Field NotesFree Food and Training Tips

Michael Dragone

I Am a Systems Engineer for a title insurance company of about 150 people. Our computing needs are actually quite simple since our primary line-of-business application is Web-based. Therefore, we mainly interact with Internet Explorer® and, of course, Microsoft® Office.

With a relatively simple application deployment such as this, you might expect our users to have few, if any, day-to-day problems using these applications. For the most part, that's correct. Issues that arise are often the variety that the average TechNet Magazine reader could resolve within seconds.

Through experience, I've learned that good user education is critical to keeping these issues to a minimum. I'd like to share two of the things that we do with our users in the hopes that you might take similar steps with your own users.

The first is training classes. Every so often, we hold a class that covers new systems we've installed, new applications we'll be rolling out, and new policies in place. Likewise, if we're going to be introducing a major system change, we hold a special class just to cover that change and answer any questions. We do this in advance of the change so that our users are fully prepared.

For example, we're planning on rolling out a major upgrade to our phone system. Although our users will still be able to access their voicemail through Outlook® as they do now, the software they use to do so is changing. We plan on holding a training session in which the phone system vendor will demonstrate the new interface to our users and allow them to ask questions well in advance of the actual rollout.

We also cover existing topics that our users are having trouble with. If you've spent any time in your trouble ticketing system, you'll know what those issues are. For example, one of our users didn't understand why two separate systems had to have two different passwords. No amount of verbal explanation put this to rest until she saw it depicted on a PowerPoint® slide and experienced an "Aha!" moment.

In my experience I've found that, no matter the particular topic, the keys to a successful meeting are free food and a lighthearted tone. Make it easy for your users to ask any question, even the "dumb" questions.

My second tip is to simply walk around the office. Every day, I take 10 or 15 minutes to mingle with our users. If I see someone performing a task in a strange way, I stop and discuss what she is doing and why for a few minutes. Often I am able to show her an alternate method that is far easier. For instance, one of our users continually rearranged his Outlook toolbars by accident, but had no idea how to correct the problem. He suffered in silence until I noticed this one day. I showed him how to make changes to his toolbars so that when he accidentally rearranged them again he could restore them to the way he preferred.

Other users might have issues that they don't want to bring up to your help desk or technical support group for a variety of reasons. Some might feel embarrassed, thinking that the questions they have are silly and not worth the attention of IT. Others live with a bum keyboard or mouse, not realizing that IT often keeps spare replacements around for just these occasions. By taking a few minutes to visit with your users, you can resolve many of these issues and come up with ideas for your next training class. (And don't forget the free food.)

It's important to remember your users in all aspects of your work. Most, if not all, of the changes you make to your systems, policies, and procedures will have at least some user impact. Each user is unique and will react differently to these changes.

Oftentimes it's difficult for us who consider technology second nature to best serve our users who aren't as technologically savvy. With a little patience and some user training, you can help your users to like computers as much as you do. In small steps, of course.

Michael Dragone is a Systems Engineer for a title insurance company in New York. He is an MCDST and a MCSE: Messaging. In his spare time he enjoys long walks on the beach, playing with his dog, and fully patched servers.

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