Start Your Own Lunch-and-Learn Program

14 Dec, 2011 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager's Toolbox: This addition to "The Minimalist's Guide" provides a checklist for running training meetings in your workplace.

Note from Robert Green: BIM educator Tim Kramer contributed this tip for his fellow readers. If you have a question or tip for the CAD Manager's Newsletter, send it to me at; if I use it in the newsletter you'll receive a cool Cadalyst prize!

The lunch-and-learn technique has been very successful for me and my employers. But before I go into detail, a little history: Back in the early days of CAD, it was not uncommon for companies to permit regular CAD user group meetings internally. Employers would sponsor weekly or biweekly meetings, because they knew that their CAD users were more productive as a result. In these meetings, the users would exchange ideas, tips, and suggestions as to what was working best. This type of collaboration was valuable, but one thing lead to another and project deadlines slowly eliminated the meetings over time.

External user groups continued to provide an avenue for dedicated users to continue meeting regularly, but it wasn't quite the same when attendees came from all types of backgrounds and were not on the same page with regards to standards or workflow. What's nice about the lunch-and-learn approach is that all attendees share a common goal, and the instructor/leader can focus on the particular topics that plague the company.

This approach works best for incremental, phased training, and helps everyone continue their own professional development while eliminating the need to disrupt their outside life or project schedules. To create a lunch-and-learn program in your office, follow these steps:

  1. First things first — get management's approval and buy-in. Having a directive from above that requires CAD folks to attend training sessions will go miles toward having people actually show up.
  2. Once frequency is agreed upon, reserve a conference or training room for weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings. Computer-equipped training rooms can be tempting if the equipment and software is readily available, but it really isn't necessary. Show-and-tell approaches are better because people are paying more attention to the speaker, instead of their screens, and are taking notes.
  3. Reserve a laptop and projector, if the room is not already equipped.
  4. Send a recurring meeting invite to the CAD group, and CC your boss. Make sure attendees accept the invite, so it shows up on their calendar with a reminder.
  5. Keep the number of invitees to a reasonable size. Anything larger than a dozen can get out of hand and unwieldy.
  6. Develop a topic. For example, what are users struggling with currently? Is there an advanced function of the software that people seem to be missing? Is it time for everyone to get on the same page with your CAD standards? These are the kind of questions to write down and add to your "To Do" list. (Note: Don't be afraid to survey users for their needs, desires, recommendations, etc.)
  7. Put together a 1-hour training session using PowerPoint, handouts, and the software. Bullet points and/or step-by-step instructions work best. Use products like TechSmith's Snagit to create snapshots of each dialog box. Make the handouts available so everyone can refer to them as needed. (Note: Consider reaching out to your local reseller to assist with this effort. Not everyone has what it takes to be a good trainer, so call on these trusted advisors to provide the actual training content and handouts when in doubt.)
  8. Depending on the frequency of the training sessions, send out multiple reminders beforehand. If it's monthly, send one a week in advance, then again the day before. Even go as far as sending out reminders the morning of, as well as 30 minutes beforehand.
  9. Make a point of always starting and ending on time.
  10. On the first day(s) of training, consider ordering lunch for the users as a gesture of goodwill. You're essentially asking employees to work through their personal time, and this action will help ensure that users will show up. However, make sure you leave enough time for people to get their food and still be seated on time. (Note: As the regularity of such sessions become commonplace, most people will agree to bring their own lunch because they realize the value being offered — free training!)

In summary, I've found this to be one of the best ways to get management and users to make time for training. Done properly, this can be one of the most effective and least disruptive training methods, making the CAD manager's job much, much easier.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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