Just-in-time or just-too-late training?

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TimeAll too often training is left until the last minute in an information systems project, leaving trainers a nigh-on impossible job of getting users up to speed in time. Jooli Atkins draws on her 25 years' experience in IT training and project management to suggest ways of persuading your IS colleagues to think about integrating training.

Trainers involved in IS projects will, no doubt, find the following scenario familiar. You are aware of a plan to upgrade one of your organisation's main IT systems and are called into a meeting with the information systems (IS) project manager to discuss training. She informs you that the build phase is almost over and we are moving into user acceptance testing, followed immediately by implementation. This is the reason for the meeting because the planned upgrade is a 'minor' one and so 'there should not be any need for training', but she just wanted to check this out with you.

Photo of Jooli Atkins"Most IS managers expect to engage training around the end of the test phase. Project boards rarely include IT training representation but often expect the IT training representatives to be 'up to speed' with the project when they are ready to implement."

On further investigation, you find that the 'minor' system upgrade has an impact on processes across the organisation as the system being upgraded is used by many workstreams. This has not been taken into account by the IS project team as they are only concerned with the system upgrade and the senior user on the project board was too strategic to be able to consider all of the operational requirements of the project.

The project manager says: 'Jooli, what can you do to help us?' and you want to reply; 'Nothing of any real value, because you have left it too late' but find yourself replying; 'Leave it with me, we will catch up with you and deliver the training to meet your deployment schedule'. You find yourself leaving the meeting disappointed that you are not going to be able to do the job as well as you would have liked and that the training team will be in the firing line when the system does not do what the users expect it to.

So, what can you do to help your IS colleagues to understand that the 'end product' of their project is not a reliable system - but a competent user?

The key is timing. The project delivery life cycle of analysis, design, build, test, implementation and support, has training as part of the implementation (and potentially support) phase. Most IS managers expect to engage training around the end of the test phase. Project boards rarely include IT training representation but often expect the IT training representatives to be 'up to speed' with the project when they are ready to implement. They often see IT training only in terms of its delivery and, provided you have sufficient time to learn the new functionality and put some support materials together, you are capable of delivering within the project timescales. This leads to a business where the system users are only able to 'press the key' or 'click the button'.

The reason for this is that two separate workstreams (IS and IT training) have been working in a silo with little or no interaction until it is too late to be productive, and this causes frustration and friction.

If training is involved early in the life cycle, the true impact of the system changes on business processes can be analysed and trainers can gain a fuller understanding of the actual 'ways of working' in the to-be world, as well as adding value to the project by bringing their business knowledge. Business analysts spend much time working out A-to-B processes, but often fail to look at the gap between the two where the user will sit.

Training design, development, pilot and delivery fits very neatly alongside the IT delivery life cycle and the more the two workstreams work alongside each other, the easier the sharing of knowledge and 'cross-fertilisation' of ideas.

"It does not help anyone in IS to have a stressed and under-prepared trainer delivering their product. In these situations, all too often trainers feel that they have to justify their lack of preparation (and perceived lack of professionalism) by blaming IS in front of the users."

As well as explaining how you would like training to ideally be involved in projects, you can also highlight the benefits of that approach to IS. With the IS world moving from hierarchy to accountability, and embracing service management, they are becoming more accountable to their customers.

You can help them to reach their customers in a user-friendly way, 'selling' the system benefits to the users and enhancing the image of IS in the organisation. You are the face of IS for the users and working with you can help to enhance its image in the organisation. It does not help anyone in IS to have a stressed and under-prepared trainer delivering their product. In these situations, all too often trainers feel that they have to justify their lack of preparation (and perceived lack of professionalism) by blaming IS in front of the users. In truth, IS should be accountable if they do not integrate training.

Another benefit of an integrated relationship is that you can help them with their audit requirements – a headache for most IS managers at the moment. Mention Sarbanes Oxley to them and how you can help to get them some audit 'brownie points' by ensuring that users are aware of the system's impact on their business processes and are competency-tested in their use.

Having explained the theory of integrated training, you then need to be proactive in making sure that you get wind of projects early and get yourself invited along to project meetings, as well as involved in document review and approvals. Add IS to your document review and approval lists and they may begin to realise that they need to reciprocate.

Making friends with the IS department is one way to start getting them to remember you. Why not invite them to your meeting and user forums? You may be surprised what value they can add, and with a bit of luck they will return the favour by inviting you to their meetings.

Ask for their help – they know far more about the system than you do, and you might be able to enlighten them on how it is used at the same time. They can help you to set up a training environment for the new system, for example. What else do they do with the user acceptance testing (UAT) environment when they have finished UAT anyway?

And offer to help them – your skills as business analysts or UAT testers could be really useful to them and it is a great way of getting, and staying, involved.

Sadly, most of the above means continual effort from you: integrating training is not an action taken once, which then just happily ticks over, but my experience is that it does get easier as you go on. Best of all, you eventually find that IS automatically includes training because they know you will be on their case if they don't. Go on, get a reputation for working alongside IS rather than behind them and help consign last-minute training panics to the waste basket.

Persuasion essentials

  • Get to know IS
  • Ask for their help
  • Offer your help
  • Communicate as early and often as possible
  • Explain integrated training approach – take this article with you, perhaps?
  • Show benefits of early training involvement in:
    1. meeting audit requirements
    2. reaching their customers
    3. enhancing the image of IS

    Jooli Atkins is chair of the British Computer Society (BCS) information and technology training specialist group and author of 'The IT Trainer's Pocketbook'. She's also an IT training professional at Matrix FortyTwo.

    This feature first appeared in the publication 'IT Training'. For more information please go to its website ">www.bcs.org/ittraining

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