MANAGEMENT VISIONS

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

April 23, 2007

"SYSTEM TRAINING TIPS"

Okay, you've built this wonderful new "state of the art" system. Now comes the hard part: startup. To do so, you will have to train the user community in how to effectively use the system. Do not underestimate this task. Now is not the time to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Let me give you an example; years ago my wife was a contract administrator for a large jet engine manufacturer in the Midwest. Basically, her department was concerned with ordering parts for the jet engine assembly lines and making sure they were delivered on time. Most of this was done using parts catalogs, index cards, and a lot of telephone calls. It may have been a bit clumsy, but it worked. Wanting to expedite this process, the systems department invented a new Materials Management System (MMS) which was to be used to order and track parts, as well as to interface with the company's Finance System to evaluate engine costs. After the systems department built the MMS, they called for a training session to introduce all of the contract administrators to the new system. At this time, they gave everyone a new TI Silent 700 computer (which featured acoustic couplers at the time) and a list of cryptic commands on to how to use it. The whole session lasted about one hour and did more to confuse the users than to educate them. So much so, that on the Monday when the MMS was to be started, nobody used it and, instead, went back to their manual procedures.

Humans are creatures of habit and, as such, training the users on how to implement a new system must be handled carefully. And it is more than just having good educational skills, its about breaking habits and creating new ones. For example, years ago when companies were beginning to migrate away from DOS to operating systems with Graphical User Interfaces (e.g., Windows and OS/2), systems people were amazed to find the user community resisting the migration. Surely the new GUI-based operating systems were easier to use and understand, right? Maybe, and maybe not. A lot of users felt comfortable using their favorite word processors and spreadsheets under DOS. Why then, they questioned, should they be forced to move to something else? Good question, one that was seldom answered by I.T. departments. In this case, the answer was: first, to bring a uniform consistency (look and feel) to all applications on the PC, thereby simplifying the learning and implementation of programs, and second; industry trends (away from character based operating systems).

MY BACKGROUND

For the last three decades I have been teaching methodologies, be it related to systems planning, systems development, data base or project management. Frankly, I believe teaching the development staff how to use a methodology is more difficult than teaching users how to use a new system. Interestingly, systems people, who are supposed to be the agents of change, are remarkably the most resistant to it. Nonetheless, I have learned four important lessons from this experience which is applicable to training users in systems:

1. Provide a tutorial which describes the rationale for the new system, and defines its concepts and terminology. In other words, sell the system. Be careful to couch the presentation in terms the users will understand, and because of this, avoid introducing technical jargon as much as possible. You want to enlist support for the system, not provide excuses for not using it. Also, all questions should be welcomed and not ridiculed. User questions may appear trivial and foolish at times but your intention is to overcome all objections.

2. Provide "Hands On" Training - true it is important to give an academic explanation of how the overall system works, but it is also important for users to actually "touch and feel" the system. They may not come away from the training class as experts, but at least you will have overcome their fear of the new system.

For complicated processes, I tend to offer manually implemented exercises so the students would gain an appreciation for the need for automation. For example, in order for a person to appreciate a calculator, they should first have an appreciation of basic math. If the users understand the processes being automated, they will be more inclined to trust the new system.

3. Recruit Management Support - the implementation of a new system, like a methodology, requires the unwavering support of management. If the user community senses the slightest lack of support for the system, they will use it as an excuse not to use it. Because of this, I strongly encourage a representative from management to introduce the speaker/trainer and to monitor the training proceedings.

4. Create excitement to use the new system - this can be achieved several ways; for example, promotional buttons, pins, a kickoff party, endorsements, etc. Think of it as releasing a new product. Another option is to train the user community in stages, e.g., taking key "germ carriers" and making them proficient in the system before others, then let them spread the word to the rest of the user community. A little attention to key users can go a long way.

GENERAL TIPS

Aside from the system tips listed above, there are some general tips you should be cognizant of as a trainer:

1. Be organized - prepare a well thought out agenda and stick to it. I'm also a big believer of the military approach whereby you "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you've told them."

2. Know your audience - understand their intelligence level and interests, and design a training program around them, not the technology. Yes, you want them to move forward on technology, but you cannot afford to alienate them. By working within their limitations you will be able to accomplish more.

3. Dress and speak authoritatively - your appearance and how you present yourself says a lot to the audience about your system. If you dress and act like a geek, the user community might look upon this as another harebrained scheme by the I.T. department. The appearance and presentation of the trainer reflects the credibility of not only the speaker, but of the system as well. Do it first class and earn the respect of the students.

4. Stimulate the students; don't put them to sleep - keep the training positive and upbeat; inject humor where necessary. Allow periodic breaks, but keep them short and sweet.

5. Select a suitable venue - hopefully something where the attendees will not be distracted and allow them to focus on your subject.

6. Provide supplemental training aids - such as reference cards or perhaps a CD/DVD with a multimedia presentation (e.g., MS PowerPoint, Lotus Freelance, or a podcast). Blogs and discussion groups (list servers) are also useful to act as a clearinghouse for answering questions.

7. Critique the training program - allow the students to evaluate the training course. Their feedback will hint as to your success and may point out problem areas that need to be addressed.

CONCLUSION

As someone charged with a key role in changing the status quo, the systems trainer must first understand that his audience does not necessarily want to change. Some of the users will welcome change as they are aware of the shortcomings of the current system. However, others have adapted and feel comfortable using the current system regardless of its shortcomings and, as such, will resist change. The trainer is left with the task of convincing the users not only is the current system inadequate, but that he has a superior alternative to replace it. After all, you cannot treat a patient if he doesn't know he is sick.

Just like your systems development efforts, training requires planning, organization, execution and review. Too often I have seen companies underestimate the training effort and put forth only minimal effort to properly train the user community. Such shallow thinking inevitably leads to disaster later during system startup. I have even seen disgruntled users sabotage the best of systems simply because they didn't understand it or it was not presented well.

The system trainer's mission, therefore, is to explain, demonstrate, and convince the users how the new system will not only benefit the company, but the users as well; and communicate it in terms the user community will understand. Remember, a verbosity of technical jargon impresses nobody but yourself.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is... "You cannot treat a patient if he doesn't know he is sick."

MY "PET PEEVE OF THE WEEK" IS "WEATHERMEN"

Whether you call them "Weathermen" or "Weather people," I'm a little concerned over their ability to accurately predict the weather. Back in the early days of television, the weatherman was that person in the station who knew the area and seasonal weather patterns, checked the barometer, and was smart enough to stick his head outdoors before going on the air to discuss the weather. Since then we have introduced satellite imaging, radar, fancy computer graphics, and now the people prefer to be called "Meteorologists." Despite all of this, I find it amazing they still can't predict the weather with any accuracy. Rarely will they go out on a limb and predict rain or snow until it finally hits us. In particular, I love it when they say there is a 50% chance of rain. Why don't they just admit they haven't a clue as to what is coming and toss a coin on camera?

I also find their body language in front of the weather maps amusing, where everything is choreographed as they dance around the screen. I have a friend who works at CNN who gave me a tour of their studios in Atlanta a few years ago where I watched a young weatherman go through his paces in front of a blank wall. I thought is was rather amusing watching this firsthand with no graphic in the background.

A lot of people use the weatherman position as a starting point for their television career. Most use it as a jumping-off point to get them into news or entertainment. I think David Letterman is perhaps the best example of this as he started out by reporting the weather in Indiana.

Reporting the weather can be outright boring, small wonder they like to clown around on camera to keep the viewer interested.

As for me, I just wish the weatherman would just get to the point and tell me what the current weather conditions are and what to expect in the next couple of days. Although its nice to know what's going on in the rest of the country, how about we focus on our own local part of the world for starters? Even better, I think they would have a heck of a lot more credibility if they just stuck their head outside before they reported the weather.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

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AND FINALLY...

I received a lot of e-mails this past week from our listeners related to my "Pet Peeve" on "Divorce"; first, I heard from CB in Australia who writes:

"Australia's divorce rate has been sitting above 50% for a while now. The biggest impact to the divorce rate was the introduction of the "no fault divorce" in the sixties, and the family law act in the mid seventies which made it easier for women to get a fair share of the family assets after a breakup. That and the declining marriage rate. Strangely, people in defacto relationships have a good chance of sticking it out."

Next, I heard from an A.M. who writes:

"Tim, Is it divorce or lawyers income that upsets you most? Do I understand you correctly, that you're going to tell your daughter/son to go live with Mr/Ms Right (or perhaps four or five Mr/Ms Rights till see/he rolls over one morning and says this is Mr/Ms right) so she/he can live happily ever after? Seems these arrangements are highly suspect. Current divorce percentages and lawyers included. I believe all relationships should be based upon solid principles, deeply set in honest high moral values. Obviously moral values are lacking or of no concern in American Society. The idea of redemption as a means to cure our mistakes is a second thought, when most likely Americans knew better the first time and were too selfish, lazy, or lustful to make the first decision (enter into a principled relationship) the only way to go. The real faults lay upon the children they begat. We are in an era of self gratification, with morals not even being discussed. There is no light in the end of the tunnel."

Next, I heard from James who writes:

"Interesting that you post this on the anniversary of my divorce. As to the other comment posted here, all the principles in the world won't help you when someone decides to try to destroy your life. Blame society if you like, but it fails to address the issue. Most divorce happens the way mine did, one person with all the power destroying the other who wants to stay together."

And finally Randy writes:

"I agree - the single point source is no-fault divorce. While declining moral standards are the root cause, no-fault divorce encodes into law those reduced moral standards. (Yes, this is legislation of morality - low morality.) Quite honestly, no-fault divorce has reduced expectations when entering into marriage - "if it doesn't "work out," I can always get out of it"; and variations on that theme abound. Plus, no-fault divorce was (in many areas) presented as an "escape" for persons caught in an abusive marriage where abuse was difficult to prove, while the reality in practice has been that no-fault divorce has been a tool used by abusers to inflict even greater and longer-lasting damage (mental/emotional, financial, professional, and legal) on their victims - if anything, the overall damage caused by abusers has increased, not decreased, where no-fault divorce has been implemented. (Perhaps the typical change in the gender of the victims after no-fault divorce is implemented makes this result acceptable to some.)"

Regarding my Pet Peeve of "Turning Crap into Gold," I heard from F.D. in Edmonton who said,

"You wouldn't believe how close I came to buying a PC in 1985... I completely stumbled on the Macintosh and a young fellow who showed me the difference between price and cost!... I was about to spend $1,600.00 through the franchise I was involved with for a PC and instead bought a Mac for $8,500.00... I have never had to train to use it! I have never had a crash of any description! I have never had a virus! AND I have been running Windows XP (because some programmer made a couple of internet sites I require browser specific!) along with OS-9 and OS X... all at once!

I am about to purchase the new IMAC with a 24" monitor and the Intel chip... this runs the "Bill Gates crap" better than the clones and unfortunately there will always be narrow minded programmers around that make programs ONLY compatible with Windows... I need Windows for 2 things with the Real Estate and other than that it sits dormant... I really wouldn't need Norton if it wasn't for Windows... by the way, it is much more stable on Mac than on a clone.

That first unit I bought in 1985?... it still functions well and makes a great conversation piece!"

Again, thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

Our corporate web page is at:

http://phmainstreet.com/mba/

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2007 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."

END

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3 Comments:

  • Your focus on the OS/2 is a disappointing. The VMS was in the computers far to before the OS/2 was superior. The pre-emptive multitasking of the OS/2 is more prone to the memory falloff than the VMS and this remains true even now.

    By Anonymous PTIBIT, At 11:15 AM  

  • Is that you, Phil? Why do we always read the same things!!! Haha!!!

    Im not surprised that youre still talking about VMS, but im still going to have to say that os/2 is way better. Its objectoriented desktop is more extensbile than the vms intrepreter, and its also super easier to use. Besides!! Who has software for vms anymore!! OS/2 has a superior software library to VMS ever had!!!

    By Anonymous KLAUS, At 1:26 PM  

  • I am a big advocate of OS/2 and have been using it since 1989. I still have several machines in the office using it and I really cannot remember the last time they crashed. I still believe it to be the best 32-bit o.s. in the market. IBM really botched marketing it though.

    OS/2 spoiled me. When I use the latest versions of Windoze, I felt that it severely affected my productivity. The things I took for granted with OS/2 are simply not there in Windoze. If I had to pick one OS/2 program to migrate to the Windows world, believe it or not it would be the EPM Enhanced Editor. There were of course many others, including my own, but I never realized my dependency on good old EPM.

    By Blogger Tim Bryce, At 10:39 AM  

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