Training Your End Users Is A Waste Of Time
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Training End Users On Enterprise Software: A Personal Experience

Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that thoroughly training end users (employees) on enterprise software is a waste of time for both the users and the trainer. You may or may not agree, but this is my conclusion after seeing myself and others like me unsuccessful in attempting this for many years. Read further on to see how I came to this conclusion and my thoughts on what works in regard to helping users.

This realization dawned on me back in 2010 when I was conducting a class in Chicago training end users on Microsoft SharePoint. I felt pretty good about myself since everyone was nodding their heads and truly seemed like they were really getting it. This went on for 2 full days as we talked about sites, pages, lists, libraries, permissions, web parts, site columns, content types—the works!

At the end of the 2-day class, the organization that I was consulting for wanted me to sit in their office the next couple of days in case end users had any questions while using the system I just trained them on. I had no doubt in my mind that there would be a few questions, but nothing substantial since I just taught them everything they needed to know. I was so wrong!

During the couple of days that I sat there in their office, I got questions on the how-to of what I had just spent two days thoroughly teaching them. Questions such as:

  • Do I make a new subsite when I don't have enough room on this site homepage?
  • Where do I upload our company pictures? In the document library you showed us or somewhere else?
  • I want to give permission to this user on this site, but not on this other site. How do I do that?
  • Why is it asking me to "check out" the document that I'm clicking on? This is too confusing. What does this mean?

I felt terrible. I felt like I robbed the company for the training that I provided to these end users since they had questions on the same stuff we had already just covered in the training.

I did the best I could in those two days that I sat there in that office to help their users and then bid them farewell and good luck. They had very minimal SharePoint knowledge within the company and I wished that I could leave behind some on-demand knowledge that could help their users at their moment of need. I knew I was going to get emails/calls afterward. I was definitely right about that part. Lots of calls and emails afterward from frustrated users.

This was a tough experience for me. It taught me that no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't get their end users to become SharePoint end users. They were really end users who had expertise in their domain (the company dealt with secondary institution insurance). They didn't really care about SharePoint much. It was just a tool to help them do their job.

A Realization

I finally had the realization: Users who use SharePoint don't want to become SharePoint end users any more than users who use MS Office want to become Office End Users. 

This applies equally well to any enterprise software and not just SharePoint.

It is impossible to thoroughly train end users on a web application and to have them become completely literate on that application in a couple of days. It's unreasonable to expect that. The time spent training end users should rather be used for explaining how they can be successful with their jobs using the platform which just happens to be powered by a particular technology. Users need to understand the WIIFM (What's In It For Them) clearly. If there is nothing in it for them, then it's a waste of their time and the trainer's.

It's better to provide help to users as needed.

Help Provided In-Context And On-Demand To Users Just Works

No one really cares about how to create a new column on an existing list until they have a need for it. Checking out a document from a library is not cool until there is a need for locking down a document so you can edit it and you learn that checking out is the way to do that. Editing the page of your site is not something anyone gets excited about until an end user wants to share results of a contest that shows scores and pictures of the winners and their trophies.

My learnings from this experience were:

  • Let's not waste the employees as well as the trainer's time trying to train all employees thoroughly on any enterprise application.
  • An end user doesn't want to (and quite honestly should not have to) be as enthusiastic about the application as you might be.
  • People who use enterprise applications at their work just want to do their jobs and not to become experts in any particular system.
  • Provide your end users the help they need when they need it—not before and not after.

Best wishes and good luck on controlling the chaos of end user support in your organization. Feel free to leave a comment on this post if you would like to discuss some possible solutions.

Originally published at info.visualsp.com.

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