Management

Training Tips and Strategies

1 Apr, 2004 By: Robert Green

Tailor training to solve your biggest problems


Frustrated CAD managers often ask me how to handle user-training programs. Questions range from how to identify materials to the best time to train to how to justify training to dubious upper management staff.

Invariably, answering any question about training involves building a justification for training that management agrees with and will fund. In my experience, it doesn't matter how well you can train from a technical standpoint if management doesn't see a business advantage to doing so.

Clarify Your Needs

Assuming that you have a certain amount of time and funds to execute a training program, what should you concentrate on to get the biggest bang for your buck? If you start to build a training program using this simple questioning metric, you'll stay on task and deliver training content that addresses key company needs. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your gut responses so you can analyze them in a few moments:

  • 1. What questions do users ask me over and over?
  • 2. What mistakes that cost time and money do we seem to repeat?
  • 3. What new methodologies could we use in our CAD software to save us time day-to-day?
  • 4. What problems are we having with standards enforcement?

I've found that almost all CAD managers, regardless of design discipline, can answer these questions quickly. If you know where your problems are, you have a solid idea of what your training program should address.

Quit Wasting Time

When I go through the above question-and-answer session with a CAD manager, I always point out that the answers to the questions not only show where you should be training, but also where you're already working too hard. What I mean is that if you're answering questions again and again, or fixing the same problem repeatedly, you're wasting time. In fact, you're not only wasting your own time by fixing the same problem over and over, you're wasting staff time as well because your staff isn't working as efficiently as it could.

By cataloging your company's needs, you build a list of action items. Your challenge now is to prioritize the list of action items in order of importance so you can address them in the most efficacious order.

Get Management on Board

Now that you have a prioritized list of training topics that address key needs within your company, it's time to convince management of the following:

  • 1. You've analyzed your company's needs carefully and know exactly what topics to cover.
  • 2. You've prioritized your training program to give the greatest degree of payback for the company.
  • 3. You understand that CAD (and CAD training by extension) can play a pivotal role in improving the company's business processes.

I've found that senior management is very impressed when a CAD manager presents a well-justified training plan based on business metrics. Management teams can change their outlook on CAD training completely when they're confronted with the problems and inefficiencies that cost them money.

Bottom line: If you can frame your CAD training program within the parameters of fixing problems and saving the company money, management will get on board.

Getting Started

Now that you've created a prioritized list of training topics and brought management on board, it's time to turn your list into deliverable training classes. I like to tackle training development in the following order:

      1. Identify and create training materials.

      2. Benchmark your materials on a test group.

      3. Prepare a training environment.

      4. Deliver training and insist on trainee attendance and accountability.

Training materials are the key element to success in training. After the training is over, written materials become the only backup resource for users who didn't take good notes. I'd go so far as to say that you shouldn't bother with training if you don't have written training materials.

You can buy training materials or generate Word documents with screen captures that reflect your specific company environment. Either way, use just enough materials to make your point without being too wordy. If you plan on using Internet-based or multimedia training materials, have a written handout for after-training reinforcement.

Before you roll your training program out to the masses, rehearse with a small group of users and gather their feedback. This sort of informal benchmarking exposes weaknesses in your training plans, such as typos and missed topics, and helps you become comfortable with the material.

Training Environment

To deliver your training, you'll need an environment that provides noise control, room to spread out materials, and, at minimum, a computer and data projector so you can present a visually stimulating training session. Ideally, users should have computers with them in the training so they can apply the knowledge they gain.

Be warned that poor training environments typically yield poor training results!

I've also found it beneficial to record training presentations for future use in new employee orientations or in case a participant has to miss a training session. I highly recommend TechSmith's Camtasia software (www.camtasia.com) to record audio and video training sessions to disk-based files that you can replay via your corporate network.

Trainee Accountability

As you wrap up your preparation and charge ahead into delivering training sessions, insist that your trainees are on time, on task, and ready to learn. After all, you've persuaded your management to fund a training program to increase productivity, and they expect results. How can you deliver solid training results unless your users take the training seriously?

I've found that maintaining a sign-in sheet along with notes on who was absent or late motivates attendance. If those attending the training report directly to you, make training attendance records part of their personnel files and let them know you're doing so. If you set the tone that training is important and required, users are more likely to attend and master the training content.

Make the Grade

Conceptualizing and executing a custom CAD training program for your company is no small task. However, the only alternative to a targeted, needs-based training is answering the same questions over and over. If you don't train users in the most efficient or standardized methods for completing day-to-day tasks, you'll be destined to fight fires and fix the same problems again and again.

Take some time to think through your company's needs, design a training program to meet those needs, and then implement the program with zeal. You'll be amazed at the results.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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