Michael Goldstein is vice president of client services at Textura Corporation, a provider of online collaboration and productivity solutions. Textura delivers cloud-based construction management software solutions that boost productivity, reduce risk and help construction professionals work together more effectively across the project lifecycle. For more information, visit texturacorp.com.
The commercial construction industry continues to embrace technology to drive operational efficiencies and improve the bottom line. But at times, one critical element is overlooked: training. Without effective instruction, delays will limit the vital operational and financial benefits that technology yields.
Crucial to effective training is ensuring that all users receive appropriate instruction on both the system functionality and the benefits most relevant to them. For collaboration software, this means providing the right level of training to all project participants using the tool, including general contractors, subcontractors and owner/developer representatives on a construction project.
Too often, some of a system's users are left out of the training. For example, while a general contractor has the resources and processes to make sure its team members are trained, the project's subcontractors may not get the level of instruction and ongoing support needed to successfully use the system. As a result, all users may struggle to get the full benefits of the tool.
The construction industry is particularly well suited to collaboration technology, as it enables all organizations participating in a project to work together effectively on critical processes. However, unless all users truly understand the technology in use, the collective and individual benefits will fall short of their potential.
Multiple Training Avenues
While it is critical that users receive training, equally important is how that instruction is provided. Indeed, training works best when the approach is tailored to meet the needs, experience levels and schedules of all users. Instruction should be available through several channels (both online/remote and on-site) to ensure that users can get assistance when and where it is needed. Potential approaches may include:
- On-site classroom training in users' offices
- Webinars and videos
- Unstructured ad hoc training
The timing and cadence of training also shapes the ultimate outcome. While training must be performed at implementation and as new users are onboarded, having access to periodic refresher courses, advanced training sessions and as-needed instruction both reinforces best practices and keeps the software provider closely connected to its user base. By remaining closely connected with users, software providers are able to identify new challenges and needs, which can inform future training processes and drive system enhancements.
Who provides the training is also important. Often, technology implementations entail a so-called "train the trainer" model, which puts the responsibility for broad user instruction on a handful of individuals within the organization implementing the tool.
While this can be an efficient model for the software solution provider, it can ultimately impact the effectiveness of its system, as overall understanding and user buy-in may be limited. Requiring organizations to leverage in-house resources for training both taxes and distracts these personnel and can result in shortcuts and inadequate instruction for new users.
The need to retrain poorly educated staff only worsens the drain on internal resources. When this model is used for collaboration solutions, the general contractor's in-house resources also need to train and support the subcontractor users, which requires an enormous investment of time and resources.
In selecting a software provider, find out whether the offered training involves more than a simple one-time instruction session in which it presents a 200-page manual, gives some broad guidance and then all but says, "You're on your own."
When vetting potential technology partners, understand the breadth and variety of training options, as well as whether training is an ongoing part of the relationship.
Some vendors continuously train their users by periodically visiting on-site to make sure things are going smoothly. The best partners also provide additional training when they enhance their software, with the extent of instruction driven by the complexity of the changes.
A Vendor's Training Approach
There are many factors to consider when determining how serious a software provider is about ensuring users receive up-to-date training.
- Find out both the software provider's helpdesk availability and whether an account representative or team member is the first point of contact.
- Understand the full breadth of training options and channels.
- Make sure any training gets users up and running in hours, not days or weeks. Significant cost savings are at stake, and the faster users can adopt the software efficiently and correctly, the sooner those benefits will begin to emerge.
- Confirm that a software provider can deliver supporting documents and online help that walks users through the core processes a technology solution handles.
- Ensure a software provider can provide both initial and refresher training sessions for new features. This can become important as users that have received training on a process they perhaps won't use for a month or longer might forget the necessary steps and actions.
- Ensure that the software firm provides the right level and method of training and support for all users (general contractor and subcontractor staff).
To ensure optimal use of their solutions, progressive technology providers consider training a core competency and essential aspect of their offerings. Given the number and the diversity of participants on a large construction project, a collaboration tool needs to be useful across the entire user base.
As such, it is critical to make sure all users receive targeted instruction to encourage proper behaviors. The need for training never stops. Your technology users know that all too well, but it is important to make sure your software vendors do, too.