Figuring out software: How to get learners up to speed faster

By Hugh Alley   

Be sure to ask about training needs or ease of learning.

Consider how easy the software you are considering will be to use. Photo: Fotolia

Employees are very resourceful. When asked to do something they’ll find a way, even if the solution is less than elegant because management skimped on training, building reports or queries.

When selecting software, business analysts ask operational staff what they need. Their focus is transactional stuff: “I need to be able to receive an incomplete shipment… I need to be able to adjust inventory after a count… I need an alert when something is scrapped.”

But few analysts ask about training needs or ease of learning.

The following steps will get your team up to speed faster, with fewer errors – a benefit you’ll enjoy every time a new person is hired:


Count keystrokes and screens. Simple, but it works. Identify the half dozen processes most commonly handled by each role. Count the keystrokes and the screens needed to complete each process. Pick the software with fewer keystrokes and screens.

Count user errors in a trial. Give a four year old an iPad and within an hour he/she is using it without thinking. Business software should be that intuitive. Arrange a trial with each short-listed package. Give users a 15-minute orientation and ask them to test the six processes. Count how many times they have to go back and re-do something: reposition the cursor, go to a different screen, select a different option from a menu, search for a menu item – anything that doesn’t get them directly to the end of the process. Pick the solution that generates fewer errors.

Ask the vendor about their instructional methodology. If they can’t tell you how the instruction process was developed, take it as a warning. Two options to look for are instruction designed by someone with credentials in instructional design or the Training Within Industry (TWI) model. Either works. One software vendor started using the TWI process and saw learning time shorten by half, with better compliance to new processes and fewer calls for help.

Follow these steps for less stressful learning and staff that are more productive and accurate.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains in delivery, quality and cost over a short timeframe. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail

This article appeared in the September issue of PLANT Magazine.


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