What is user onboarding?
User onboarding is the process of actively guiding and helping users to find value and success within your product, process or service.
Onboarding gets users past the awkward uncertainty of trying out something new. Good onboarding experiences combine the right elements of education, inspiration, and actionable insights.
User onboarding is one of the most critical phases in a PLM user’s journey. The better you can engage your users on day one, the more likely they are to see value right away, pull others in, and stay around.
When done properly, onboarding should feel like magic—an invisible hand that guides users through every step of their new way of working.
The value of user onboarding for PLM
Connect people, processes and data across the entire lifecycle of a product. A short and sweet elevator pitch that got your management team excited, and your company embarking on a PLM journey.
Yet five years afterwards, you’re still fighting with clunky systems, bad data and employees who complain about how much slower they’ve become since you renewed the company’s operating model.
Product data is stored and spread across multiple core systems and applications. These systems are often bumbling and complex, and not well integrated with each other.
Dropping new users into this system’s jungle with only a knife between their teeth leads to few finding their way out safe and well.
If you want to put your PLM transformation program on track, you need to “sherpa” your users and your business through your PLM journey.
While onboarding can’t control the complexity of your PLM landscape, it can certainly help your users go from being completely unfamiliar with PLM to being intrigued, committed, and, ultimately, advocating for your initiative.
And how can you do that?
By setting up the easiest trails, removing as many roadblocks as possible, and always encouraging them to continue the journey.
By nailing down your user onboarding.
The building blocks of PLM user onboarding
Your onboarding process should be a combination of education, inspiration, and actionable insights. But before we get into the process of designing an onboarding flow, let’s explore the building blocks of a PLM user onboarding experience!
1. Educational Emails:
Start by saying hello to your users with a welcome email as soon as they enrol into your PLM program. What can you do to engage them and excite them about what’s coming?
Plan out an email sequence to hold your user’s hand through the first stages of their onboarding.
Introduce yourself and the program and provide them with a short list of useful resources to get started the first time you show up in their inbox. You might also encourage your users to ask questions and let them know where they can find you.
When you show up in their inbox again, ask yourself, what does a new user need to know in order to get going? Focus your email efforts on those first steps, and share content that delivers value and education.
After the first few critical days, you can continue sending educational emails to help your users advance into the deeper stages of their journey.
You might also try out event-based emails: as users start to see success and hit milestones, communicate with them, let them know what comes next, and encourage them to continue the journey.
2. System Trainings:
Are you looking for a way to quickly teach your users how to use your system? If so, interactive system trainings will be just right for you. You can guide your learners through a workflow by having them click through various core systems to complete a task with system trainings. System training prepares your learners in a safe environment and helps them to master the new workflows.
Here’s one example:
3. System Walkthroughs:
System walkthroughs are a powerful way to give support and guidance in context. The idea is to get users right into the system, drawing their attention to key features with visual cues, and encouraging them to interact. Once they click the visual cue, a popup with explanations and tips appears. The advantage of this is that it’s contextual—part of the natural workflow.
Slack does a great job of walking users through their product:
If you’re using a cloud PLM application, there are specific user onboarding tools available, such as walkme or appcues to ease the process of creating your product walkthroughs. If not, you’ll probably need custom development.
You might also want to consider preparing a short “Getting started” eCourse to cover what happens when your users first log in. What do they need to do in order to log in? What do they see? How do they navigate the user interface? Our Autodesk Fusion system first login demo does a nice job of this. Check it out here!
Users don’t care about your processes and systems as much as you do. They care about how those new processes and systems are going to make their life better. You can prepare an eLearning course to help them learn about your products, processes, system landscape, and any special skills or workflows they’ll need.
You can break down complexity and let them slowly get into greater detail through interactive learning. Elearning can help you explain concepts in a practical and user-friendly way.
Looking for ideas and inspiration? Check out our FREE eCourses at Share PLM.
5. Documentation and Training Materials:
Your documentation and training materials are the basis of an onboarding experience that thrives. When your users need help, can they find it? Is it clear what they need to do? Try to keep it practical, and prepare learning materials that help your people understand the theory and get the job done.
6. Personal Support:
It’s easy to make PLM onboarding exclusively about systems. But onboarding is really all about people. So when you’re laying out your PLM initiative, make sure you take the right steps to prepare your people as much as you prepare your systems.
In my experience, PLM users are usually worried that you won’t be there to help them out in the future. Therefore, it’s crucial to introduce and highlight the team of people dedicated to helping users with their support issues.
Schedule a first coaching meeting, and sit down with the users to help them get started. You can show how to log in to the system, set up their preferences and search for a part, as well as view their product BOMs and models. Share your contact details and let them know how they can reach out.
Schedule a couple of follow-up sessions more to cover the key features and answer their questions, while also making them aware of the broader support network dedicated to helping them master PLM.
Asking your users for feedback is a delicate dance. Use these meetings to get feedback straight from the user’s mouth. Observe how your users interact with the systems, and find out improvement ideas for your future releases.
You might also schedule a follow-up call to learn how it’s going a month after your users have started.
Emphasising human support throughout onboarding will reassure users that it’s a safe bet to jump into PLM for the long-haul.
6 steps to craft a PLM onboarding experience that works
Now that we’ve covered the basics, and the building blocks of user onboarding are at your disposal, let’s look at how to put this all together into an onboarding process that feels tailored to each one of your users.
Below are six steps to guide you when you’re setting up your user onboarding process.
1. Know your users well:
You can’t plan a great onboarding experience if you don’t know who your users are, the products they work with, and why they need that data to do their job better.
Define user segments by categorising their needs. You could segment using business functions, roles or disciplines. Or you could devise a broader categorisation, and group your users into viewers, editors and admins.
By knowing how your users think, and what they value, you can craft an onboarding experience that helps them see value right away.
2. Craft a strong value proposition:
What does ‘success’ look like for each of your user segments?
The focus of the onboarding process should be to guide the user towards the core value proposition of your PLM program. Every step along the onboarding process should help boost users towards that value proposition.
Take the time to make it very clear why each of your defined user segments should join your company’s PLM journey. This information will give you a solid understanding of your users’ motivations, and help to design the actual onboarding flow.
3. Outline your user’s lifecycle:
Much like the seasons of the year, your users go through a series of stages as they engage with your PLM program. User lifecycle maps represent the journey a user takes to move from first learning about your PLM program, to becoming the one telling others about it.
Your user lifecycle maps will probably look different for each of the segments you’ve defined.
This is an example of a user lifecycle map for a “designer” role:
4. Walk in your user’s shoes:
Now that you’ve identified and broken down your user’s lifecycle for each of your segments you can begin to map your onboarding activities to each stage.
Start by breaking down tasks into the smallest possible pieces. Examples of these tasks could be “search for a part”, “send a notification”, or “save a design”. Small tasks like these are simple and easy to complete.
For each lifecycle stage, try to really put yourself in your user’s shoes: What’s important to them? Where do they need to head next? What other insights might be useful?
Try to anticipate the next question your user will ask, and provide it only when they need it. Keep going through the entire process, documenting every step that’s relevant.
5. Design your user onboarding flow:
At this stage, you’ve framed your onboarding process, and you’re ready to start mixing up the user onboarding ingredients to “cook” an appetising onboarding flow.
Storytelling is the first essential component of a great onboarding flow. Remember who you’re talking to, and combine several onboarding elements wisely, with the “why” always in mind. People learn in differing ways, so make sure to give them options that fit each one’s learning style while keeping them engaged.
6. Iterate and experiment:
Gathering feedback and tracking user interaction is vital to improving your PLM initiative and its onboarding. Measure your users’ onboarding experience by getting their feedback and assessing their activity during the onboarding flow. This will give you insights on adjustments required to create an onboarding experience that means the most to them.
Striving for long-term user engagement
User onboarding isn’t just for first-time users. Once you get your “newbies” onboard, your job is to make sure that your old users are still there, and continue to engage with your PLM initiative.
Regular online and in-person meetings are great to keep users motivated, as they deepen their engagement with your PLM initiative. Use webinars, discussion tables and information rounds to demo new features and answer questions, as well as keep your users up to date and share experiences.
PLM user onboarding is not an exact science. Keep trying new things, and then leverage metrics to find out when your efforts are paying off.
Your onboarding program must keep up with system updates, new features, process improvements and perhaps even more importantly, people. As your users change and become familiar with your PLM journey, your user onboarding will evolve as well.