Here at Unified Solutions we always strive to enable our customers to become self-sufficient as early as possible throughout the delivery of each project. We like them to be able to move from the last project onto the next with us while making the most of the CMS they've invested in – after all if the software allows for multiple sites why not use them!
Exactly how each project becomes self-sufficient varies (of course) with each customer. When I myself used to deliver bespoke software solutions as an enterprise search consultant, most of my first projects ended with some form of formal training involving a hardcopy manual and a set of overhead projector acetates (remember them?). The setting was classroom based and customers used to often come to our offices paying a per seat price, staying in local hotels and being provided with a whole days’ worth of unhealthy food – Danish pastries to start, biscuits and sweets throughout (can I make it to first coffee break before I start on them…), crisps, sandwiches, fizzy drinks…you needed something to help you stay awake for what were often 2-3 day events! Attendees left with a large binder of paper and a few extra pounds on their waistlines – both bigger and wiser.
Nowadays we do more knowledge transfer than training and by its very nature that's more of an ongoing sharing of information as and when appropriate in smaller slices, tailored to the needs of the individual(s) and less documentation heavy; and a great deal healthier and better environmentally. On a lot of proposals we don’t even have a specific line item for “training” anymore and simply factor in these face-to-face / online knowledge transfer sessions as part of the way we involve customers in the way the solution is developing as the implementation progresses; it is a continuation of the engagement we started with our customers in the earlier phases of our InSite delivery methodology.
I believe this works much better for our customers as they get the right level of information at the most appropriate time for them in the project and they get to use that knowledge straight away – it is not just theory. One of the major advantages of online webinars for knowledge transfer is their ability to record the session so attendees can play it back again at their own speed and consolidate what they have learned. However another as compelling reason is that anyone who wasn’t there can also benefit from the session. This is where the scales tip firmly in favour of this approach. A common factor in most customer project deliver is staff turnover. It is not uncommon to start a project with one team and deliver to another completely; and this turnover continues through long-term support. It is hugely beneficial to be able to point new starters at the videos and let them have (almost) as good a knowledge transfer session as the original project team members. They miss the context but that too can be a good thing as they come to the solution without any baggage of other options/decisions not taken. Having a set of walk through videos is a valuable by-product of the way we try to pass on the knowledge throughout a project, and it works so much better than simply thumping a training manual on their desk!
We think we have the balance right for our customers but will of course continue to evolve how we can best inform our customers. But perhaps we should take some lessons from the past and additionally mail them a packet of biscuits and a six-pack of diet Coke…just to be sure.