Foretrained is Forearmed: Training as a key to agile development

By Joel Barker

The Word Lions were recently called up to Seattle to introduce ourselves to our client’s customers.  The customers are from a consortium of electric utilities in the midst of a year-long software project. Originally, Word Lions came on board to provide user training for the final project.  Our customers asked us to show the users that training is a priority for this project.  We came to evangelize on a subject we hold near and dear: how training can ease the adoption of new software.  However, we came away with a surprising lesson of our own – and a new role in the project.

What a great idea: create scenarios that use live software or simulations to get better input from the customers - and get it earlier in the development cycle.

Speaking to the Choir

We did a short presentation on the value of training and what the user base could expect.  The end users were concerned how the new software is going to effect their day.  Will it make things harder?  Will they be able to adapt to it?  Will they be prepared on the day they have to cut over?  We told them that we would be creating software simulations and e-learning courses that will prepare them for the software.  It will also mean that new hires can take the course and quickly get up to speed on the software.

As we had hoped, our presentation went over really well.  But what none of us expected was that the customers would ask for more training sooner.

Mid-Stream Training For Agile Development

This project is using an agile software development methodology. This allows richer, more useful feedback from users during the software development, but it also brings in the new challenge of getting users sufficiently engaged to provide meaningful feedback.

Every quarter, a select group of users from the customer fly to a meeting and spend a day in a conference room going over the project status.  Questions fly, commitments are made, and everyone flies home. This one day event generates invaluable feedback that is then rolled into the software, but what about all those users back home who don’t attend this meeting?

During the Seattle meeting, one user spoke up and asked if we could create courses for the early releases that would give them a way to experience the software in realistic scenarios.

Now, I am a huge proponent of e-learning and computer based training to solve a lot of problems, but I had never thought of this.  What a great idea: create scenarios that use live software or simulations to get better input from the customers - and get it earlier in the development cycle.

Our New Task

Now Philip and I are ramping up on this project even earlier than we had planned.  For their next quarterly meeting, we will be presenting

  • An in-person demonstration of the beta software.

  • A Learning Management System (LMS) with software simulation courses that explain the user interface and run through some common scenarios.

  • Labs, delivered as PDF documents, that guide users through scenarios on the development site.

The Benefits of Mid-Stream Training for Agile Products

After the meeting I sat down and wrote out a short list of the features of this mid-stream training.  We can make a pretty good argument for the cost-effectiveness of this – particularly if people like Word Lions put it together and you don’t have to take your dev team away from coding.

**If your software project or IT initiative is looking for creative training and documentation solutions, **get in touch with us.  We can help you find creative ways to get your users on board with your project.

By offering beta labs and simulations, we can:

  • Increase involvement by the user base, expanding to people who can not make the conference calls and meetings.

  • Fit in with the Agile methodology be getting recurring feedback on prototypes, alphas, and betas.

  • Get greater buy-in, particularly from user bases with some concern about the adoption of the software.

  • Get better final training by involving the trainers early on.  After the project launches, training done right can make all the difference in user adoption and the ongoing cost of support. Good training can produce a very good ROI!

  • Reduce travel and downtime by getting feedback from users who don’t have to leave their desks.

  • Just make better software.

I’m really excited about these simulations and labs - they’re really going to give our users the involvement and reassurance they’re looking for. We’ll get more meaningful feedback earlier, and the users are now really excited about the process, which is going to make a better product in the end. Plus, it takes the burden off of the developers, which gives me some breathing room.

Michael Sulis of Sulis Consulting

We love to talk about this stuff.  Get a hold of us if you want to exchange ideas about training for your software or IT initiatives.