It’s hard to overstate the importance of training - especially within BI and data science. There’s an overwhelming amount of data tools on the market. An experienced employee moving from one company to the next seldom knows the full tech stack going in.
That almost guarantees that every company needs to train their data team on something. But that need isn’t always met.
We Can’t Always Allocate Resources for Training
Despite the fact that 40% of employees who received inadequate training leave within their first year, many companies don’t allocate resources for training.
Some of this is their hiring strategy. Many employers prefer experienced candidates. People who already know the tools required. But even that experience is limited. Even the most seasoned pro won’t know your architecture and won’t know your business.
Others would prefer to hire “self-starters.” That’s more common in startups. The entrepreneurial founders figured things out for themselves. Why not the people they hired?
But the more common reason is simply a lack of time. A good training program often lasts 2-4 weeks. Sometimes even more. A program like this isn’t always feasible.
1.5 Hours Every Day to Learn – A Practical Way to Train When You’re on a Budget
Just because you can’t create a fully-fledged training program doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with training. There’s a rather easy, democratic way to train people.
This method makes people accountable, keeps things flexible, and creates a sense of camaraderie between team members.
This method doesn’t have a fancy, jargon-y name. It’s a simple 1 hour meeting everyday, with 30 minutes beforehand to practice a new skill.
That comes out to 1.5 hours every day and adds up to 7.5 hours every week.
Overall, approximately 19% of your work week is devoted to getting better at your job.
How This Method Works
Each team member picks a skill they want to learn. This skill can relate to their new position, an upcoming project, or simply for career advancement.
Between 8:00am and 10:00am, they can spend 30 minutes of guilt-free time developing those skills.
During a daily meeting, people describe what they learned during their 30 minutes and why it’s important. If it relates to a new technique or software, they can demonstrate it to the group.
If the individual fails to make progress during their self-study, they can ask the group for advice on how to continue. Since most data workers have a broad range of overlapping skills, fellow team members will likely know how to help the presenter achieve their goal. This helps the person move forward when stuck.
3 Big Benefits to the 1.5 Hour Approach
We used this method successfully at my data science consulting job. The required skills vary from one assignment to the next. So it’s hard to predict what to train for.
Had my employer put me in a class to learn AWS, it’s quite possible I would’ve used Azure instead for the next assignment.
These daily meetups made it feasible to learn these skills ahead of time. In the past year, I learned R Shiny, Linux CLI, Bash scripting, Amazon AWS, power analysis, and more using this method.
This method was effective because:
We chopped learning whole technologies into smaller, more tangible pieces
Teaching other people reinforces your own learning
People hold themselves accountable when telling others out loud what they'll do next
Let me better explain below:
Benefit #1: Smaller Bites Makes Learning Big Things Easier
Our attention is most present at the start and end of a class, so we tend to lose focus during the middle of a lecture.
That’s especially true for technology training. Even the most passionate engineers find their eyes glazing over during these training sessions.
Because you only spend 30 minutes a day in self-study, you are forced to chop your learning path into bite size pieces. That shortens the time-span you spend on a topic and it becomes easier to remain focused for its entire duration.
You may want to learn Alteryx, but you can’t create a master workflow upfront. You have to start with something like “I want to learn how to open the tool and connect to a database for tomorrow.” Had you taken an 8 hour training module, the crucial detail of “connecting to a database” would easily be forgotten amongst the many other details.
This small, functional approach makes it easier to accomplish larger learning in the long-run – which is mastery over the entire tool.
Benefit #2: Teaching Others Reinforces Your Learning
The best way to learn something is to explain it to other people. Writing is a great way to do this, but it’s unrealistic to expect ourselves to write an essay about every job-related skill we have.
This method though makes this process more feasible. You have to teach other people what you learned and explain it to them.
Naturally, you’ll want to ensure accuracy before presenting. It’s always embarrassing to state an incorrect fact in front of people. So you put more effort into getting it right ahead of time and that makes the concept easier to remember.
Benefit #3: People Hold Themselves Accountable by Choosing What to Learn
People are more likely to follow through with something when they tell others their intent. For example, telling people “I’m gonna better understand navigational commands in Linux CLI” means you publicly stated what you'll do next.
It’s a natural inclination to avoid looking like you can’t deliver. If you fail to follow through, people notice.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have days when you can’t present. It’s common for work to come up midweek that requires your time. You may need to skip that 30 minutes of self-study to help a stakeholder or fix a report crash.
But those days are not the norm. It’s really not that hard to devote 30 minutes to self-study. Stating your self-study assignment out loud and failing to follow through repeatedly is something most people will avoid.
4 Tips for Keeping Meetings on Track
It’s easy for the one hour meeting to become a daily happy hour. Rather than talk about new things they learned, people talk about their weekend plans, complain about other departments, etc.
That defeats the whole purpose for the meetings. While some socializing is good for team culture, it does take time away from more important things.
Here are a few tips to keep these meetings on track:
Tip #1: Make Sure There’s a Leader
Ultimately, whoever leads this meeting needs to believe in it. This is an informal training program. Unlike a traditional corporate training program, you can’t fire people for failing their learning objectives.
That lack of organization requires a leader to use their personal charisma to create a structure. Otherwise, it will turn into a social event.
Generally, it’s best if you (the manager) lead the call. It provides a great opportunity to socialize with the team and see how well they perform.
If you’re too busy, but still want to use this training method, take care in who you choose to lead it. A person arbitrarily chosen to lead it probably won't do that good of a job. You want someone who shows real interest in the approach and is effective at leading meetings in general.
Tip #2: Don’t Pick the Homeworks or Learning Objectives
It’s better to let people pick their own assignments. For newer people, you can suggest job-related assignments, but for more experienced people, it’s better to let them decide.
Letting people choose their homework gives them a sense of ownership. If you choose those assignments for them, that dry documentation they’ll have to read becomes just another “busy work” assignment.
Tip #3: Encourage Small Learning Objectives
With this method, it’s best to keep learning goals on something small and functional.
I once tried to motivate the group to focus on a large learning objective around dashboard tools. I wanted us to learn Shiny, Dash, Tableau, and PowerBI simultaneously. I drew up a mock-up of a generic dashboard and told each team member to build it with their choice of tools. Once we finished, we could then compare the tool features and their effectiveness.
It was a disaster! Most had never used a dashboard tool and couldn’t pick where to start. Simple things like KPI boxes were totally foreign to them. Same with font selections, color palettes, etc.
It’s better to focus on smaller learning objectives. We could’ve still made those tools a learning focus, but rather than learn them all to do a comparison, we could’ve simply started off focusing on “how do we build a KPI box in PowerBI?” or “how do you change colors on a bar graph?”
Tip #4: Be Flexible – We Still Have Jobs to Do
Every employee will find themselves overrun with work at some point. When that happens, that 1.5 hours to learn isn’t a priority. You may find yourself needing to suspend these sessions to accommodate work. Or you may need to let people drop out and come back.
We found ourselves in a similar position. Back in October, we felt the meetings were no longer effective and most participants had assignments that required 40 hours. It became obvious that we couldn’t really do valuable self-study anymore.
So we canceled the calls. But a few months later, we realized we had more time on our hands and that our skills didn’t align with what clients asked for. So we started the group back up again. And it's going great!
There's one last thing I want to share about this method. It really does build a sense of camaraderie. These meetings made colleagues spread all across North America feel like they were part of the same team. Together, we got better at our jobs and felt ready to take on any assignment.
That's something that even the best formal training programs struggle to accomplish.