What You Need to Know About Onboarding Your PLM Users in the New Normal

working in the new normal

How to onboard your PLM new users and build habits that stick

Last week I had an interesting discussion with my friend Paula, who is overseeing a big PLM system deployment and had her first online training sessions earlier this month. She was disappointed that users didn’t understand the power of the system and preferred to stick to the old one, which was a much simpler and unsophisticated application.

They had invested a lot of time and money in developing a powerful system with many features, but users had a hard time understanding how they should work with it. She thought that the online training they prepared was the main reason why users weren’t engaging with the new system. She was convinced that traditional classroom training would have produced much better results.

I asked Paula some questions about how they had prepared the training, and it became clear that they hadn’t gotten the basics right. They were so excited about the new and powerful features that they jumped directly into advanced concepts and bombarded users with fancy stuff they didn’t understand.

What can we learn from my friend Paula’s experience?

It may be surprising, but user adoption of your PLM system depends largely on making a good impression during the PLM onboarding process. You need to focus on starting them off on the right foot – and now, with the new normal, this needs to happen online!

How to design an effective PLM onboarding training

In Paula’s PLM deployment, people couldn’t see the value of the new system and became resistant to it immediately. How could she have designed a better digital onboarding framework to effectively train users and help them see the value in the new system?

Here’s a framework I find particularly effective when training new PLM users. It will help you onboard your new PLM users in a scalable way and make the impact you need to supercharge your PLM system adoption during the new normal!

plm training

1. Setup session

You may have learned not to judge a book by its cover, but in business and life, people still form an impression of a product or a company based on “how it looks”. This principle guided Steve Jobs to obsess about Apple’s product designs, even down to the packaging.

A user might decide whether the system is or is not for them based solely on the PLM system’s cover. They may shun the system simply because it appears boring, difficult to use, or uninteresting to them.

That’s why it’s so wise to invest in a one-on-one online setup session. Use this opportunity to make a great impression and show your users a “PLM system cover” that shines!

In this short session, you can help users set up their PLM system account. Show them how to check their roles and permissions, define their preferences and data sharing options, etc.

You can also walk your user through the basics: how to understand the PLM system’s user interface, perform a simple search, and frequently used functions.

I can guarantee that it’s worth investing in this type of coaching session. By guiding them to log in to the system and explaining the basics to them, you can make them feel “safe” and at ease during their first contact with the new tool.

2. Onboarding Course

To help your users prepare for your online PLM training, create a short eLearning course that they can complete at their own pace. Let them explore the new PLM system and become familiar with it by themselves.

The length of your onboarding course is as important as the content. It shouldn’t take your users longer than 45 minutes to complete. Give them a quick rundown of the most important things to know when they’re getting started, such as:

  1. Answer “Why PLM?”
  2. Explain the “Big Picture” and how objects are connected in the system
  3. Give them a tour of the user interface
  4. Perform a quick search
  5. Filter information
  6. Change views
plm onboarding course

The goal of your PLM onboarding course is to improve your PLM onboarding experience and help users understand its value. Take a look at this onboarding course from our client Technia:

Awesome, right? You have only a short window of opportunity to make a good impression. Make sure you’re clear, and don’t overlook the power of a “beautiful cover” and good design. 

3. Guided Practice

Now that your users have mastered the basics, they’re ready to get down to work. A guided hands-on practice is, in my opinion, the most effective way to train your new users and build sticky habits.

But, as with any training tactic, there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it.

PLM guided practice

1. Prepare Demo Data in Training Server

First things first: load your training server with relevant data to provide context.

I hear you – yet another server? For training?

Yes, I know it might require more work, but I’ve seen it once and again – training taking place in an empty Quality Assurance (QA) environment, where users can’t make sense of the data.

You want your training server to be as “real” as possible to keep your users in the right context. You also want your training data to stay on the server for a while, so your users can come back and practice. If you keep training data in QA, you’ll probably need to delete the data every time there’s a new release.

I personally recommend building a robust “digital thread” based on one of your products. You might be able to move the product structures from the production system or prepare a pilot project to help a product line model its data in the new system and use it to train users.

2. Prepare Exercises and Examples

As with any skill, practice makes perfect! Design relevant exercises to help users experience the onboarding process. Make sure the exercises represent all the pieces your users need to get a handle on the big picture.

And don’t forget to weave real-life examples into your online training. Give users specific use cases that will both help them understand the big picture and give them a reference they can return to with their own projects.

3. Set Up a Support Forum to Answer Questions

Set up a support forum to answer questions and get quick help. Most users will hit roadblocks when they start working with the new system. Your support team should constructively help users when they have questions or don’t understand a process. Expect and embrace mistakes!

Over time, you can create an FAQ based on the most typical questions, and organize the forum by functionalities or process.

4. Organize an Online Training to Guide the User through the Practice

It’s time to organize the online training that will hold your users’ hands through the guided practice.
Traditionally, training has always been done in a classroom. But in the new normal, one thing has become clear: the future is online.
Online training has some advantages: you can split it into shorter sessions and keep users interested and awake. You also don’t need to take users away from their jobs for too long, and they can practice at their own workstation.

I like the idea of preparing a webinar series for PLM online training.

How many webinars do you need? This depends on your PLM system and the concepts you need to explain. I would not offer more than 5 short webinar sessions for an onboarding training.
Not sure what your onboarding webinar series should include? Take a moment to consider these three questions:

  • What are the five top things users should know as they’re getting started?
  • What underlying concepts should they know to understand the big picture?
  • If you had to select 3 features to prove the value of the new system to your users, what would they be?

I like to start a training by explaining why the new system has been introduced and guide the users through a simplified data model. Then I help them log in, guide them through the user interface, and perform some searches. In further webinars, you might want to dive into document management, walk users through the CAD integrations, let them play with the PLM viewer, or go right into a BOM and show them how to change views, export reports, create a part, or add a document.

4. Support Session

After the guided practice, your users will probably have most of the tools and techniques they need to start working with the new PLM system. However, organizing an online support session a few weeks after the onboarding will be the icing on the cake.

When users start to use the system more, they might get dropped into a different BOM dashboard and wonder what they’re supposed to do next. This is where many users get intimidated and re-enter resistance mode.

In a support session call, you want to hold their hand softly and guide them through the real-life challenges. Use this call to give them tips and dive into more advanced features. You can also discuss their first experiences with the system, gather feedback, and make sure they’re on the right track.

Finding the PLM Onboarding Training that Works for your Company

Finding the most effective PLM onboarding training for your company is an iterative process. So, in order to create a repeatable strategy that works for your PLM, you’ll want to experiment with different tactics.

There’s no better time to start iterating on that strategy than right now.

Want help with planning the perfect PLM onboarding training? Schedule a FREE strategy session with us!

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