Social Business, Don't Overlook the Importance of Effective SharePoint User Training

While most of the recent stories about SharePoint revolve around the latest buzzwords and hot topics -- gamification, cloud, mobile, social, Yammer, etc. -- one component of a successful SharePoint rollout that is often overlooked is an effective user training program.

Although talking about training seems to be out of fashion at the moment, it' still very important. Leanne Bateman (@LBatemanPMP), SharePoint Project Manager and Trainer for Beacon Strategy Group, reminded me of this when I attended her session titled Best Practices for SharePoint User Training at SPTechCon Boston last month.

Throughout her session she outlined how effective training helps address some of the challenges that organizations face while implementing SharePoint. She also evaluated the various training methods and shared best practices for successful SharePoint training.

The SharePoint Challenge

At a high level the typical SharePoint implementation contains three components: planning, implementation and ongoing management. There are many common issues that can arise both during and after rollout; from lack of a clear vision, to inadequate support from senior management, to insufficient resources, to lack of training support for end users.

To ensure a successful implementation, training needs to be planned for early in the process; resources need to be committed to assembling the training materials as well as performing the actual training. If an organization doesn’t have a dedicated training department or person on staff, the project manager can be a good resource for this, as they can create the training program while the rest of the team is implementing the project.

While it makes sense that training should take place during and shortly after the implementation, what often gets overlooked is that training needs to be an ongoing effort after rollout. There will be new employees that need to be trained, as well as users that will want refresher courses periodically.

The unfortunate reality is that very few people get formal training in SharePoint when it's rolled out in their organization. I followed up with Bateman after the conference, and she shared with me a couple key reasons why. 

The most common reason an organization may not include training in their SharePoint rollout is budget. They don’t want to spend the money on training and they also often believe that training will cost far more than it actually does.”

Another reason that organizations don't offer training is that they simply don’t think it is necessary. They mistakenly believe that their employees will be able to learn SharePoint without any training. Adds Bateman,

Unfortunately, SharePoint isn’t very intuitive to most users and once a user gets stuck, they get frustrated; when they get frustrated, they begin to think that SharePoint is a bad system and they dislike (and often resist) using it from that point forward.”

User Adoption is the Key

One of the most critical factors for software success and return on investment is effective user adoption. Whether a training program is provided or not, users are expected to understand what SharePoint is and what it can do, and they are expected to learn it quickly. Oftentimes, half of the IT team is not even up to speed on SharePoint.

Furthermore, lack of training can cause numerous negative effects on the successful adoption of SharePoint. According to Bateman,

Besides the potential for users to accidentally delete information or do other damage (depending on their access), frustration is the #1 negative effect of poor or no training. And the repercussions that user frustration can have should not be discounted: it can actually become quite disruptive even though it could so easily have been prevented.”

User frustration obviously can lead to undesired outcomes. Bateman further explains,

When a user becomes frustrated, this can lead to their inability to use SharePoint, resistance to using SharePoint altogether, complaining and badmouthing SharePoint (and potentially turning others against it) and negative feelings toward IT (whether or not IT made the decision to not offer training). This negativity can also affect future upgrades and other IT efforts because it wears away the users’ trust toward IT.”

Effective Training Methods

There are a number of learning methods that have been proven to be effective, including instructor-led hands-on training, videos, documented instructions, books, etc. In addition, there are vast SharePoint community resources available, and many of them are free! Users can utilize websites, forums, blogs, video tutorials, user group meetings, SharePoint Saturday events and conferences to learn more about SharePoint.

Bateman says that if an organization is only able to offer one type of training, they should choose hands-on training. “Because adults learn best by doing, the majority of adult learners still prefer hands-on classroom training,” says Bateman.

If organizations have the budget, Bateman suggests supplementing hands-on classes with written instructions and short, task-based videos. “The instructions and videos serve to support and/or extend the skills they learned in the classroom.”

For basic end user training, Bateman suggests to start with a glossary of terms so you are talking the same language with your users. She also stresses that your training classes should be tailored to your audience, and classes should be offered on a rotating basis to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

Should You Force the Issue?

The question arises as to whether SharePoint training should be mandatory or optional for users. In Bateman's experience, she says that training should be mandatory whenever possible, because

it builds a common foundation of SharePoint skills throughout the organization. This common skill base allows users to help each other when they get stuck, rather than put the burden on the help desk or worse, get frustrated."

The downside to mandatory training is that some people don't like being told what to do and may even resist learning. In addition there will be different levels of users to deal with during training sessions.

Although she recommends requiring training to be mandatory, Bateman concedes that "Optional training is better than no training at all, and the users who attend may be more focused because they are choosing to be there."

Training Best Practices

To conclude her session, Bateman presented her ten best practices for SharePoint training:

  1. Keep it simple. Too much at once or training that is overly complicated won't be effective.
  2. Offer both basic end user and power user training. It's important to recognize the different roles within SharePoint and train those users separately.
  3. Train users in the environment they'll be using. Your company’s SharePoint environment is unique and may have even been customized to look different than the standard SharePoint interface.
  4. Be aware of and address all levels of users. Make sure to recognize the different skill levels of the users and train them accordingly.
  5. Use real job-related use cases and examples. Users will be able to relate to real-world, job-related examples much better than some made-up, random use case.
  6. Utilize a combination of at least two training methods. For example, use video training to complement classroom training (but not as a replacement).
  7. Make training mandatory, if at all possible. This will ensure that all users have been trained and you won’t have knowledge gaps.
  8. Keep training sessions short, but long enough to get users started. Basic end user training should be between one and a half to three hours, and power user training between two to four hours.
  9. Use evaluations, surveys and assessments to gauge effectiveness. The only way to be sure that training efforts are effective is to measure them.
  10. Be sure to train the Help Desk. Don't forget to train the organization's first line of defense to the issues that users may have.

Title image courtesy of photokup (Shutterstock) 

Editor's Note: To read more by Wendy, see her Building a Mobile App for SharePoint? Not so Fast!