A Training Project Mistake to Avoid: Engaging the End User

What do you think is the single most expensive component of a technology-based process improvement? Consider these:

  • Is it the hardware and the additional servers, computers, and infrastructure? Once a project is approved, it seems like the hardware expense never ends.
  • How about the software with customization, extended development times (always longer than you planned), and arcane licensing schemes?
  • It could be the project management. After all, you must assign valuable employees away from their current jobs to work on the project. You also often need outside resources (consultants and developers).
  • A CFO reading this might think it is the opportunity cost of not doing the project to begin with. After all, the project was approved based on a business case (right?) so every day the project is delayed costs the company potential profit.

The answer is none of the above. The most expensive component of any investment in technology is the end user.

OK, it’s a trick question. But it’s a trick question only because most project teams do not consider the impact the technology will have on their user base; the people most affected by the new technology.

The most expensive component of any investment in technology is the end user.

Most projects define success as meeting the objectives in the original business case. Logically, these objectives are usually revenue and/or productivity based. Studies have consistently demonstrated that less than half of all projects meet their stated objectives. Some studies suggest failure rates as high as 80%! Software keeps getting better, hardware keeps getting faster, projects keep failing, and project managers keep popping antacids by the fistful. It seems that no matter how good the technology becomes, projects keep missing their objectives. Why?

We believe the answer is simply that the end user is usually ignored. Technology projects are generally created at the middle-management level, approved at the senior level, designed and built at the project team level.

Once the ball starts rolling, it is all too easy to become enamored with the technology and forget the real reason the investment is being made in the first place. In most cases, the project is about improving profits through improved productivity and data flow.

A technical project team can no more fully understand the issues facing a group of users any more than we can expect the same group of users to understand highly technical issues.

Some studies suggest failure rates as high as 80%!

What do we do to bridge this gap? Ask! During each phase of the project, involve your users in the following ways:

  • System Design: The Joint Application Design (JAD) is by far the most effective method of building (or customizing) a system that meets the needs of your user base. The session should be run by someone completely independent and the group mix should be 50% end users (at least).
  • Project Team: All projects need a few champions among the user base. What better way to build those advocates than including representative(s) on the project team?
  • Testing: This should be a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the number of projects we have seen where a bunch of tech guys were locked in a room testing software functionality and usability with not an end user in sight. Question: would you let an end-user set up and test your database server? If not, then why would you let a technician test your end user interface?
  • Training and Change Management: By far the most critical element of a project, and easily the most often overlooked. Millions are invested in technology but very often the budget includes only a small amount for training (if anything at all). Often the training is relegated to managers who must squeeze it into an already crowded schedule. Or worse, the users are expected to listen to eLearnings (usually on their own time). To ensure success, you must make advocates of the vast majority of your user base. You do this by demonstrating a genuine desire for them to learn how to use the technology. Chances are you are changing the way the users do business. That’s a big deal! Treat the training like it’s a big deal and you will reap the rewards you are expecting.

Always keep in mind that when you are applying technology to a process, you should always involve the people most affected by the change: the end users.

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