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How to Not Suck at Teaching New Software

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I was in Philadelphia recently to train 15 people on CMMS use.  Now, I knew walking in that the worst possible way to teach someone software is to have them watch you use it.  I had a professor in school who taught simulation software this way, and everyone despised him for it.  Because as smart as he was, he hadn’t learned the only thing you need to know about teaching people software – get them to try it themselves.

And yet, walking into the boardroom in Philadelphia with my laptop and projector, presenting like my old professor was the only option I had. On top of this, I was presenting to an audience who, looking up at me with stony, almost timid expressions, clearly wished they were somewhere else.

This set up is unsurprisingly typical.

Most firms deploying CMMS’s lack the necessary number of computers to train many people at once.  Also maintenance ‘grunts’ on the ground floor, particularly of an older generation, hate learning new software*.  And I don’t blame them.

People on the ground floor often don’t see any personal benefit to learning a new system.  If you invest time and energy learning new software, it makes the company money, not them.  So they need to be sold on it.  For CMMS’s, the sell shouldn’t be that difficult.

Why should they care?

  1. The system will improve overall maintenance operations(e.g. by reducing breakdowns), reducing headaches for maintenance technicians and other plant employees.
  2. Reducing financial pressures on the maintenance department means better job security.
  3. Knowing how to use a CMMS is a legitimately marketable skill.  It will make it harder for your company to fire you, and it will make you more attractive to other companies.

The only way to make your point stick is through repetition.  Someone watching a software demo might be able to reproduce 10% of what was shown to them, be able to figure out 20%, learn another 20% from their coworkers, and completely forget the other half, to be picked up later on slowly, or not at all.

With a CMMS, tedious things like data entry conventions are not grasped easily due to their monotonous nature, and repetition is required for it to stick.  Show them it once, then have them do it themselves, then post the rules for it somewhere accessible, then follow up 2 weeks later.

  1. Get buy-in from students.
  2. Demo the software, show them what they will be learning, once they actually start using the software themselves, and leave it at that.  There’s no point in doing more than 30 minutes of demo because people will simply not follow after that.
  3. Give students time to practice everything they’ll be doing.
  4. Follow up and retrain areas of difficulty.

*I know this is not true of all maintenance professionals.  I’ve dealt with quite a few ‘grunts’ who are much more tech savvy than myself.


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