Best Tip Ever: How I Train People On My Apps

The imperative role of the advocate in increasing data literacy.

Under the Hood

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You’ve been there. You identify a business problem, and you develop a global BI solution, application or dashboard to serve that need. The app not only solves the business problem, but also anticipates the next business question and solves future business needs: so you start preaching it throughout your organization.

Except, you’re met with confusion from some users. People are asking questions that the app should answer intuitively, and worst of all, your stakeholders are reluctant to use the app. The app is “great, but a bit too complicated.” Womp womp.

If this sounds familiar to you, one of the potential issues surrounding users’ confusion could be that you need to increase data literacy among your stakeholders. While there is something to be said for building user-friendly, at-a-glance BI applications, often times the problem is not the app itself. It doesn’t need to be further simplified, it doesn’t need more features and there don’t need to be more enablement documents, how-to sessions, FAQs, or walkthroughs.

The basic premise here is that users must understand the underlying data and business processes that it supports to properly utilize the BI tool that it's built around. How will your marketing users recognize registration numbers if they don’t know what a lead or a contact is in their CRM system? Try explaining your new revenue forecast, which you’ve boiled down to a single number, to someone who has no idea how pipeline is managed in the system!

So how do you increase data literacy if you don’t hold more webinar enablement sessions or meet with every one of the reps in your 1,000 member sales force?

Door-to-door isn’t the answer. It isn’t effective and it certainly isn’t scalable. You need an effective way to teach multiple users complex concepts quickly and here’s how you can do it.

Focus on the faithful few who want to be the early adopters of every new app, super users of every new feature who peak under the hood of each new metric, those who find all the flaws in your shiny new predictive model. They are already familiar with the underlying data and are relying on you to work your BI magic on top of it, all the while making their jobs easier and tickling their analytical fancies.

Why does this work? It’s much more than the classic "train the trainer" approach; it actually borrows from a marketing concept. Think of your BI app much like any other software application. It has a brand. It has a community. It relies heavily on word of mouth to be successful.

These power users are the ones that sit within the smaller teams, work with them day in and day out, and their opinions are trusted. They know the specific business questions, use cases, recently run campaigns and sales territories of interest that their team members need to see within your app for it to really click. Your advocates aren’t just interested in showing off their own prowess within the app. They are thoroughly invested in winning converts and they will dig deep to teach the underlying data so that their teammates can have that same light bulb moment that turned them on to your app.

There are also other tools, programs, and structured training mechanisms at your disposal that can help you scale. These platforms and service offerings help you reach large amounts of people you’d never reach individually. For example, internally in the Business Insights and Analytics team at Qlik we recently began utilizing the Customer Application Training (CAT) program provided by Qlik’s Education Services organization. It allows us to create short, concise tutorials that tackle specific business cases answered by our BI applications. These videos help demystify our rich applications and help users understand and tackle analytical tasks that appear daunting and insurmountable at first by explaining both the underlying process and where to find the answer in the application. We’ve seen lots of success as a result of joining the CAT movement, and that’s just one example of using technology to scale.

BUT, every rule is made to be broken. There is still some training you have to do yourself…

  • You have informally created trainers who will train others. But you still have to train the trainers. Hold regular sessions with your faithful few, and make sure they know your app or metric or feature and love it. One-on-one sessions work best here. Often times a small forum for power users to ask questions, get expert level tips and tricks, and receive enablement materials can also raise the collective skill level of the group to take back to their teams.

  • Some questions are asked by everyone. I still provide training and host all-inclusive FAQ sessions on the most basic business questions, tips and tricks. The key word there is basic. For these types of questions, most users have a common level of data literacy and often benefit greatly from consistent, recurring training on just a few core concepts. Giving all your users a channel to ask the expert also provides another tier of support and a last line of analytical defense.

Moral of the story? Instead of simplifying your app and thereby risking devaluation, or spending lots of time (proverbially) speaking Greek to your stakeholders, spend your time teaching them the business process that the app supports via the grassroots effort of your power users and the other tools in your toolbox.

You may have built the app, but you are not the only trainer!

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