Your Training Wake-Up Call, Part 112 Apr, 2017 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Don’t let trendy issues push essentials to the back burner! Build a training plan that engages users, advances management’s goals, and ultimately makes your life easier.
In the CAD management world, there’s a lot of attention being paid to the hot-button issues of the moment: cloud software, rental licensing, and increasingly hard-to-understand software cost structures. Yes, these are valid issues, but too much focus on them keeps us from talking about the basic CAD management competencies that we should be spending more time on. It’s time for a back-to-basics wakeup call on one of these overlooked fundamentals: training.
In the next two editions of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll give you some of my best tips and techniques for building and running a CAD training program that appeals to everyone, from veteran users to those millennials who just joined your organization. I’ll also share some talking points that should help you justify it all to your employees and senior management teams. Here goes.
Why Train Users?
In the first place, why are you taking on training? To save money! Repeat that: To save money! So what will your answer be when your boss asks, “Why should I let you run a training program?” (Hint: To save money!)
But exactly how does training save money? Here are a few savings generators I’ve found to be remarkably consistent through the years:
- Teaching and reinforcing 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 having standards in the first place. Don’t simply hope that people follow standards, train them on how to follow standards, and you’ll reap the savings of increased operational efficiency.
- Changing 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. My point is, if the way you work needs to change, then make sure to train everyone affected. Bonus: By thinking through how to train this new workflow, you can build your new standards as you go!
- Problem solving and error fixing. 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 type of errors you’ve had to fix, comment on how much time and/or money is wasted as a result, then train the users in the proper way to work.
- Economies of scale. As a CAD manager, you only have so many hours to go around, so it makes sense to share your knowledge with all users at once rather than dealing with problems on a case-by-case basis.
- Building a training library. With some judicious recording of your training sessions, you’ll build a YouTube-style library of videos so you’ll never have to teach the same topic twice. This resource is millennial-friendly (more on that later) and gives all users the opportunity to review content whenever needed, at their own pace.
What Training Isn’t
Before we conceptualize a training program, let’s be sure we avoid some of the common mistakes I see many CAD managers make. Here, I’ll identify some of the misconceptions people have about training (and the serious mistakes they make), to help adjust your thinking. Training is not any of the following:
- A social event. Training isn’t about hanging around to eat pizza and build camaraderie, it is about achieving peak software performance. Want a team-building exercise? Go to a bar and play darts.
- A chance to complain or vent. Training must stay on task and avoid needless diversions. Do you have users that want to complain about things? That should be dealt with in individual or team meetings, not during a training session.
- A chat about theoretical developments. Never run a training class to inform users of what might be coming years in the future. Instead, train them about the tools and practical features that they will be using next week. “Cool new stuff” — intriguing new developments that may or may not be useful — can be communicated via e-mail or video updates that can be consumed at any time.
- Optional. Training attendance is mandatory: Everyone who is going to use the tools and work to the standards must be trained, period. Take attendance!
- A once-and-done project. Training is an ongoing commitment to great staff performance. Want to continue to reap the savings I outlined above? As long as your users keep working, keep training.
Design Your Training Program
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 engage users and please your boss. Here are some of the tips and tricks I use to achieve success:
- Keep it short. Your training sessions should be as short as humanly possible. If your training is focused on teaching a new method, you should be able to power through it with hands-on examples so users get results during the training. What do I mean by short? Ten minutes per topic area, with a maximum session length of 90 minutes. If you’re taking a break, you’ve been in the room too long.
- Be inspired by video. If you were to conceptualize your training as a YouTube video, how would you approach it? What kinds of visual aids, contextual examples, and screen shots would you use? Everybody loves brief, entertaining videos, but millennials thrive on them! Want to retain everybody’s attention in training? Make it an entertaining, fast-paced experience — just like a video. Bonus: If you record this type of training session it’ll make a great video, because it was designed with those concepts in mind.
- Go for quick fixes first. Don’t make your first training project a 90-minute deep dive into a new solar analysis plugin for Revit, make it a 30-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. You’ll also be able to work out the kinks in your training technology and delivery much better if you start small.
- Build an ongoing three-month training schedule — and advertise it. Since you’re keeping training sessions short, you’ll need to run more of them. And to convey the idea that training is an ongoing and important process, show everyone that you’re serious by putting out an agenda. Be sure to alert those who will be expected to attend by sending out calendar alerts via e-mail — several weeks in advance, so nobody has an excuse for forgetting.
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 the money and time saved. The most powerful statement you can make is, “A half-hour spent in training will save us XXX hours per year in error reduction.”
- Sell the users on simplifying their workload. Stress that periodic training on standards, methods, tips, tricks, and fixes will allow them to get their jobs done more quickly and with less rework.
- Get power users to help with the training program. Leverage your high-achieving CAD users by letting them suggest courses and approaches, or even allowing them to conduct a training session.
- Enlist a millennial to spearhead the video process. If you’re not comfortable with video recording or production, that’s fine; 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 videography.
Hopefully this discussion has helped you with some concrete ways to advocate for and design a training program. In a future installment, we’ll explore how to deliver, record, and leverage your training program to get maximum results with minimal time investment on your part. Until next time.