The Minimalist's Guide to In-House Training

12 Oct, 2011 By: Robert Green

Instructing users about new techniques and correct procedures is necessary, but it takes time. Use these tips to streamline the process.

Author's Note: I've been receiving a lot of e-mails lately that start out like this: "I need to [fill in the blank] but I don't have much time. Can you give me some ideas about how to get more done in less time?" To answer these questions, I'll pass along some tips in an occasional series I'll call "The Minimalist's Guide." Let me know what you think.

A fact that sometimes gets lost in the hurry-up existence of the CAD manager is that users won't magically use your standards or follow your best practices just because you have them. No, they'll only do so if they are trained to do so.

I already know what you're thinking: I don't have time to train people! Yet if you don't train them, they'll work in nonstandard ways, necessitating rework that's frustrating for everyone. So the question becomes, What's the best way to train your users with the absolute minimum time investment on your part? In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll share some tips that work well for me. Here goes.

Solve Problems and Speed Up

First, realize that to minimize your time investment, you'll have to prioritize topics so that you only spend training time on topics that really matter. After all, you can't train everyone on everything without investing a lot of time, right? So how do you decide which training topics are most important? Consider these metrics:

  • Does the training topic address a current problem?
  • Will the training topic give users methods to achieve greater speed?
  • Will the training enhance best practices and standards?

If you come across a training topic that meets two or three of these criteria, you've got a winner. If you find a topic that meets just one, then it should be prioritized a bit lower.

My goal when training is not to show cool features or have an open discussion, but to eliminate problems and help users work more quickly; most times this includes some sort of standard or best practice component.

Don't Aim for Perfection

Second, realize that successful training consists of delivering valuable information in a way that is easy to understand. It doesn't require professionally designed graphics, glossy handouts, or perfect standards manuals.

In fact, some of the best training sessions I've ever given were done with very basic course guide handouts and simple examples. Conversely, some of the worst training sessions I've ever attended featured great demos and wonderful course guides, but the instructor couldn't communicate the information. If you can't explain the concepts in a way that users understand, nothing else matters.

Don't fuss with elaborate training materials; rely on basic examples and simple, well-organized course guides instead. You'll be able to train users sooner, and you won't waste a lot of time on unnecessary materials.

Examples and Course Guides

So what's the quickest, easiest way to prepare examples and course guides for your training class? Here's what I do:

Conceive an exercise. This is what I'll use during training, so it needs to be simple enough to understand yet demonstrate the concepts clearly. Save before-and-after cases of your models, parts, or drawings so you can easily demonstrate each step.

Make screen captures of all menus and pertinent steps. I simply run through the exercise as if I'm rehearsing for training, and gather relevant screen captures along the way. (I use Snagit; its sister tool, Jing, is also very popular — and free.) I paste the screen shots into a Word document to create a handout that illustrates the process step-by-step.

Add instructions. Now I simply add the basic instructions required to work through the exercise, placing the text among the screen captures to complete the handout.

Check your work. I then go back through the exercise, using my course guide to see whether everything is clear and flows correctly. When I'm done, I give my course guide to a trusted power user for a "sanity and spell check." Note: Nothing is worse than realizing you left something out of the course guide when you're halfway through a training session!

Train Like a Mentor

When you perform your training, take the same attitude you would if you were mentoring users one-on-one. Use plain language, take an easy conversational style, and relax! If you focus on explaining things well, you'll find that users won't much care about your delivery style.

If you know what you're talking about and help users understand the subject matter, you're a great instructor in my book. And believe me when I tell you that I've seen instructors who look and sound very professional fail miserably because they couldn't clearly explain their subject!

Project Your Training

No, I'm not talking about voice projection — I mean use a projector! If the users can't see what you're talking about they simply won't understand it.

Always Record It

If you'll be running the session from your computer or a laptop, take the time to record your training using a computer recording software tool (I use Camtasia) to capture your demonstrations and discussion. The reasoning is simple: You'll never have to give that particular training again.

After the training, simply save your recording to a common format like Flash or MPEG and place the video and exercise files on your server so anyone can watch the training again and again until they are sure they've got it. Never repeat training — instead, record it and let the users repeat it!

Summing Up

Training doesn't have to be hugely time-consuming. In fact, you should be able to start knocking out small problem-solving training exercises in just a couple of hours once you get the hang of it.

Let me know how this process works for you. And if you have any great tips for running your own minimalistic in-house training program, please share by e-mailing me. If I select your tip you could even win a cool Cadalyst prize. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: The Minimalist's Guide to In-House Training
by: HelloEnjoiCAD
October 12, 2011 - 1:26pm
I use Gadwin PrintScreen. Its free and has plenty of options to make screen capture easy and quick. Thanks for the tips, ill be sure to use them next time i'm preparing a training session.
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