Friday, August 6, 2010

Notes on Training

Ongoing training of all levels of your transformation team is critical both to the success of the project and the company.  Ironically, training is often looked at as the ugly ducking in the budget cycle and as the line item that can serve as a “reserve cushion” when the inevitable need to make budget cuts occurs (you know the drill, around September, finance begins to panic and all budgets must be reduced, “non-essential” travel curtailed, all hiring suspended, and all reports must focus on budget control). Despite being the usual victim of end of year budget cuts, it is ironic that training budgets are often unused by the end of year. Training is a use or lose proposition, but who can spend time on training during the last three months of the year when there are pressing and holidays are approaching?
Some companies have a training department, formally tasked to dealing with training requirements for the organization. In my experience, these departments tend to focus on aspects related to the organization as a whole: company processes and values, inter-personal relations, and training in personal improvement areas commonly found in the catalogues offered by third parties.  Depending on the company governance, you might have to work with this training department but, when it comes to IT Transformation, it’s important that you take the lead in the areas and focus for the training related to the transformation.
When it comes to transformation, training should be given much more r-e-s-pect.  As with testing, training should be an inherent task in the overall transformation planning and not merely an after-thought.  For starters, since you are dealing with the introduction of new technologies, make it a practice to include vendor training as a part of any software or hardware acquisition.  Everyone involved with the new technology should be trained in it. However, focus on train-the-trainer for those skills you wish to definitely preserve in house. In fact, vendor training arrangements ought to be primarily focused on train-the-trainer levels as opposed to basic 101 courses.
The same 101-training avoidance should apply in all cases.  Invest in training that covers intermediate or advanced levels only. Don’t waste time and money sending your people to introductory courses. When possible, let them purchase and expense books and web-training programs on introductory topics (the “Just-for-Dummies” series comes to mind).  Allowing your team to read these books during company time is a much more efficient use of their time and the company’s money than having them attend 101 courses elsewhere.  If this doesn’t suffice, establish an internal training and mentoring program to enable transfer of knowledge from experienced staff to junior staff.
Also, don’t forget the challenge of retraining those who will need to re-qualify their skills due to the elimination of personal areas of expertise caused by the transformation.  Still, the same training principles should apply to re-training staff: no introductory courses, focus on applied mentoring, etc., However, given that you are dealing with the sensitive human resource aspects and morale issues created by the transformation, be aware that those individuals may  approach such training warily.  The will certainly (and probably rightfully so) feel that their professional future is at stake and that it all depends on their ability to get trained properly.  In this case you owe them a more structured training and knowledge acquisition program. In this circumstance you must work very closely with your HR department as you may need to face the fact that a number of the staff will simply not be trainable. Tough calls will then have to be made about career progressions (transfer to another area if appropriate, or departure from the company, if no other alternative exists).
An additional observation is that if you check the training statistics for any given timeframe, you will notice that typically eighty percent of the training is consumed by twenty percent of the people (“Pareto’s Principle” at work again!). Some employees shun all forms of training (“I don’t need it!”); whereas others become professional training participants, particularly those who like to make a career at collecting all types of certifications.  You’ll need to me more pro-active when it comes to developing training schedules for the team. It’s best to circulate a training questionnaire and have everyone list their own training preferences (subjects, levels, and available times) in order to get a sense of how best to balance the training efforts and to plan training accordingly.
Attending conferences and conventions may or may not be considered valid training efforts. Depending on the specifics, attendance may be more of a boondoggle than a true training event. You will need to make sure the training budget is truly applied to efforts intended to give expanded knowledge to the team.
Also, when I speak about training, it’s best to think holistically about training all affected constituencies. Don’t forget the need to also train the users of the new solution, from the business stakeholders to the front end employee using the applications.  Negotiate with the appropriate line managers so that you can tap their respective training budgets for this effort.   
Finally, it should go without saying, it is often difficult to differentiate between the training needed for the transition period from the training needed when the system has reached a steady state. Training for the transition period should be part of the migration plan and should be structured as a one-off basis. Planning for ongoing training will require further study and the appropriate development of recurring training tools, including web-based training, internal company training curriculum establishment, and even partnering with external training companies. Training programs and materials for steady-state are, in fact, part of the transformation deliverable.