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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Carriage Return

Why is it that training is the last item considered in planning for change, and the first item to be scrapped when the budget gets tight?

Change drives  progress – and when we change, we need to learn how to use the new tool or features to achieve better results, greater speed, or use less resources. However, we often breeze through any training with a 'yeah, yeah, yeah' attitude and get little of use or recall.

As a boy, I was given a hammer and immediately set about making nails in the shape of a number 7. It's a hammer – how much training could you need? A carpenter showed me how to start and finish pounding a nail and I was then building wooden things.

When the personal computer came into the office, and the IBM Selectric was moved behind the desk, secretaries would create documents with hard returns at the end of the line – just like with the Selectric: type, type, type, type, clunk. The training consisted of reading a manual with the first 50 pages devoted to installing the software and the last 50 pages listing commands (it was a DOS program back then). The secretaries would learn how to create documents, letters, and notes – but insisted on using the Selectric for envelopes and labels.

When a new procedure is introduced in a team, typical training consist of documentation of the procedure and a walk-through of a simple example. Rarely are the training materials created by someone familiar with the actual work being done and users find it difficult to visualize how the new procedure fits with the old way of doing things. Therefore the users come up with their own interpretations and work-arounds.

A quick look at the hammer and PC examples illustrate there is a cost to inadequate training – nails and wood are sacrificed to bent nails and hammer-head scars; editing the PC documents requires considerable time and effort: adding or removing a word means changing the entire document because of the carriage returns on each line.

Successful training is best done hands-on by the user with a meaningful project, followed by practice. A useful help resource is an on-line user forum supplemented by a subject matter expert. Continuing use completes the training.

If we do not provide sufficient training the users make up how to operate the software in ways that are limited and inefficient, reducing its effectiveness and expected productivity gains.

Want to rely on the informal 'expert' or invest in a trained and experienced team?
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