General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

The Training Equation

By Tracey A. Baetzel and Marshay R. Williams

Training is a process, not an event. It is also an art, not a science. We fully came to terms with these ideas at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn (HMSC) last year, when our firm converted from Windows 3.1, SoftSolutions (a document management system), and WordPerfect 5.2 to Windows 95, PC Docs Open and Office 97. HMSC is a large Detroit-based firm with about 550 users (50 in a regional office in Lansing). Obsolescence of the older platform necessitated the migration. As with most firms, training and support are topics about which there is considerable discussion concerning resource allocation, both in terms of quantity and content. However, the firm has generally taken a more expansive view than many of similar size and stature, in providing resources for technology training.

One thing that became apparent as we progressed through the conversion was the significantly increased dependence of the law firm on technology, especially with regard to more-highly-skilled users. Client service requirements would not permit them to wait a few weeks, or even a few days, to develop skills they needed to complete their work. Online help and reference manuals didn’t provide references to their questions or difficulties with the document management system and application integration, for example. Figuring out a way to get people up to speed quickly was critical.

Our goal here is to outline what we did, what worked and what didn’t. We will also lay out the variables in our "training equation," to help you assemble a technology-training program for your next system migration.

Firm Size Impacts Training

Large firms struggle with training issues. The logistics of getting a large workforce up to speed on new software can be more problematic than any other aspect of a conversion. Small firm readers are probably scratching their heads and wondering what the big deal is. Small firms seem to possess more of a pioneering spirit when it comes to learning new software, or so it seems to most of us in larger firms. This may be in part due to the culture, where everyone knows everyone else and there is no unknown "them" to criticize for software changes and the inevitable associated problems. However, in their defense, large firms tend to have more complex document issues to handle, as well as more complex networks, which lead to the need for more extensive training and support. Running a wide variety of software applications for different practice groups in an integrated environment on a network creates an entire range of training and support issues not faced by smaller firms.

The Pace of the Conversion Impacts Training

HMS&C had been through two major conversions prior to the Office 97 conversion. In those cases, we were able to phase in the system one group or department at a time over a year or longer. This allowed each group of users more time to assimilate and master new features before the next group was brought on line. In the most recent case, the conversion was completed in five months, to keep the overall disruption contained within a shorter period. Whether your conversion is fast and furious or slow and steady depends to some extent on the firm culture and other competing business priorities. Once you set the pace, it will be difficult to speed up or slow down, because the logistics of scheduling people, space and equipment becomes quite difficult. Specific "what if" analysis should be worked out and shared with user representatives and decisionmakers in the firm.

"Vertical" vs. "Horizontal" Methodology Impacts Training

In order to make the migration to our new platform, we decided to take the "vertical" approach rather than the "horizontal" approach. In other words, we chose to migrate to a new operating system (Novell 4.11 from 3.12), a new desktop environment (Windows 3.1 to Windows 95), a new document management system (SoftSolutions to PC Docs) and a new word processing application (WordPerfect 5.2 for Windows to Word 97), rather than change each application one at a time. There were also over 40 other baseline and departmental applications running on the platform that had to be migrated to 32-bit Windows 95 versions, along with 100 different stand alone applications used by various staff and attorneys throughout the firm.

Migrating applications one at a time would have required repeated reintegration of several pieces of software. We decided it would be better to take the plunge and build the new system in total, test it with a pilot group of staff and attorneys, and move the rest of the firm after the pilot group gave the go-ahead. This approach presented significant training issues, since users were faced with so much new software at once. In the past two or three years, HMS&C, along with most other law firms, had become quite dependent on technology. Ironically, going back to square one was a bigger setback in many ways for the more proficient users than it was for their counterparts who had not moved beyond basic memos and manual methods of keeping address lists, faxes, etc.

Skill Impacts Training

We decided to provide two phases of training, with the idea that users who needed coaching on an advanced skill before the second phase of training was available could call the Help Desk. The introductory training covered basic skills needed for users to function (create documents, convert documents, complete a profile, use features in Word, etc.) after the move to the new system. Intermediate modular training (in-depth coverage of the entire spectrum of regularly used features, offered in two-hour segments, by feature) was conducted as requested by user departments immediately after the basic training, and regularly after everyone had moved to the new platform. We discovered that more people needed advanced information sooner than we were able to make it available. They called the Help Desk, which quickly became overloaded with calls.

Complexity Impacts Training

Although the import program to bring WordPerfect documents to Word was reasonably good, it did not work well for tables and paragraph-numbered documents. It was necessary to develop cleanup macros for headers and footers. Running these utilities on complex documents, often required the first day after training, sometimes resulted in problems either because the document was messy (unnecessary codes, etc.) or because it was too complex. Although the 80/20 rule was in effect with the document conversions, floor support staff spent a great deal of time working with individual users on the 20 percent of documents that presented conversion and cleanup difficulties. This reduced the time they could spend on skill development.

Laptops Increase Training Needs

It is often said that senior partners won’t use computers. This is not a problem at HMSC. On the contrary, all the lawyers here have been robust e-mail users since we started circulating conflict information and phone messages via Wang Office. Most lawyers in the firm have laptops that double as desktops, or they borrow a laptop when they leave the office for more than a few days. Our problem is that the lawyers are hard-pressed to find time for training but need to be able to function with laptops when they are out of the office. Although they had acquired proficiency with remote operation over time under the old platform, it became necessary for these lawyers to have instant proficiency on the new platform. Additional support for remote users, particularly during evening and weekend shifts, should be factored into any training equation.

HMSC’s Training and Support Plan

We worked with Jurist Systems Group (JSG), a local integrator and specialists in legal technology training, to develop our conversion curriculum. JSG had managed Word conversions at other local firms and assisted our firm (and others in Detroit) with the Wang to WordPerfect conversion. Their experience with other Word conversions provided insight into the content that would be required in the basic and intermediate training curricula. Their experience with our firm was instrumental in tailoring the program to our users.

The training program was developed with a few internal issues in mind. For example, secretaries prefered half-day training to full-day training for two reasons. One, they were able to keep up with the most critical work (and therefore meet time-sensitive attorney and client needs) during the half day they were at their desks. Two, most agreed that a full day of training is too much at one time. Although we had hoped that people would cover and assimilate 90 percent of what they needed to know for basic operation during this timeframe, 50 percent would have been a more realistic estimate.

Curriculum Materials: JSG customized training materials provided by Professional Training Services, Inc. (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) for the installation at HMSC. The program included an overview of Word, customized for our environment, which included e-mail, document management, and other applications. JSG also developed supplemental exercises based on actual HMSC documents for each of the skills in the curriculum. Trainers participated in department round tables on focus topics (i.e., specific issues or problems faced by different workgroups) and scheduled "Bring Your Questions" sessions in the training center, to accommodate those who needed information but could not or did not need to attend a full session. A list of useful training resources (Internet sites and publications) is provided on page 22.

Reference Materials: Since there are so many commercially available guides and manuals for Office 97, we decided to let our department secretarial coordinators choose a few for individuals in the department to share. Individuals were taught to use online help during basic training, and online help was strongly encouraged as a resource in all applications. The training and support staff also developed one-page tip sheets on various questions and issues not covered in the reference material. These tips were circulated either as paper handouts or e-mail messages to be printed and filed by application.

Basic Training: Secretaries were required to attend five half-days of basic training, which included basic Word, PC Docs, Win 95 and GroupWise changes. Additionally, roundtable sessions were scheduled for the consideration of DTE and Right Fax changes. An index of the topics covered for Word and Docs is included here. The goal in the basic training was to get people operating, not to make them fully proficient. Department secretarial coordinators were encouraged to schedule special round-table sessions with a trainer or Help Desk specialist to review special features or to discuss issues unique to that department. These seemed to be helpful and effective.

Attorney Training: Attorneys were required to attend two two-hour sessions, during which where very basic features of the new system were reviewed (how to access e-mail, produce a simple document, do a simple profile and search). Attorneys who used laptops and did more drafting attended one more two-hour session on dial-up and remote access. Attorney sessions were conducted as round-tables, with a computer connected to an overhead display projector. Additional Saturday sessions were scheduled for attorneys who wanted more training in Word.

Class Size: Training for secretaries targeted eight users at a time, in the firm’s training center(s) (a conference room was set up so two classes could run at the same time). Approximately 30 secretaries were trained each week from June through August. Administrative staff was trained in two half-day sessions in September. Legal assistants/paralegals could choose either attorney, administrative or secretarial training, as their work required. Typically around 10-15 attorneys would attend these sessions.

Same Week: Attorneys and secretaries had to attend training the same week. Documents were to converted over the weekend and would not be accessible on the old system once moved to the new.

Training was done by department, starting with smaller departments having the fewest special applications.

Follow-Up Training: Through review of the Help Desk call logs or feedback from staff and attorney users, we developed informal topics for round-tables which were conducted on an ad hoc basis. For example, "Tips and Tricks" is a popular round-table for people who have been using the system and are ready to remember shortcuts and other useful information which may have escaped them in the basic program. The firm also invested in Office ‘97 CBT’s and videos for users to check out for at-home use. Laptops are also available for checkouts for those who wish to use them.

Floor Support (aka, Help Desk): Less is Not More

A full-time floor support person was assigned for a week to each new user group coming out of training. This person sat in the work area and was immediately available to help users with questions and problems. We found a week wasn’t enough for dedicated floor support, given the number of applications and the skill level needed for people to master the system. We now believe that a month of dedicated floor support would have probably alleviated most of the difficulties we experienced in our conversion. However, this would have required either four to six more people on board in advance (to provide the floor support) or a slower conversion schedule (which wasn’t really an option, since users couldn’t share documents between old and new systems). We considered coaching secretaries in each department to perform the support function during the conversion and might use this approach the next time around. However, it was not a possibility at the time.

While it may sound like overkill, providing one month of floor support during the conversion may have reduced the need for a second round of intermediate training, and it might have helped minimize the inevitable frustration created by a shortage of personnel on hand to give quick one-on-one help during a difficult transition. (As with everything related to technology, you always seem to end up paying one way or another.)

Impact of IS Staff and System Infrastructure

The size and ability of the MIS organization in your firm will impact the support requirements for your conversion from WordPerfect to Word. Although we don’t have statistics from the conversion period, about 35 to 40 percent of current calls to the Help Desk are system-related. In other words, the calls have to do with software bugs (or "issues," as Microsoft prefers), bottlenecks on the network, or an other hardware or configuration issue that has nothing to do with user training.

Network performance was impacted by the new suite of software, which required more bandwidth due to its complexity. Optimizing the network on this platform requires highly skilled network people to be available on a regular basis. Problems with the normal.dot file (which holds personal settings in Word), TCP/IP addressing, corruption in e-mail files or problems with incompatible drivers also warranted a fair number of support calls and staff time during (and after) the conversion. Because each of our technology platforms is unique, even if the equipment and software are the same, resolving these network difficulties becomes extremely baffling and very time consuming.

Human Resources Plays a Key Role

In a major system conversion, communication, learning incentives and skill measurement are the fundamental responsibilities of the Human Resources Department. It is difficult for an IS department to do its tasks without leadership from Human Resources in these areas, since Training and Support staff don’t have the time or the clout to be fully effective. We are doing post-conversion work in these areas to bring closure to the training process, and to help users (both staff and attorneys) understand the importance of acquiring technology proficiency as part of their overall responsibility in the organization. A larger coefficient in the Human Resources variable can result in a smaller coefficient in other variables of the training equation.

Conclusion

It is no longer possible to learn all of the skills in school that are needed to work in a law firm today. Nor can the necessary skills be acquired in a one-week training course, or in a weekend seminar. Technology is changing too rapidly, and there is simply too much to learn in one sitting, however long that sitting may be. A great irony in the technology revolution is that, while technology can save time in work production, much of the time saved must be reinvested in learning to use technology, in learning workarounds for the inevitable document and data losses, and in unlearning old technology when newer technology becomes available.

Another great irony in this revolution is that, while technology would seem to lend itself to institutional and computer-based methods of training, the complexity and rate of change in technology require at least some personal mentoring in order to be effective. In sports and in music, those who receive individual coaching are usually better equipped to compete than those who don’t. This runs against the mass production view which most of us hold about training the workforce, and it most definitely runs against the traditional attorney focus on maximizing time spent directly on client work. However, with our increasing dependence on technology, continual learning is required; therefore, training must become part of an ongoing process, not an event.

As we move toward the new millennium, each firm must determine the extent to which it wants staff and attorneys to be able to compete in a technology-driven environment and then structure training equations accordingly. In this regard, training becomes an art, not a science, because the solution for one firm may be entirely inappropriate for another, It is the human element, rather than software and machines, that determines the end result. n

Tracey A. Baetzel is with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn in Detroit; Marshay R. Williams is with JSG, Inc., Detroit.

Useful Training Resources

Internet Sites

• Pathlore: pathlore.com

• Academic Research and Technologies: artedu.com

• IMS Initiative: imsproject.org

• Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT): salt.org

• Training Media Association: trainingmedia.org

• The TrainingSuperSite: trainingsupersite.com

• On-line Tech Texts: itknowledge.com

• Tek-Tips Forums: tek-tips.com

 

Publications

The Computer Training Handbook, by Elliott Masie

Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know, by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak

First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis, by Allison Rossett

Moving from Training to Performance: A Practical Guidebook, by Dana Gaines Robinson and James C. Robinson

The Complete Computer Trainer, by Paul Clothier

The Power of Mindful Learning, by Ellen Langer

Handbook of Training Evaluation and Measurement Methods, by Jack J. Phillips

• Accountability in Human Resource Management, by Jack J. Phillips

HMSC Training and Support Profile

WordPerfect 5.2/Windows to Office '97/Windows '95 Conversion Fact

Facts

• 550 users in two offices (500 users in one, 50 in the other).

• 250 timekeepers, 250 secretaries and typists, 50 admin (everyone has a computer).

• 130 laptop users.

• 25+ enterprisewide applications, 20+ departmental applications, 100+ personal applications.

• The pilot group was conducted in April and May. The mass conversion began in June.

• Approximately 30 to 40 users were trained and moved to the new system each week between June and September. The smaller office was moved in November.

• IS had to support and provide training for users on the old system even during this transition.

Trainers

• 1 full-time in house-trainer was already in place.

• 2 full-time contract trainers were brought in from JSG February through May to prepare a training curriculum and materials, and were retained to deliver the training.

• 1 additional full-time contract trainer from JSG was added in May to rotate with the other 2 trainersand to provide on-site floor support for the new user group.

Floor Support

• 2 secretaries were moved to IS 6 months prior to implementation to assist with system testing and to provide Help Desk services.

• 2 summer students were brought on for Help Desk support May through August (to route phone calls and to handle floor support).

• 2 additional secretaries were added to the Help Desk in December.

• 2 full-time contract trainers from JSG were on site through June 99.

Current Stats

• Calls per month (average) to the Help Desk : 1,400

• Training classes per month:

Basic (new hires): 2 classes, 20 hours each.

Modular (intermediate): 22 classes, 2 hours each.

• Individual training: 40 sessions, 1/2 to 1 hour each.

• Tech tips/information and reference materials: approximately 2 per week.

HMSC Basic Training Outline

Day 1

Overview of Windows 95

Overview of PC Docs Open

Day 2

Overview of Word

• Screen components (title bar, menu bar, button bars, status bar, etc.)

• Using Office Assistant and Online Help

• Spell check (While typing and after document is complete); grammar check

• Firm templates and macros

• Basic document skills (views, zoom, nonprinting characters)

• Formatting (basic skills, toolbars, ruler, paragraph, document, normal vs. page layout)

• Printing (basic documents, envelopes, Avery Wizard)

Day 3

Self test (review)

Set tabs (split alignment, dot leaders)

Indent

Bullets/numbering

Headers/footers and page numbers

Section breaks

Day 4

Inserting dates and symbols

Autocorrect

Autotext

Find/replace

Thesaurus

Footnotes and endnotes

Day 5

Redlining and version control

Converted documents

• Cleanup button/macro

• Save as Word Format button

• Copy to Clipboard button

DOCs features

• View, print, history, check in/out, display profile, copy to remote library, import and export

HMSC Intermediate Modular Training

Word '97

1. Styles

2. Tables

3. Paragraph indentation

4. Page numbers, headers and footers

5. Advanced DOCs open

6. Labels

7. Auto paragraph numbering

8. Document recovery (roundtable, 1 hour)

9. Local mode (roundtable, 1 hour)

10. Table of contents

11. Index, bookmarks

12. Full authority/table of authorities

13. Merge letters (integrated with Interaction)

14. Creating master documents

15. Tips and Tricks (roundtable, 1 hour)

Other Software

1. Basic Excel

2. Powerpoint

3. Interaction, basic (contact management)

4. Interaction, advanced

5. GroupWise Tips and Tricks (roundtable, 1 hour)

6. Right Fax Tips and Tricks (roundtable, 1 hour)

7. Internet Mail Tips and Tricks (roundtable, 1 hour)

(2 hours each, hands-on unless otherwise noted)

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