Written by: Bill Cushard
As an enterprise software company, developing training courses to teach your customers how to use your software is crucial for adoption and retention. In a perfect world, it would be possible to develop training content once and be done with it. But in the real world, you are developing training content when you know the software will change so much that it seems like as soon as you finish your training materials, they will be outdated.
This is a problem on two levels. First, the amount of work it takes to keep content up-to-date is considerable as well as resource-intensive. Second, it does not look good to run a training class and get surprised by changes to the software while you are teaching. In addition, showing customers how to use new software features ad hoc while you’re waiting to update your courses (again!) takes considerable time.
In a world of short sprints and rapid release cycles, the days of shipping new software once per year are over. At least they are for fast-growing software companies that ship software to customers in the cloud. With more software companies adopting agile development processes like scrum and conducting monthly or weekly sprints or even continuous integration, cycle times are not slowing down anytime soon.
You and your customers are overwhelmed. Your customers need to somehow keep up with the pace, and you need to help your customers keep up. And if you know that training is one important means for helping your customers keep up, how do you keep your training materials current?
This is not an easy question to answer, and there is not likely one foolproof answer to solve this problem. However, there are things you can do to make it much easier to keep up with the pace of software development in a cloud world.
Here are four ways to keep customer training current when your software changes frequently.
As ServiceRocket CEO, Rob Castaneda reminds us regularly, “Every class needs that diagram.” The diagram is the conceptual picture that explains your software, a workflow process, or the overall concept of what is taught in the course. This is placed at the beginning of a course and frames the entire class.
For example, if you developed a class on a CRM, your diagram might show to overall workflow of a CRM:
Lead > Contact > Opportunity > Account > Proposal > Contact > Won/Lost
A diagram like this frames the entire concept of your software, and is unlikely to change, no matter how often your software changes.
Another way to look at this is to design your training to focus on the conceptual work reason for which your software exists. This helps people understand why they need to use your software, making the “how” a lot easier to learn.
We have all been in training classes that simply walk through each tab of the software, starting with the first tab on the left, showing each feature of every tab. This is a simple training development style and attempts to ensure that nothing gets missed. The problem is that learners do not need to know every feature to get their job done. They certainly will not remember all the features anyway.
The solution is to stop conducting tab/feature training and start conducting work task training. For example, instead of teaching every feature on the accounts tab, just teach people how to merge contacts when a duplicate is found. Learning how to merge contacts is more relatable to someone’s job than learning merge record features.
Stop putting screenshots in your training materials. They are hard to read and secondly, as fast as your software changes, they will be the first things to become obsolete. Finally, the screenshot is only there (admit it) to prompt you to switch over to your browser to show how that screen works anyway, right?
Instead of a screenshot, describe the work task that needs to be learned at a more conceptual level. You could even list action steps, but don’t put a screenshot on the slide. Put a link to that page in the software instead.
Not every release warrants a training class. Most of the time, customers only need to know what changed, which is the entire point of release notes. Keep in mind, your customers may not know what release notes are. This is where the training team can come in and write job aids to help customers understand what has changed and how their jobs will change. If the training team writes these updates, they have content ready when a training course needs to be re-designed after six minor releases pile up over 12 weeks.
There is no getting around the difficulty of keeping training content up-to-date in a world of short sprints and rapid release cycles. The ideas above are just a few things that can help. And while there is no fool-proof plan or magic pill that will help keep training materials current, if you just change how you design your training courses using the techniques above, you can keep up a lot better.
Learn more here.
Originally published on April 15, 2015