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Calculating the Cost Savings of Effective Training Material

Summary: How can I go from "obvious idea" to tangible business ROI? Read on for some specific ideas on making the soft stuff worth your time. (Part of a series)

In previous notes, I’ve written about the importance of training and, by extension, effective training material. It’s a common requirement in many organizations … well, actually more of a “nice to have”, am I right?

Truly effective training material is difficult to create (at least, to create material that does the job), and difficult to share. Solid, effective training material is easy to recognize – it typically falls in to the “I’ll know it when I see it” category – and the inherent value seems obvious to most; how come so many businesses trim their training budgets and underemphasize these all-important deliverables for their projects?

Part of the problem may be the difficulty in identifying a tangible business benefit. Most projects are subject to some cost-justification pressures, and when hard-dollar business benefits are tough to identify, the project costs must be cut. Unfortunately, this typically sees cuts in time and resources for full system test, training material and knowledge transfer.

Yes, you heard me – “testing the system” can be treated as a “feature” that I choose to omit from a given release

Show Me the Money

But is it really that difficult to identify real business benefit? Let’s walk through this little thought exercise …

  • The best way to train someone is to dedicate a knowledgeable person with them, and walk them through the various tasks / operations step by step, one by one.
  • To replicate that level of TLC, a typical project requirement would be two hours of dedicated trainer time per end user.
  • Factor in travel time and other things, and you will probably get at most 3 people trained per day per trainer.

So, for an end-user base of 100 people and two trainers, figure on chewing up a solid month of calendar time, and devoting two trainers to a grueling schedule. And, for many companies, there will be some travel involved – that will just stretch everything out.

An excellent way to slash the time required would be to spend a good, solid week of one person’s time to create some training material. Step by step instructions, samples, screen prints, video walk-throughs – you can do a lot with 40 effort hours. At this point, you can ask all 100 people to take this two-hour, self-directed training class some time over the next week.

  • You’ve cut out all travel expense …
  • … no need to take two employees off the line for two months to train
  • … and you’ve slashed time to deliver in half (at least).

Note that I am not counting all sorts of miscellaneous costs like travel, paper, lunches for the classroom … nor am I counting the value of having ready access to the training material for follow-up training.

I know I can tweak the math by doing this stuff in a classroom setting, and spend 10 days (not 100) of the trainers’ time, teaching class sizes of 10 students each. However, that is not a fair comparison, because the time, attention, and immediate feedback that each student receives would not compare to a well–structured, well-written training piece. In addition,  the well-written document can be called upon on-demand over the following months, when the original trainers are back on their regular jobs, and the expected / normal level of staff turnover occurs.

Now, since there is such a great payback in this story, it’s absolutely worthwhile to get very good / effective in creating / structuring really effective training material. The cost is typically reasonable, and the training material keeps giving and giving …

Golly, those Business Benefits are hard to define …

Interested in more methods for calculating business benefits? I am putting together a tool and a method for getting to the business benefits for any project – let me know if you are interested!

# 20 June, 2010

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.