Documentation and User Training - What are You Doing Wrong?

Posted by Jonathan DeVore

I've noticed that when I speak to Admin, trainers, and managers, there is a common perception that training and documentation are two separate things. Training is a time to pound concepts and workflows into users' heads, hoping that everybody will remember all of the PowerPoint slides and the onscreen demonstrations.

Documentation is sort of an afterthought that is mentioned while everybody is packing up and getting ready to leave.

Or I've heard of managers and trainers using hard copy print-outs that users can reference during training so that they can go through the workflows at their own pace. This is a little better, but I think the point of documentation combined with training is still sort of lost.

Training is not a time for users to memorize steps. Clicks, fields, and screens are not only difficult to memorize, but they are always changing. As soon as somebody memorizes a workflow, chances are that it's going to change.

Training is a time for users to learn high-level process flows that aren't likely to change as frequently and are a little easier to grasp, and then learn where to find the instructions, and how to follow the isntructions, for executing the procedures.

Modern training looks kind of like school

Holding a training in the same manner as teaching a class at a school is somewhat problematic. In school, we were often memorizing dates, names, and facts that were static - the war of 1812 was declared in 1812. The Pythagorean theorem will always be "the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides."

Expecting users to memorize everything is kind of pointless because how you perform operations today will not be the same in two months.

The other problem is that school teaches us to memorize a lot of information, and then unload it all on an exam. Once the exam is over, we can pretty much forget everything we learned. But what you are teaching users needs to be leveraged on a regular basis. So cramming information isn't very useful.

It would be better to show users how to "cheat" than how to remember a few answers for a training quiz at the end of the session. Teach your users how to find the answers when they need to perform an operational task.

Documentation and training

Documentation needs training just as much as training needs documentation. One without the other is incomplete. But just having them is not good enough - they need to be used together.

Training is where you teach your users how to reference and use your documentation. And documentation is where your users go when they need the details for executing a process they learned about during training.

Teach your users how to fish by incorporating your documentation into your training. Let them know that they aren't expected to memorize everything because there is a guide they can use whenever they need a reminder - then show them how to use the guide.

All they need is to be familiar with scenarios they'll come across, and comfortable finding, and following, the instructions for executing the intended process.

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Topics: Live Training