Make Remote Training Work for Your CAD Users — and Your Boss

26 Aug, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: In-person and remote training may require different tools, but the end goal — and the need to get senior management on board — remain the same.

Have you ever heard statements like these? “We can always train later when we’re not so busy” followed by, “Now that we’re not busy, we can’t afford training.” I’ve heard them ever since I first became a CAD manager. Well in today’s world, COVID-19 has created some additional wrinkles: all training is now remote, there’s no such thing as a “standard workday” anymore, and many expenses are being cut. It all adds up to an environment that is wickedly difficult to conduct training in — yet train users we must!

So how should we address the topic of training in today’s remote environment? This is a great question that we’ll start to address in this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. Here goes.

Why Train at All?

My belief has always been that training — be it remote or in person — is simply an investment in error reduction. It turns out, if you show people the right (or standard) way to perform a given task, they are more likely to achieve correct results and make fewer mistakes. And consistent training provides more consistent results as a training culture takes shape.

But how do we sell the need to train to senior management? By explaining that training saves money! Repeat that until it sinks in: Training saves money. So when your boss asks, “Why should I let you run a training program?” what will your answer be?

Show Me the Savings

OK, but just how does training save money? Here are a few savings generators I’ve found to be remarkably consistent throughout the years:

Standards save money, and training reinforces standards. Why have standards if you don’t teach them? And when you do teach standards, users are more likely to follow them, which is the point of standards in the first place. Don’t simply hope that users will follow standards, train them on how to follow standards and you’ll reap the savings of increased operational efficiency.

Smooth the path to new workflows. Need to start using a new software app or extension? Train it. Need to walk through a project procedure for exporting data to a client? Train it. Changing the way you work can be left to chance, or you can control the change via training — I always vote for the latter. I would also note that when I think about how I will train a new workflow, I wind up writing a workflow standard as I create my training. Just as great training reinforces standards, great training can create great standards.

Solve problems and fix errors. If several people all make the same sort of mistakes, then you can use training as an intervention tool. You can add a demonstration of the errors you’ve had to fix, comment on how much time/money is wasted as a result, then perform a refresher training session on the proper way to work.

Gain efficiency by scaling up. As a CAD manager, you only have so many hours to go around, so doesn’t it make sense to share your knowledge with all your users at one time, rather than dealing with problems on a case-by-case basis? Don’t explain the same thing a hundred times — train a hundred people once.

Build a training library. With some judicious recording of your training sessions, you’ll build a library of videos, so you’ll never have to teach the same topic twice. More on that later.

Watch Out for Pitfalls

Before we think about how a training program might work, let’s be sure we avoid some of the common mistakes I see made by many CAD managers. I’ll take the approach of sharing what training is not, in order to get you thinking about exactly what it is. Training is not:

Optional. Training attendance is mandatory. If you’re going to use the tools and work to the standards, you’ve got to be trained. Take attendance!

A social event. Training isn’t about hanging around to foster camaraderie or team spirit, it is about achieving peak software performance. Want team building? Host a social-hour hangout online. Want to show people how to use the new standard components library? Teach them just that — and make it fast.

A chance to complain or vent. Training must be on task and to the point, without needless diversions. Do you have users that want to complain about things? Explain politely that a training session is not the venue for it, then continue with training.

A discussion of cool new stuff without a specific purpose. Never run a training class to inform users of what might be coming years in the future; train them about things that they will be using next week. Cool new tools or features can be communicated via email or videos that can be consumed at any time — but training time is precious, so make sure it stays focused.

A short-term solution. Training is an ongoing commitment to great staff performance. Want to continue to reap the savings I outlined above? Keep training.

Aim for Minimal Length and Maximum Engagement

Here’s where the rubber meets the road: You have to select your topics and get the program kicked off using a framework that will attract user attention and management approval. Here are some of the tips and tricks I use to achieve success:

Think concise. Your training sessions should be as short as possible while still being effective. If your training is focused on teaching a new method, you should be able to power through it with examples so users get results during the training. What do I mean by short? 10 minutes per topic area, with a maximum session length of 90 minutes. My motto is: If you’re taking a break, you’ve been in the room too long.

Think video. Everybody loves YouTube videos! So if you were to conceptualize your training as a YouTube video, how would you approach it? What sort of visual aids, contextual examples, and screen shots would you use? Want to retain everybody’s attention in training? Make it an entertaining and fast-paced experience — just like a video. Bonus: If you record your training session it’ll be a great video, because it was designed like a video in the first place.

Go for quick fixes first. Don’t make your first training project a 90-minute deep dive into a new solar-analysis plug-in for BIM — make it a 15-minute standards-review session that addresses three or four common problems. I call this “going for the quick win” because you’ll see results immediately. Bonus: You’ll be much better able to work out the kinks in your training technology and delivery if you start small.

Build a three-month training schedule and advertise it. First, since you’re keeping training sessions short, you’ll need to run more of them. Second, to convey the idea that training is an ongoing and important process, show everyone that you’re serious by putting out an agenda. And be sure to alert those who will be expected to attend by sending out calendar alerts via email, so nobody has an excuse for forgetting.

Travel man /

Don’t Market Training, Market Results

To make your training program a reality, you’ll need to get your boss to approve the training time, and you’ll need to get key users and resources on board with the concept. Here are some strategies I’ve used to achieve these goals:

Sell the boss on results. Stress financial savings and time saved. The most powerful statement you can make is, “a half-hour spent in training will save us 60 hours per year in error reduction” (using your own numbers to make the case).

Sell the users on simplifying their workload. Stress that periodic training on standards, methods, tips, tricks, and fixes will allow everyone to get their jobs done quicker and with less rework.

Get power users to help with the training program. Leverage your CAD gurus and high achievers by having them suggest courses or approaches, or even allowing them to conduct a video training session.

Get a volunteer to help with videos. If you’re not comfortable with video recording or production, chances are there’s somebody on your staff who loves creating their own social media videos. Find that person and get them involved with your video work. (More on this in the next installment.)

Summing Up

Hopefully you’ve found some concrete concepts to help you advocate for and design a training program that meets the requirements of a remote setup. In our next installment, we’ll go into how to deliver, record, and leverage your training program to get maximum training results in the age of COVID-19. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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