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Instructional Design Tips for Starting a Corporate Training Initiative Involving Software

I attended a project kickoff meeting this week with a new client.  This project contains a significant element of systems training and that always makes me review my mental list of pitfalls I’ve encountered before. My biggest concern was whether we would have a functioning system to use in creating the training.  I was happy to find that the system is already rolled out and functioning.  In an odd coincidence my cab ride from the airport took me past another Manhattan building where a similar kickoff meeting a few years ago hit more of a brick wall when it was revealed the system development had been delayed by several months and our project had to be put on hold.

So getting back to the instructional design mental list, here are some things to check when you are getting ready to start a training initiative involving software.

  1. System availability.  Usually a system will not be fully functional at the time you have to start developing training.  There’s no magic way to deal with this but some helpful strategies include:
    1. Discuss the issue realistically with stakeholders and allowing room in your development plan for delays in the coding.
    2. Plan for possible revisions if/when the system does change.  Since you usually have to start before the system is done, you should plan extra revision cycles to recapture screens and rewrite steps that change during the process.  This costs more than doing it once, but you will get done sooner than if you wait for a stable system.
  2. System access.  Whether working for your own organization or as a vendor getting login rights can be a real hurdle.  You should start the process right away and find out what’s involved.
    1. Find out if the system is available over the web or if you have to be in a fixed location to capture screens.
    2. Plan to get several logins since screens usually appear differently for users with different roles. (admin, manager, data-entry, read-only, etc.) You’ll need a login for each role you are training.  If possible, get administrative rights as well so you can manage your data.
    3. Working as a vendor usually requires an extra step of obtaining VPN access to a client’s environment.  This can take weeks so start the process right away so you won’t slow down your timeline.
  3. Data availability/usability.  Some common tasks in systems training involve searching records, creating reports and avoiding duplicates.  These and other similar tasks require you to have some data in the system to work with. However you almost always have to avoid using real data: the names, addresses, phone numbers, account numbers or medical records of real people definitely don’t belong in screen captures.  Here are a few scenarios:
    1. Ideally there will be a testing database with a number of fake records already set up.  When creating your own records, be sure to use fake information.  You should usually use clearly fake data like the (555) area code or social security numbers like 123-45-6789.
    2. If there is a testing database but the data is real, you’ll have to either enter you own faked information—and be very careful that only the records you entered show in screen captures—or you’ll have to doctor screen shots to obscure or replace personal information.  Set aside additional time & budget for this basic but often extensive Photoshop work.
    3. If there’s no testing database you’ll have to create your own.  If you aren’t showing multiple records at once this will just be part of your regular screen captures.  But if you do need to show many records (as described above) set aside additional time & budget for generating all the data you need in the system.
  4. Data stability.  When systems are under development, their databases often get wiped clean either on a planned basis or unpredictably.  Obtain a schedule and get on the notification list for system resets so you can plan your work around them.  If you have to create a lot of data (3c) you’ll need to plan the data entry and screen captures when the system is not being refreshed.  You may need to negotiate with developers to keep the system stable long enough to perform your work.

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