I am fortunate to receive many phone calls and e-mails for SharePoint developer, architect, and administrator positions, but in the last three years have worked on only one project where I was hired specifically to conduct SharePoint training and adoption management.
Does that mean no one is training SharePoint users? Hardly. Almost every assignment I’ve had as a SharePoint developer, architect, or SME involved my developing and executing well-planned training and internal marketing plans to users, developers, and stakeholders. Maybe the economic downturn is the reason organizations are reluctant to budget for training from a qualified, dedicated trainer. That leaves I.T. departments on their own to do training—and the results aren’t always pretty.
Training is now someone from I.T. plodding through a 50-slide PowerPoint (normally reading exactly what’s displayed on those slides, in a mind-numbing monotone) to a roomful of half-awake users who keep themselves busy responding to their boss’s e-mails. Call me old-fashioned, but not everyone should be considered a trainer. Especially in I.T., advanced knowledge of a technology does not automatically qualify you to be an effective communicator of that knowledge. It takes someone with specific skills as a public speaker to be an effective trainer. After all, some of the most brilliant people in world have trouble speaking to a small group of people.
During my career, I’ve meet many developers and administrators who dreaded communicating with a user—much less being asked to train fellow employees how to properly use Outlook. One administrator actually told me he’d rather cut off his right arm than train another user. Ouch. I thought that was pretty dramatic, but I’m sure many developers and administrators share a similar anxiety.
One of the first things you learn in Toastmasters is just how pervasive this fear is; that public speaking is the #1 reported fear by people in the U.S., and having to speak in front of their peers can cause reactions from hyperventilating to stress-induced mild heart attacks.
The next problem is that your technical staff is, well…technical. This is great when developers are talking to one another about Event handlers over lunch, but bad if they don’t—and can’t—speak in terms of business and process and the all-important, “What’s In It For Me.” Users don’t care if it’s a sequential workflow or that the custom list new form is using JSON. Users want to know the following:
- How is this going to help me do my job?
- Will you be moving my documents from my local and network drive?
- Will this require additional log in?
- Is it mandatory that I use SharePoint? Do I reallyhave to?
- How do I find my documents?
- What do you mean by a “shared document”?
- How does the search work?
- Does this mean I can no longer user my Access databases?
- Why can’t I send the document via e-mail anymore?
- How do I access my documents from home?
- How do I know no one will be able to see my documents?
- At what stage do I upload my documents, draft or final?
- What does a check-in/check-out mean?
- Why does my document have x number of versions?
- What happens when I upload my Word documents that are connected to an Excel spreadsheet?
- I hate SharePoint. I’m not using it.
O.K., #16 is not a question, but I can assure you, that’s what they’re thinking. I can come up with hundreds of questions I’ve fielded from users.
Finding a Trainer
When selecting your trainer, make sure that he/she:
- Is just as excited as you are about the training;
- Can explain technical terms in simple English;
- Has a sense of humor (extremely important);
- Is an expert in the SharePoint domain;
- Understands his/her audience, and
- Will provide a report after training.
So how do you ensure your users will be happy with SharePoint once you roll it out?
- Develop a concrete adoption, training and internal marketing plan before SharePoint is installed.
- Training normally is not thought about until the very end of the project, after all the testing has been completed and the sweat and tears from the developers and administrators have dried. That’s too late.
– Then, it’s “Queue the trainer(s)!” If that sounds like your project, your project is in trouble. From a budget and development standpoint it may be a success, but nothing can be considered a success until you have addressed each of the above questions.
- Your training plan should account for the different types of users who will require training. For example, the CEO won’t want to sit in a four-hour “Introduction to SharePoint,”but he/she wouldn’t mind an informal “lunch and learn” session where he/she can explain to you some of the things that he/she would like to do on SharePoint.
- Your training plan should have a training calendar for the next six months (or however long your project will take). As your project progresses, start sending out invites to staff to attend a quick one-hour session, “What is SharePoint Training?” Again, this should be done early on. SharePoint is still a foreign term in most organizations. Don’t assume your users have a complete understanding of its abilities. Also, keep in mind that some users might have SharePoint experience from previous organizations—and they might have very strong opinions about using SharePoint. You don’t want negative advance reviews to taint your optimistic or open-minded users. Eliminate any rumors and anti-SharePoint discussion. I didn’t major in marketing, but I do know ignorance is like a weed in an organization and can shoot down a project faster than the “I love you” virus.
- Your training plan should include the logistics. Where will training take place? Do you have extra laptops or desktops? Will users have to bring their own laptops? Is everyone set up on WIFI? Is SharePoint accessible on the same network? Do you have remote users? How will they receive training?
- Break down the different roles in SharePoint inside your training and adoption plan. It’s safe to assume at some point you will allow users to publish their own content. How are they going to do that? Are you giving these same users SPD 2007/2010 (I really hope not.) This needs to be communicated early.
- Your training plan should cover the type of training. With all the forms of media available, you might think that the easiest option is to just send users a link to some online training class, trusting that they will take the training and digest the content. I think not. Users have better things to do than spend 30 minutes watching a Camtasia video about something they aren’t currently using. What normally happens is the user minimizes the video and continues working or playing solitaire. No joke. I have seen this in practice. All initial training should be short classroom instructional style with a well-thought-out agenda. That agenda should be sent to users at least two weeks ahead of time with a location, timeframe (example 1 to 2). At this point handouts are not necessary. These are just information sessions.
- The Training and Adoption plan should discuss how feedback will be captured. Before developing your applications did, you ask your users what pains they are currently having with their current system?
- Find your technology champions.
All organizations have a group of people who are open to trying new things and love new technologies. Get them on board first, but caution them about using production documents while the system is still in testing. Communicate this message a few times. They’ll be able to provide some great feedback and may even be able to help with training.
- Develop your own training material.
Yes I know your budget is tight, and you don’t have time for courseware, videos, and e-learning to be developed. That’s why you’re starting your training plan early. Users are visual and require consistent reinforcement. To be effective, make sure your training material (screenshots, etc.) match your application. Courseware ordered online may not look and feel like the applications you are building. This can feel like “bait and switch” to users, creating confusion and distrust in your system.
- 4.Create a SharePoint Council within your organization.
SharePoint affects everything that is important to your users: documents, e-mail, data, project plans and tasks. A SharePoint Council would involve a representative from every department/division, and would be a forum for discussing what they like—and dislike—about SharePoint as it is being deployed. This would be a great time for the I.T. department to train and talk about new features coming down the line. It’s also a great time to iron out best practices for the organization.
- Train often. Train continuously.
Your training should be broken down into the following phases:
- Phase 1 – Pre-deployment. This includes light training and all introduction training, with feedback gathered at the end.
- Phase 2 – Weeks before initial release, this training is “hands on” and conducted in conference rooms/classrooms, using blended methodology (some instructional, some online). QRCs should be handed out with each session. Training ranges from Introduction to Advanced, and is broken up by SharePoint roles.
- Phase 3 – Weeks post-release. This is a great time to train. Hopefully users have used your system and they will have TONS of feedback with in-depth questions about using SharePoint.
- Phase 4 – Refresher Training – As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Randomly schedule one-hour informal training with users. Your goal should be for everyone to have either a one-on-one or small group training with you. Training should not involve more than 10 people in each class. Develop small sessions based on trouble/remedy tickets.
- If you hire an outside training firm, make sure they understand how your organization works.
They should spend a considerable amount of time asking intelligent questions about your business processes so they can tailor the training accordingly. Communicate with your organization about the training firm and what they will be doing.
- Make sure all material, e-learning modules, and videos are license-free. All charges should be upfront. I have developed over 100 SharePoint videos for organizations and have NEVER charged a license fee. Ask, too, whether the e-learning modules are 508 compliant.
As much as I would love to say, “Just hire me to do all your SharePoint training,” that’s not always feasible. (You can still check to see if I’m available).
Either way, I hope the above list will help your organization with successful adoption of your next SharePoint project.