Just do a Google search for "why IT projects fail" and you will see a typical list of words with scope creep, over budget, and lack of governance being the most popular. Having worked on large IT projects, I can tell you these are certainly valid reasons. But is there a way to improve project success and increase customer adoption? Yes, and it often comes down to training.
If you ever worked on an IT project, you have probably seen a scope statement that says something like this:
The new software product will require little or no training.
The sentiment in this declaration is a noble one and, hopefully, steers people toward making decisions that embrace simplicity and eschew complexity. In reality, though, the whole reason a funded IT project exists should be because it is bringing change.
To a great extent, delivering change means offering essential training to those affected most by your IT projects. For example, if you are replacing a home-grown software application and then implement a commercial solution, the change can have a significant impact on your user community. If you ever worked on a replacement project, you know that something as mundane as moving a button off to another page is fraught with peril and can cause user uproar.
What to do?
First and foremost, the project leadership must insist on a significant change management and training budget. There is no excuse to have a project plan with a small two-week milestone at the end of the project for training. If you take this approach, there is a significant risk of project failure.
Successful projects develop a training program similar to this:
- Modular feedback training with a small team of interested parties so they can give you product and training feedback.
- Deliver the training with the professionals who know the solution and have a strong stage presence. Anyone who might train later should attend these courses and even co-present to get their feet wet.
- Deliver refresher training so people can ask more questions, learn tips and tricks, and to verify they are following the right procedures.
- Schedule monthly or quarterly training sessions so new people can attend without having to request an ad-hoc session.
- Hold training follow-up workshops such as so-called brown bag sessions. It is easy to block off an hour every two weeks for people to bring their laptops, ask questions, and get the help they need.
- Produce self-paced eLearning training so users can take the training at their pace.
Introducing modular feedback training
The best way to get feedback on how a system is progressing is to train some users who are not on your core team or are not yet familiar with the system. They will learn something, and you get the opportunity to learn their reactions firsthand.
Back in the day, we would call this Alpha training or Beta training, but that type of training usually occurs a few weeks before a system is rolled out. Modular training embraces the concepts of agile development, where you are constantly iterating through feature sets to make sure the project is on the right track.
When you deliver modular training, it needs to be focused; the attendees must be aware they are only learning a small piece of what is to come, and they need to know there can be bugs or issues along the way. In most cases, the training should go for no more than four hours, with one to two hours being the norm. Of course, you will decide what is appropriate for your particular project and audience.
Deliver the training
It can take weeks or even months to develop formal training. You may find it best to hire a training professional who can help you build and test the materials.
At minimum, you should have the following deliverables for your training program:
- Detailed curriculum.
- Training deck (usually in PowerPoint or similar).
- Training and quizzing guides for the trainer.
- Worksheets, cheat sheets, job aids, and similar handouts.
- Activity files, where necessary (for example, if you were training how to use an image in Photoshop, I would develop the before and after image.).
- Certificates of completion.
- Evaluation surveys. (Pro tip: offer an option for people to submit anonymously.)
Time for a refresher
After you spent all that time training the population of users, do you know how much they will remember after taking your course? If you remember anything from this article, remember this:
Most training professionals agree trainees will retain 50 percent after the first day of training and only 10 percent to 20 percent after a week.
If you want users to adopt your solution and use it properly, you must deliver ongoing training for a period. Offering users refresher training can go a long way to helping people retain the skills they require. Ideally, you are surveying the users asking them what they need more training on, and then you deliver a course tailored to those needs.
Refresher training may mean you offer a slimmed down or refined version of the current training, or you are offering training that focuses on areas where most people are having trouble. Surveying the user community or providing an online feedback forum for the users is an ideal way to determine what is needed.
Schedule monthly or quarterly training
A best practice is to block off the classroom space and put new training programs up for availability every month or quarter. When new hires come in, they know there is a training program all set up for them. It will make the new hire feel good because you already thought about them, and you have thought ahead so the training will not be (or feel) rushed.
Sometimes people do not like to complain or rock the proverbial boat. These people may not understand how to use your system, so rather than try to pull it out of them, hold regular one-hour workshops. You might have a formal agenda, or you might just leave it open for anyone to attend and ask whatever questions they may have.
These sessions are great because you can also invite your users to present as well. Users are pretty crafty and will often find better or faster ways to do things than you, so having them offer their tips and techniques is a great way to foster training.
Produce self-paced eLearning training
Another way to help people retain their knowledge is to provide an eLearning course. People can easily be distracted by background noise, wiggling the cursor around the screen, or the screen zooming in and out. The material you produce online should be of the same quality of your professional training classes. If you do not know how to produce this material, then hire a professional who knows how to use products like Camtasia, Adobe Captivate, or similar solution. Make sure you use professional microphones and follow a script.
Creating tips and tricks videos about three to 10 minutes long can be extremely helpful to your users, and they will appreciate you are helping them improve upon their daily work.
The ongoing care and feeding for your users can mean the difference between success or failure. The more your users know, the better their jobs will be and the better the chances of adoption.