The Secret of Successful Software Implementations

It’s the dirty little secret of successful software implementations. No one really talks about it. It’s taken for granted and underappreciated, usually. Like the Aunt that always shows up at parties and holidays with gifts for the kids, but everyone makes fun of her anyway. The Spanish call it “adiestrando”. The French call it “entraînement”. The Germans call it “Ausbildung”. In Latin, they used to call it “palaestra”, of course. Here in the US, we just call it “training”.

You can pick just the right software, configure it perfectly, build the best doggone reports on the planet, but if the people aren’t trained, it all comes tumbling down. The next thing you know the Customer Service department is complaining about how hard the software is to use, the Accounting Department is complaining that the software doesn’t meet their needs, and management is wondering what they paid all that money for. The next thing you know, people will be saying “it doesn’t work like our old softwareJ Good training generally solves all this.

One of the challenges is that training is an area that many times gets short-changed in the project budget. There are plenty of dollars set aside for configuration and customizations, but with training, the expectation is that we’ll throw a few training classes together, have all the staff attend them, and WHOLLA…people will know what to do. It doesn’t work like this.

A better way to organize training is by department, and within each department, by function. And…each person should be scheduled for multiple training sessions. First a training session before they’ve used the software, and then later, one or more sessions AFTER they’ve used the software so fill in the gaps. In addition, we’ve found that “vanilla” training is not nearly as effective as business specific training. This may sound somewhat obvious, but it’s amazing how many times it doesn’t happen this way. Vanilla training is having a trainer that knows the software but doesn’t know anything about your business or about how you’ll be using the software. This is okay for “refresher” training, but when rolling out new systems, it’s critical that the users are trained specifically in how their business will be using the software. What’s the point of learning about some cool landed costing feature, when your business doesn’t even land goods? There are only so many different concepts people can master at one time, and it’s critical that the training focus on the “bread and butter” of what they’re going to be doing day in and day out.

I’m a big fan of training, and not just because it helps increase the chances of success with software implementations. I also believe training is the dirty little secret of successful management as well. Not only does training help employees do their jobs better, but it also signals to them that they’re valued by the company. In his great book Drive, Dan Pink writes that once fair compensation is in place, people are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. A huge component of “mastery” is training. And consistently providing your people with the ability to achieve mastery goes a long way towards helping your team enjoy what they do and appreciate the company that employs them. It helps motivate them, and it helps you retain them for long periods of time.

Don’t skimp on training. It not only helps you get the most out of your technology investments, it also helps you get the most out of your people.