Sunday, 18 July 2010

Trouble with training

When I was still in high school, I had an English teacher for a year, who told me something that I still remember - "Learning is a science; but teaching is an art". At the time, I didn't fully understand what he meant, but over the years, I have come to see that this is actually a very profound statement.

Since college, I have worked hard to keep my skills up to date. I've read technical material, books and white papers, many of which I have kept - and these have sections highlighted or pages marked out with colored tabs. I scribble comments in the margins, and occasionally use post-it notes as well. I use a structured method to read, digest and understand the various items, and it is clear that this is a scientific approach to gaining knowledge. For me, this is the best way to learn new things - altho I always then want to try to apply what I have learned in a test environment.

However, this method doesn't suit everyone. Altho I am happy to spend my own time wading thru various documents, most of my colleagues are not so eager. They leave work at the end of the day, and don't really want to spend their leisure time on what they see as "work related" tasks. Having said that, they are also not too keen to spend much of their working day reading books. At the beginning of the project, we bought a number of the SAP Press books (and some others) which were handed out to the relevant department heads - many of these books were opened once, a few pages looked at, then closed, and they have remained that way since.

The reality is that not everyone is comfortable with self-learning material - they find it difficult to motivate themselves to work their way thru the material, and have difficulty in relating what they read to the work that they do. This is an issue that affects a lot of the training that we carry out, not just SAP - and this is where the teaching "art" comes in. It is necessary for the tutor to understand that each person is different and requires different methods to learn - and the teacher has to have a streak of creativity that allows them to develop ways of presenting the material that will get thru to the student.

During the project, the various project leaders were encouraged to create self-study items to be used by the staff. These were generally involving a single process or part of process - for example, "how to create a sales order" or "how to release a purchase order". I setup a shared repository for these files, and access permission was given to all staff to read and a few more senior people to change or replace, so that they could go thru the files, make whatever changes were felt appropriate to make the materal as relevant as possible.

Unfortunately, it appears that none of the staff actually use this material. Altho it has been specifically aimed at providing them with the right information, and they have all been reminded of where to find it, no-one actually makes any use it at all. It seems that the concept of learning by reading is totally alien to them and that doesn't look as if it is going to change any time soon.

When I first joined the company, I expressed my concern at what I saw a very low level of IT literacy amonsgt staff. People had learnt by rote - "press button 3, press button A, press F7". They had no idea of what these keystrokes did, or why they had to press them - they just knew that was the sequence.

In many cases, altho they were carefully trained to use other equipment, or given instruction in safety procedures, they had received little or no training on how to do the specific task on the computer. At best, someone else that just knew the sequence without understanding why would pass on that information, often by writing it down on a sticky note which was then pasted on the monitor.

Senior management were not particularly bothered - they didn't see the need for staff to be "IT Trained" as they put it. I can understand that there is a limit, but I do feel that a lot of problems are caused by inadequate training, and these create problems, delay work and all of this will actually end up wasting money.

With the SAP project, I had hoped that we move away from this attitude and be able to get people properly trained. The problem is of course that if people don't have the right motivation, then it is unlikely that they will improve their skills. If we can't improve work practices, then we will never get the full value out of the SAP project. I therefore suggested that we needed to have a properly dedicated training facility.

So we set-up a fully equipped training room for IT - this is available for everyone to use and there was some good use made of it before the go-live. However, since then it hasn't been used once. I think that this is a shame as it could help us get more out our investment. But with so few people having the self-motivation to learn new stuff and the discipline to stick with it, I suspect that we will not see the value that we should.

Ultimately, we need to change people's perceptions - it is just no longer good enough for someone to know the sequence of key strokes, they need to understand the process and why they have to follow it.


  1. Great post, SAP Me Sideways. What you've got on your hands is a very common problem.

    There are no easy answers, and I'm sure you know that going live is just the first step in the next 15+ years of implementing and using SAP.

    It seems to me that your entire company needs a big dose of Learning Sustainment philosophy and action.

    This needs to come from the top and it's an organizational change management challenge first, then an IT training challenge.

    I've got a good powerpoint I can send you, plus I will be blogging on this subject very soon. Email me at