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6 critical success factors for your next IT Systems Training Program

Training in an organisational context can take genesis from a number of different origins.  Often there is an organisational drive to improve workplace practices, maintain current skills levels or some external driver such as government accreditation.  These programs can be driven by the business or a dedicated Learning and Development business unit, often under the umbrella of Human Resources.

Another key driver for training and re-skilling is the introduction of new Information technology systems.  As more and more systems move to enterprise level solutions, every area of a large organisation is touched by this technology.  Often combining offline business processes and procedures with explicit steps required within the IT system, these solutions can be difficult for some employees to learn especially for those segments of the workforce with a lower level of IT literacy.

Where does Training fit in?

So how does Training fit into the overall Program of work?  I’m going to focus on enterprise level IT system projects.  Many organisations employ a project management methodology such as PRINCE2, or Agile.  These are just different approaches to managing and implementing the project.  Often there will be a dedicated project team consisting of a Project Manager, Project Coordinator, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), Technical Experts, Business Representatives, Testers & Trainers.  Some of the resources may be dedicated, some may be part-time and working on several projects along with business as usual (BAU) activities – that is their day to day duties.

The structure of the project will include standardised documentation such as the business case, a project plan, a project schedule, work breakdown structure, along with other artifacts such as meeting agendas, minutes, status reports etc. that are produced as the project progresses and used to track deliverables and provide accountability.  The project team will normally meet at least once weekly, supplemented by other meetings and workshops as required.  The project manager will report to the sponsor and/or project board for guidance and sign off on critical strategic decisions.  The trainer will align their schedule and deliverables with the overall project plan and schedule.

1.  Engage your Trainer Early in the project life-cycle

The trainer is normally engaged early in the project to ensure they are available to attend key meetings and workshops and to give them time to learn the business processes, system and solution.  This however is not always the case, and often the trainer will be engaged at a later date in the project often to save money.  Training can be seen as an after thought where the end users of the system are just shown how to access the system and given their log on and then left to their own devices.

A good project manager will engage the trainer early on in the process to ensure a deep level of engagement.  The trainer will need time to conduct impact assessments and training needs analysis (TNA).  This process starts early on to ensure enough time to reach all the key stakeholders and impacted areas of the business.  This is especially important for geographically dispersed workforces, as engagement with every area of the business will not only ensure inclusiveness but provide for a much wider level of adoption and take up when the system goes live.  Make sure you also have contingency should you experience project delays or require post go-live support.

2.  Insist on an Impact Assessments and a Training Needs Analysis

The training needs analysis highlights key areas of focus for the strategic approach of training as well as learning needs of the many varied audiences.  These are also a way to help start to build a champions network across the organisation.  Champions are the people within the organisation that you can call on to become key users of the system and help embed the change across the organisation.  Special needs of the training audience will also be identified in these sessions e.g. ESL, ageing workforce, shift workers.  The TNA can also shed  light on logistical considerations like rooms and resources for training, access to facilities etc.  The impact workshops themselves are generally a facilitated discussion where the attendees are guided through a series of questions about the proposed system and change that are designed to illicit discussion amongst the group and highlight any risks, issues and areas of resistance to the proposed change.  These can then be documented and a mitigation strategy put in place to minimise them.

3.  Get Business agreement on your Training Strategy and Plan

The trainer next needs to put together a strategy and plan for the training.  The strategy is higher level.  What is the training approach?  Will we be delivering face to face training, remote online training via technology such as Webex, eLearning?  Will we be using a train the trainer approach where we identify and train key users across the business who can then go and train other staff at their site?  Do we need to assess staff as part of the learning process?  Once some of these key decisions are made and socialised with the business, the trainer can begin to work on the training plan.  The training plan will start to solidify what is happening and when.  There will be a process to design, develop and deliver the training content according to the training strategy.

4.  Schedule Subject Matter Experts to help the Trainer develop content

Training content development is normally done in conjunction between the trainer and the SMEs.  The SMEs will provide the expert guidance and knowledge and the trainer will document and turn this information into relevant training modules in accordance with the training strategy and plan.  SMEs can be technically or business focused, and often there will be a mix of both on a project to get a full end to end understanding of the technology and process changes that are being implemented within the business.  The training artifacts are produced and then go through a review and sign off process.  These training materials will include training manuals, quick reference guides, trainer notes, training slide decks, scripts, activities, session plans, online help and eLearning.

5.  Provide the trainer with a fully configured system early on

An important dependency for the IT system trainer to complete their work is to have a fully configured system they can access to be able to step through each part of the program that they will be teaching.  This is important from both a learning perspective for the trainer, but also for them to be able to document the steps involved and take screenshots and videos for the training materials.  Some vendors provide out of the box training materials, often these will be generic in nature and not take into consideration any configurations, customisations, branding or business processes.  The trainer normally gets access to this system during the User Acceptance Testing (UAT) phase, or just prior.  Often this compresses the time available for training materials development.  Remember to allow time for the review and approval process as well as printing of any physical materials.  For eLearning, you’ll need to liaise with the Learning Management System (LMS) Administrator to upload and host the modules.

6.  Leverage your Champion Network to facilitate training logistics, delivery and drive success

Once all the training materials have been developed for all the modules and courses, materials need to be printed, workbooks produced, rooms booked and invites sent out to participants for each session.  This is a big logistical job that the project administrator can often help with, or the champions or admin staff from each site.  If training is being conducted off-site, external training facilities will need to be booked.  For all day courses, lunch can often be supplied for participants, along with things like snacks, mints, lollies, biscuits and water.  Your champions have the local knowledge to pull this all together and help make the training sessions a resounding success.

When all is said and done, a talented trainer should deliver a successful training program.  Of course the definition of “success” is subjective, so you’ll want to make sure you define that early on.  Even with pockets of resistance across the business, with a dedicated team and trainer, success can be achieved.  Of course having quantitative data is always more preferable, so make sure you have attendance lists for all training courses, feedback forms for all participants at the end of the course (or an online survey tool).  If assessments are involved, make sure these are all tracked, recorded and reported as part of your project success.  Finally, don’t forget to include your trainer in the post implementation review.  Lessons learned are always good, but only if those lessons are taken and applied to your next project.

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