A Better Approach to User Training

In many PLM implementations and upgrades user training is an afterthought for the system integrator or implementation firm. Their focus is primarily on properly designing and configuring the system so that it meets the customer’s requirements. Plenty of attention is given to the implementation methodology and whether it should be Agile or Waterfall, to the number of Sprints and the various activities in each Sprint, the size and architecture of the hardware environment, and to many other technical aspects of the implementation. User training on the other hand is often only a mere line item in the proposal and project plan, and very little thought is given to the appropriate approach and its challenges.

So how should users be trained? What is the most effective approach in terms of learning experience and results, but also in terms of time and cost?

Today most companies use one of the following three approaches: Instructor-lead user training, train-the-trainer, and self-study.

In the first approach professional instructors, typically from the implementation company, train all users usually in a classroom setting. This is an effective learning approach, but it is very time consuming and often also cost prohibitive, especially with a larger number of users. The reason is that most instructors will want to limit class size to about 10 users at a time to give each user the attention they need and deserve. So if 100 users need to be trained, and that’s a relatively small deployment, and each class has a duration of only two days, which is quite typical for a general PLM user training, the total duration for user training is already 20 calendar days or one full month. The cost just for training delivery, in this case the instructor’s time, is in the tens of thousands of dollars. In addition there is of course the cost for the custom training material development. And this learning approach usually also requires the availability and the setup of a training facility with computers for the trainees and the instructor.

Another often used training method is a train-the-trainer approach where core team members, specifically the key or power users, are first trained on the new system and are then tasked to train the rest of the users using the training material the implementation firm has created for that purpose. The thinking in that approach goes that the key users have just participated in the implementation of the system over the last few months and should now be familiar enough with the new system to train the rest of the users. What is often overlooked is that many of these key users are not experienced instructors and are not comfortable standing in front of their peers and sometimes even superiors to teach them how to use a system they themselves are still not very familiar with. And if someone doesn’t pay attention those key users have no authority – and typically also no interest – to ask the attendees to follow their instructions. So the training results are mixed in this approach. Given a key user that knows the system well and is comfortable teaching his colleagues, and provided that the attendees pay attention the results can be as good as with an instructor-lead approach. But that is an optimal combination that does not occur often. It is much more common that the key users providing the training are uncomfortable in this unfamiliar role and that the users are distracted by their daily tasks. The result is that most users do not acquire the knowledge they need and are not prepared to use the system on the day of go-live, resulting in the need for intensive support in the days and weeks after.

One other often used way is the self-study method where the implementation team creates training material in the form of a PowerPoint presentation with step-by-step instructions how the system should be used and then asks the users to review it a few days before go-live. The problem with this approach is that there is no way to make sure users actually go through the slide deck and understand it. Most may say they did it, but who knows? It really is based on the honor principle, and given how busy employees usually are with their regular day jobs it is quite common that going through the training material is given a low priority or doesn’t happen at all. The result is the same as with the train-the-trainer approach in that most users do not acquire the knowledge they need and are consequently not prepared to use the system on the day of go-live, resulting in the need for intensive support in the days and weeks after.

Is there a better approach to user training that addresses all these challenges and produces good and verifiable results? The answer fortunately is yes: E-learning utilizing a Learning Management System or LMS.

In this approach users typically attended the training remotely on their personal computer. The training content consist of videos or slides that illustrate the use of the system. The big difference to the other training methods is that the LMS keeps track of whether a user watches a lesson and how much time they spend completing it. If a user only skips through the lessons it will flag the supervisor or project team. At the end of each lesson there are questions that can only be answered if the users watched and completed the lesson and understood the content. Typically users can only advance to the next lesson after they completed the previous lesson and answered all questions correctly.

The LMS not only manages content delivery, it also keeps track of each user’s overall progress, i.e. the completion of the different lessons assigned to them and their answers to the verification questions. This makes it easy for the project team to see and manage the overall progress of the user training and ensure everyone has completed and understood all the training assigned to them prior to go-live.

The approach also has benefits after go-live when only individual users have to be trained, such as new employees as part of their onboarding. Each user can be assigned the required lessons in the LMS and given a certain time period to complete the training. And of course now a record exists showing which employee has successfully completed a certain training. This is particularly important in regulated industries, but is also beneficial for all other companies.

Please contact me with questions regarding e-learning and suitable learning management systems (LMS) for PLM user training.