my world of work and user experiences

May 31, 2014

10 lessons learned about migration training

Filed under: Governance,Office365 — frederique @ 13:52

Over the past months, I have been training users in the basics of Office 365 and on how to get there from their old system. They were using Lotus Notes, so they had to go quite a distance. And they had to take quite a few of the steps themselves, in addition to automated migration steps. I hope the users learned from these training sessions. In any case, I have learned a few lessons.

1. Acknowledge the fact that nobody wants to migrate

IT people and consultants often love to jump to the latest and greatest software. But regular employees are busy doing their jobs. The intranet or digital workplace are just tools for them: they expect these tools to work and don’t want to waste time on them.

So when I started my training sessions, I was in for a lot of grumbling: the Lotus Notes users heard that they not only had to get used to a new tool, but that they also had to spend time on migrating their e-mail.

To ease the pain:

  • I showed how the new tools can make their lives easier,
  • and how they are not so different from the old tools as to force them to relearn everything.
  • I explained what the IT department had done,
  • and what they could do themselves to make the migration take as little of their energy as possible.

2. Don’t make the training mandatory, but strongly encourage people to take action

The goal is not to make people follow the training sessions, but to enable them to migrate and start using the new tools smoothly. Some people need training for that, other can manage without training.

The organisers at first wanted to make the training mandatory, and I am very happy they decided to keep it optional. I do not want to have a group of people in my session who really don’t want to be there…

To help the people who don’t have much time:

  • we also offered short versions of the training at the end of the work day,
  • they had the option to follow a training session via teleconferencing ,
  • we had call to action e-mails and materials that the users could consult in their own time.
  • And when somebody dropped by to tell me they did not have the time for a full session, I could tell them in a few minutes what they absolutely needed to know to avoid problems.

3. Invite the participants explicitly

The employees don’t have time and this has little priority for them, compared to their “real” job. Make it as easy as possible for them to learn about the training sessions and to attend.

When I started with these training sessions, the organisers send the employees who were scheduled to be migrated an e-mail, containing (among a lot of other information) a link to page where they could find a training schedule and then click on another link to register for a training session. Hardly anybody showed up. Attendance was improved a lot, when they also sent meeting invitations to these people.

To make sure people did not miss the training by oversight

  • Send them a personal invitation; don’t just assume they will find it on the intranet.
  • Invite them in such a way that the session ends up in their calendar.

4. Try to get together in the same room, with teleconferencing as a fall-back scenario

It is easiest to check if people understand what you are explaining when you can look them in the eye. And the participants can ask their questions more freely when they are in the same room.

The training sessions we planned were at the participants’ locations. However, they could also join via a teleconference and screensharing via Lync. A few people did take advantage of that option. However, when the discussions became lively in the room, it was hard to follow and participate for the people who had joined us online.

5. Distribute your handout or materials at the beginning

Some people felt a bit overwhelmed by all the new information and all the actions they had to take. They need to be able to consult the information at their leisure. Or at least be reassured that it is there, in case they need it.

So I reassured them right at the start, that they did not have to remember everything I was telling them, because there were plenty of materials to consult afterwards, and plenty of contact points where they could ask their questions. We had created a flyer, which I distributed at the beginning of each session. Whenever I mentioned, for example, the address where they could consult their mail online, I also mentioned where that was printed in the flyer. I saw many people write additional notes or big exclamation marks on their flyer.

  • Put a checklist and instructions in a site, where you can keep them up-to-date if anything changes. Create a Yammer group to discuss the migration to the new tools.
  • Link to that information from the call-to-action e-mails and prominent pages of the intranet, and show it in the training session.
  • Create a hand-out that contains the key information and points to the information in that site.
  • Distribute it at the beginning of each session, so that the participants know what they already have at their disposal.

6. Speak the users’ language, not the corporate language

The main goal in a training session is that the participants understand what is taught and are able to interact in order to learn effectively. Do not assume that everybody speaks English.

I have received feedback from several annoyed users that they were unhappy to receive the official announcements and invitations to the training session in the corporate language: English. Especially at the factories and other locations where “the real work is done”. The corporate language usually only plays well at the corporate head office.

Fortunately, the training sessions themselves took place in the local language: Dutch, French and English in only a few cases, at Head Quarters. So I knew the participants could understand me, and they could readily ask questions and interact in the language they are most comfortable with. And that helped a lot.

6a. Corollary: Speak the users’ language, not IT language

The participants should learn what they should do and what’s in it for them.

Most employees in the company moving towards Office 365 are not in IT and do not want to know which software is doing what on which server to migrate them. Of course there are always some techie people who want to know these details, but you see others glaze over when the talk gets techie.

So I was happy that they IT department was migrated and trained before the others, so that we could have the techie discussions in their sessions without bothering the innocent users.

7. Focus on what is important for the participants

The employees have to assimilate a lot in a migration scenario, while they have little time and less enthusiasm for it.

So we focused on what they needed to know most at that time:

  • What they had to do in the migration to make that run smoothly and successfully
  • The key functionality in the new tools that they would need to know to get back to work after the migration.
  • The main reasons why the new tools would make their lives easier after the migration.

8. Show, don’t tell

People want to see for themselves what will happen in real life, and not just hear the theory of it.

So I showed them how the migration worked in my test mailbox. And I showed them how Office 365 worked, with special attention to functionality that is different from Lotus Notes. Because they could see how it worked in real life, they could also see the benefits for themselves. And we could honestly discuss the drawbacks, so that they knew they would not have to waste time searching for options that were no longer available.

9. Be flexible and interactive

The main advantage of a real-life training session over a set of pages and lists in a site, is that people can ask their questions and discuss their worries.

So I always had room for interaction, between me and the participants but also between the participants themselves. Especially in small groups, we could really focus on the subjects that they were most interested in. For instance, some teams already knew all about Outlook, so we looked at the other tools in Office 365.

10. Take the participants seriously but have fun with the session

No question is stupid. No concern is laughable. But that does not mean that the session should be all solemn and formal.

I liked the sessions to be rather informal, admitting up-front when I had a problem, allowing them to ask any question without being embarrassed by it. I had heard many questions before, so I could reassure them that they were definitely not the only ones struggling.


Actually, setting up and giving training sessions is like setting up and running an intranet: it is all about the users and helping them to reach their work goals. As long as we keep in mind that the training sessions and the intranet are not the goals in themselves, but a means to an end, then we’ll be fine…

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