Systems Training Is Not One-Size Fits All

Best Practices For Developing Systems-Based Training

Innovative Learning Group has developed custom training for many systems, from talent management and customer relationship management to banking and financial systems. After managing many of these projects, I’ve learned that systems training is definitely not one-size fits all. However, along the way I’ve discovered three best practices that every company can apply to ensure the successful launch of a system.

Best Practice #1: Ensure the System is Solid

One of the biggest challenges with any systems launch is that often the training materials are developed simultaneous to the system being finalized. As you can imagine, this increases the risk of rework as screens, system functionality, and button designs are being finalized.

The decision around when to begin developing training materials for a new system is not simple; there’s a lot to consider! Starting too soon may greatly impact the bottom line for your organization. Starting too late may result in a delay of the system launch or may put users at risk of not having the necessary training materials when they’re most needed.

In a perfect world, the development of the system’s content would be solid before the training is developed. However, business goals and timelines rarely allow for such opportunity. So, how do your create custom systems training and performance support when there’s constant change? There isn’t a perfect answer. Commonly, the anticipated functionality of the system is known, even if the programming is not complete yet. So, developing the training content to the expected features might be the best you can do. From a graphical perspective, it’s best to leverage “placeholder” images until the very last moment, or until that portion of the system has been finalized. 

Best Practice #2: Work Instruction Training – Don’t Do It

If work instructions have already been established, there’s no reason for the training to repeat the step-by-step of those work instructions. Instead, the e-learning or instructor-led /virtual training can reference the work instructions and focus on the tricky steps of the process — those that are expected to cause the system’s users the most trouble.

For instance, if a check mark is required to “push” the document to the next person in the review process, failure to place a check mark in that box creates a delay. Another example is when the system auto-generates something, such as a sequential number. If the user manually enters a number in that field by accident, the system might generate an error. So, the training should emphasize the importance of completing these steps correctly, as well as describing the negative impacts that result when the steps are completed incorrectly. 

Additionally, tailoring system-based training to available work instructions could be costly if the work instructions are updated in the future. Why?

  • The course would likely have to be revised to match the changes, potentially shortening its “shelf-life.”
  • If there are errors or inconsistencies between the work instructions and the course, users will likely become frustrated and confused. This may result in any (or all) of the following:
    • Impacts to the accuracy of data found in the system
    • Unnecessary strain on the system administrators as they’re pulled in to help resolve the problems and answer questions
    • Lower overall productivity of the business

Now, with all of this said, there are times when clients wish to proceed with step-by-step systems training. In these instances, our team works through the development process by providing ideas on how to design the training now to minimize rework later. For example, instead of displaying the entire screen, I recommend using a zoomed-in view of the specific portion of the page.

Best Practice #3: Live vs. Test Environment

Ideally, the system you’re working in should have a “live” environment and a “testing” environment. A live environment is where the real data and workflow is performed while the test environment is where system users can go to practice a skill or procedure. It may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve been on projects where we developed the training using the live environment as daily changes were made to the system. As you might imagine, this makes the task of developing training quite challenging for both the ILG and client teams! In these situations, it pays to be nimble!

If a testing environment is possible, it’s very important that it mirrors the live system (functionality-wise) and is populated with fake data, fake customers, etc., so the user can practice procedures with data similar to the live environment. This fake data should be refreshed in the testing system on a frequent basis, so it can be used for practice as often as necessary.

The Wrap-up

So, don’t let the daunting task of getting ready for go-live drive you to despair. Each new system will have its unique needs that cause you to take a different approach to the training. But the most successful learning leaders use a dash of creativity along with a few tried and true practices to be ready for major technology changes.

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