From describing to applying – user training taken seriously

It still is one of the most common mistakes made ever… Implementing new or updated software without providing user training as the reasoning is: “Oh, we don’t need to train our users. They have been using this (or similar) software for years, surely they know by now how to use it“.

Well, do they really? I’ve recently been involved in several adoption projects where we trained both new users as well as users who had been using collaboration tools for years on how common features in everyday tools like mail, calendar, task lists and contact books can help them become more effective. One of the comments we got back a lot was: “I was aware of most of it but never really applied it to how I could use it in my own job, now I see how it can help me I wish we had gotten this training years ago!“.

The thing is that to those implementing the software it often all seems so straight forward. “It’s mail? How hard can it be?” or… “Come on, everyone knows how to autosum a column in Excel!“. Reality is though – users often don’t.

“I didn’t even know it could do that!”

Often users simply don’t know all the functionalities that the software they get offers because nobody ever showed them. Most times they use only a small percentage of it’s capabilities, not because they don’t want to use more of it but because nobody took the time to set them down and show it.

“I know it can do that, I just don’t have a clue how ‘I’ can get it to do that…”

Without training most users simply won’t know how to use half of what they have.  “Well they can use the Help can’t they? Or ask?“. Yes they can. But asking often implies inadequate knowledge of something and a lot of users don’t feel comfortable admitting to their coworkers not knowing something that others seem to think is such implied knowledge. And Help files? Well,… Ever tried using MS Excel Help to figure out how to create a pivot table?…

The most important one though in my opinion, and one that is often the biggest culprit of failed user adoption is:

“I don’t see how it can help me do my job better”

The mistake made here is that often implementers and trainers focus on showing users HOW to do things without explaining to them WHY this could be beneficial to them. Expecting users to be able to make the leap from seeing a ‘feature’ into applying it to their daily job without helping them to do so is often one step too far for a lot of them. Especially with the wide variety of software and functionalities we have nowadays.

For instance: If you talk to users about the ‘awareness’ functionality in instant messaging software like Lync or IBM Sametime you can simply explain that they can change their status to “not available” or “do not disturb” or you can start a discussion and address the topic of constant availability, where IM stands in the array of options we have nowadays to contact each other (mail, phone, face-to-face, etc), why and where it can be handier to use one over the other and how users can – and should – make choices about their availability to be contacted in that way.

Last but not least:
Enablement, education and training should never be seen as temporary things. Good adoption of technology and methodologies requires repetition and involvement so don’t stop after you’ve implemented the software; done your training sessions and provided reference materials. Reiterate the knowledge by regularly posting small tips & tricks on bulletin boards or intranet sites, by uploading videos, by having users interviewed  – or better yet – stimulating them to write blogs and wiki’s themselves about how it helps them to do their job better and by offering over the shoulder support.


  • Never assume
  • Involve the user to train the user
  • Start with addressing the ‘why’ before going into ‘how’
  • repeat & reinforce

But most importantly have fun doing it… Nothing is more satisfying then seeing that ‘light bulb’ go on in someones eyes when they learn that one thing that will make all the difference to them in their day to day job… 🙂


User training…..

I spent most of last week getting user requirements for a project I’m doing for an international firm. This firm has excellent video conferencing facilities and as they have offices around the world I spend a lot of time using those facilities to get input from people around the globe. Although I used video conference tools before and in general prefer the face to face situation, I must say I was impressed with the facilities they had and the possibilities it offered.

This made me think of a very bizarre user training I once gave over ten years ago…..

Back then I worked for another major international company where I helped develop an online CRM package for a business unit within the company. Part of the implementation was to deliver a user training. Now this business unit had lot’s of small branches around the globe with only a few users at each of the locations so flying around the globe to give the training wasn’t an option. Flying the users out to the Netherlands wasn’t an option either so the choice was made to do a training by phone conference….

This was the time when internet was far from what it is today and things like a multi-channel video conference or even screen sharing just wasn’t an option yet. In fact at that time I had only just gotten rid of my 56kb phone modem.
So a phone conference it was. I had sent out the link with the application URL and login details earlier and had asked each of the users to log in ahead and report any login problems so that we wouldn’t have to spend time during the meeting to solve login errors.

At 16:00 CET we started:

<BEEP><BEEP>……<BEEP> ….. Hello?…Hello?… somebody there? This is Hong Kong…<squeek>…..
Me: Hello Hong Kong this is Femke, can you hear me?
Hong Kong: ……………. Hello?… Hello?…. Mmm, I think we’re first. No one there yet I guess, did we get the time right? (shortly followed by a whole discussion in Chinese)…….
Me: Hong Kong, we’re here, can you hear me???
Hong Kong:……….<squeek>……..(more Chinese)……
London: Mmm, I think they don’t have their speakers set up correctly, wouldn’t be the first time either. This is John from London by the way, hello Femke!
Me: Hello John, welcome and good of you to join!
….<BEEP> …..
Hello it’s Tim and Brian joining from New York here!

Me: Hello Tim and Brian, welcome! we’re still awaiting South Africa and Sao Paulo and then we’ll start the lesson.
…..(more undefinable squeeking and Chinese. Somewhat agitated now)…..
London: I think we just lost Hong Kong there……
Me: Probably, let’s hope they call back
….<BEEP> <BEEP>….. (Sao Paulo & Cape Town join the phone conference)
Me: Ok, we’re still missing Hong Kong but I’ll start anyway.
So welcome all, I hope you all have your pc/laptop in front of you and have logged into the application as requested.
New York (Tim): Ehhh… was that required, ok hold on and let me get my laptop!
Me: Well yes, didn’t you see my earlier message on this? Please hurry!
….(lots of scuffle in the background while Tim gets his laptop)….
Me: Ok, now I’ll start with a short introduction, can you all open the home page and click the “Contacts” link in the top?
…(sound of clicks in the background while each of the participants opens the requested page)…
London: Mmm… I’m getting an error here, is that normal?
Me: No, in general not. What error do you get?
London: Ehhh… sorry clicked it away, and now my browser hangs. Hang on, let me restart Windows….
Me: No! That would take too long, simply close the browser and reopen it.
London: Ehhh… sorry, too late, I’d already pressed the reset button on the pc. But don’t worry, it normally doesn’t take long to start…..
Me: Ok, well then start it up asap please while I continue.
…<BEEP>…… Hello?,….. Hello?!? (Chinese swearing)….
….. <CLICK>…….

London: That was Hong Kong again I guess……
Me: Yes, I think so… Ok, let’s go on with the session
So, you should all see the ‘Contacts’ overview now listing all the contacts that are in the……(Windows Startup song blasts through the speaker while John’s pc starts up in London)……..
London: Sorry! I’ll mute my mic!
Me: Ok, please do while I continue
…..(chuckling on the line)…….
New York: Tim here! I’m ready and I’ve got my laptop, where did I need to go?
Me: Ok Tim good. Please open the Contacts overview by clicking the Contacts link in the top
So……where was I…. Ok, the Contacts overview. Now this overview lists all of the contacts in the application you can… <BEEP>……
….. Hello? This is Hong Kong, can you hear me??……
Me: Hello Hong Kong, yes we can, can you hear us?
Hong Kong: Yes, I can! We couldn’t reach you guys but it all seems to work now!
Me: Good, we already started. Could you please open the Contacts overview by clicking the button in the top?
Hong Kong: Ehhh….Which button?
Me: You should see a link in the top of the application page linking to the Contacts overview
Hong Kong: How do I open the application??
Me: Didn’t you get my email? I send the link before?
Hong Kong: Sorry, never saw an email. Let me check…
Me: I can’t wait for that, I’ll sent it to you again, please try to login asap while I continue
By this time I’m asking myself how we’re ever going to get thro
ugh this

Me: John, has your pc restarted yet? Do you get the error again?
London: ……………………………………………………………….
Me: John, if you can hear me then please un-mute your mic, we can’t hear you.
London:  Sorry for that, yes I’m back, no error this time, got the Contacts overview
Me: Good. Ok so the Contacts…… (I continue talking a bit about the Contacts overview)
New York (Brian): ……Damn Tim, stop that!…….
New York (Tim): Shut up, I want to see what’s behind that button!
New York (Brian): She’s still talking about the Contacts, let’s just follow what she says!!
New York (Tim): Get your own pc then!
Me: Ehhh….. sorry, New York is everything ok there?
……(By this point Tim & Brian get into a heated argument followed by a door being slammed)…..
New York (Tim): Sorry for that, Brian just walked out
Me: Ehh…. Is he coming back or should I continue?
New York (Tim): He’s an *&%hole, just continue
Me: Ok, I still feel he should be hearing this but we’ll continue
….<BEEP>….. Hi, this is Brian, I moved next door, sitting behind my own desk here. Sorry for that, Tim just couldn’t wait and listen and was already clicking all kinds of buttons even if you hadn’t told us to do so
New York (Tim): You’re an *&%hole, Brian, you know!
New York (Brian): Likewise!
….(again an  argument between Tim & Brian erupts, this time over the phone conference as they are now sitting in separate offices)……
Hong Kong: (raising his voice to get over the still ongoing argument) : …..Ehh… sorry but I just received your mail, I can’t seem to log in. It says my password is incorrect…..
Me: (while Brian & Tim continue their argument) could it be you have your caps lock on?
Hong Kong: (trying without the caps lock)…… Ah yes, thank you it works
Me: Tim, Brian, please I need to continue, could you please stop this and continue another time?
New York: ………(Still in a bitter fight between each other, don’t even react to my plea)……
At that moment the Business Unit CEO that was sitting next to me finally intervenes and tells Tim & Brian unceremoniously to shut up…..
Me: Ok, after all that lets continue….. Where was I
Hong Kong: The Contacts overview. Where was the link to that again?!?
Me: In the top, to the left side
Hong Kong: …..Can’t find it…….
…..hold on, the other left side….. ok, got it!
Me: So, again, contacts….

This went on for two hours straight. It was one of the most memorable training sessions I ever gave. I still don’t know how I managed to actually complete that training but I did….. somehow…..