during our design.

It's been an interesting ride so far. I still have lots to learn, especially when it concerns grouping.

And if any of you find yourself hanging in Azeroth, you know where to find me.....

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Teaching "The Model" in practice

Over the course of my career, I've had ample opportunity to train others on things I know next to nothing about.

This time, I was tasked to train our new Executive Vice President of Academicky Stuff (not his real title) on the email system. He will be using a Blackberry Storm to get email and calendar information.

Understand, I have never even touched a Blackberry.

Heck, I can still barely operate my LG Dare.

And I know enough about mucky mucks to know that their attention will be on the shiny new toy. Not the email/calendar system.

This turned out to be a classic example of how Clark Quinn's "Train the model" concept works in practice.

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7:00am - receive 2 emails:
- 1st email - from the IT folks....."The Blackberry is here!"
- 2nd email - from Executive Vice President of Academicky Stuff's secretary telling me that training is occurring at 4:15pm that day.

8:30am - ask to spend some time with the Blackberry expert to get my hands on it so that I am not going in completely cold. Predict that the 30 minutes we are given for the training will be spent on the Blackberry - not on the email system.

10:30am - spend an hour with the Blackberry expert watching her fight to get it configured correctly. This email system is still in beta for our organization and the implementation is still haphazard (at best).

11:30am - finally get my hands on the Blackberry for 10 minutes. Learn the following:
- The multiple dot buttons takes you to menus
- The "back arrow" takes you back
- The alt key takes you to the upper symbols
- Numbers are on the left - use the alt key to access unless using the phone.
- Capitalization keys are on either side of the space bar
- The trackball highlights. Mouse appears occasionally. Press the trackball in to select.
- What the icons mean appear on the bottom of the screen.

11:40am - figure that with this model of operation, I can at least muddle through most questions. Plan to transfer that very fresh learning experience to the student. Pray that he is a patient "self-learning" sort.....

11:45am - 4:00pm - work on other stuff. It's been a crazy week and a half.

4:00pm - Collect the Blackberry expert and the Project Manager to walk over to the Executive Vice President of Academicky Stuff's (EVPAS) office.

4:15pm - EVPAS gets an eye on the new toy. Work with him for 20 minutes on selecting ring tones, web browsing, the GPS, and, eventually, the calendar and email functions. The Blackberry expert and Project Manager work on final configuration issues.

EVPAS: Have you ever used this Blackberry before?

Me: Nope, just saw it this morning. Thought we could figure this thing out together. We're giving you the documents in case we don't cover something.

EVPAS: That works. Hey - how do I......

4:40pm - spend 5 minutes showing him the thing I was supposed to show him (the email / calendar system on his desktop).

4:45pm - drop off a quick reference, give him some business cards, leave EVPAS with the Blackberry and associated goodies, and tell him to call us if he needs anything.

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Despite walking in without having a clue of what I was doing (sadly, a more frequent occurrence than I care to admit), EVPAS seemed happy and reasonably comfortable with the way the new toy worked. And none of us have received a panicky/angry phone call from his office this morning.

At the end of it all, he had a baseline model for muddling through, immediate support references for self-learning (the quick references and documents), and people he could call (me, the Blackberry expert, and the Project Manager).

After the training, EVPAS offered to have us back over for cookies when he gets settled in. I'm going to take that as a good sign.....

Monday, April 06, 2009

Keeping it short

I spent some quality time in the weeds last week. Just now peeking out. I think it's safe.....

Lesson learned: If you want help - ask for it on THEIR terms not yours. I don't particularly like this lesson. I have grand dreams of everyone working the same way I do with the same definition of what teamwork entails. I am also delusional. Last week was a strong reminder of this fact.

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Happy Birthday Stephen Downes! I have learned so much from you. :')

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Some ugly points on the way to the 2nd Southeastern Division Championship for the Capitals. I hope this is not a harbinger of their style of play for the playoffs.

I guess they don't call them "Cardiac Caps" for nothing.

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I've started grouping with my little warrior gnome - Ellyz (Zangarmarsh server, US). Thankfully, the guild leader - Iamawarlock - is a senior player with multiple characters and has played a tank-warrior. He's been patiently guiding me through the fine points of tanking and grouping. It's been interesting and I'm still getting the feel for how things work. Very happy I managed to find one person who is patient enough to let me learn on the job.

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I saw Mark O has discovered Squeez Bacon. I am deeply frightened.