Product Development

Architectural Research Associates

The 6th Key for a Product Manufacturer: Implementation and delivery of continuing education

For the product manufacturer, the first rule of implementation and delivery –keep it simple and follow your action plan. One strength of the product manufacturer is their product research department. The big question is how do they use that information when delivering education? Add to their research, the product manufacturers are in a prime position to develop project studies or case studies about actual application. Where so many product manufacturers slip up, they run their client continuing education programs from their marketing department using their sales force as the trainers. It is difficult to be an effective trainer if your income is based entirely on what you sell. An answer to this problem –rule number two is to have your technical staff deliver the education to your clients. Team them with a sales staff if you must but then structure their salary to reflect that some of their time is spent in education marketing and not direct sales.

Here is an example of one company that has learned to design and deliver product education correctly,Pella Windows, Commercial Division. In 1989 Pella hired an architect, Terry Zeimetz, AIA, CSI, CCPR to design and teach architects and engineers about their products. Based upon adult education principals and clear learning objectives Terry incorporated Pella’s research and developed courses slowly over time that were based upon projects related to the architects and engineers needs. These education courses were not sales pitches. Pella was patient and gave their plan time to develop and unfold. They built their program around their research and ongoing need assessments. Because of a solid foundation, by the time they reached the implementation and delivery phase the process went reasonably smooth, it grew and continues today. Terry was not afraid to try the new and the different, something that connected to Pella’s strategic education plans. Pella’s on-site education and product tour has become the standard for offering site tours for the industry.

“What Content?”- The fourth key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program.

Photo on Flickr by cogdogblog Alan Levine

The fourth key to unlocking the secrets of an a quality education program for an organization is for the organization to develop a systematic approach that will identify the appropriate subject matter content and support a consistent work flow process. Regardless of the type of organization, the organization will need to have a reliable source of new content and materials to be in a position to offer a supply of continuing education courses. The source of the education content may be internal, external or a blend of both. Successful continuing education programs develop a systematic approach to identifying, obtaining and monitoring the quality of the education material, how it is processed, designed, developed and delivered. A consistent approach to how the content follows a process flow enables the organization to establish and maintain a quality checks and balances.

There are a multitude of education formats and delivery models from which an organization can choose. Which one is best for the organization and the customers that they are trying to serve? Developing clear course learning objectives, when done at the beginning of the process and when done properly will guide the education administrators in selecting the appropriate subject matter experts (SME), the best course design and format, and the most effective delivery method for a course. When this process is repeated following an established yet flexible system the quality of the overall program increases. If there are any special requirements such as CEU’s, ILU’s license or certification standards that need to be met then it is critical to insure that the system checks to insure that they requirements are matched.

The established system can be as simple as a check list or as complex as a sophisticated computer metrics. The organization administrators can determine what works best for them, as long as they establish a system.

The third key to a quality education program for product manufacturers

A great opportunity for product manufacturers in the architect/engineer/construction (A/E/C) and design industry is to provide product and service education to the professionals in the industry. This opportunity is most frequently offered on site at the professional’s office. Less often the product manufacturer will offer their education courses on site at a local chapter of the professional such as the American Society for Interior Design (ASID), or Construction Specification Institute (CSI), or the American Institute of Architects (AIA). And like the associations, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program: planning and performance projection. If the product manufacturer offers education to professionals they are likely to have commitment and support of senior management. Based upon how the product manufacturer do an education needs assessment and analysis, that results will greatly determine the actual education product that they deliver.

The product manufacturer should plan their short term education goals at a minimum of two to three years. Creating, changing or adjusting education programs in today’s economy will take at least 2 – 3 years before you begin to see the serious results programmatically or financially. Since the product manufacturer will incorporate sales projections into their goals, they should include additional time to what would be considered short term return on investment (ROI). Product manufacturers such as CertainTeed, USG, and Custom Building Products offer excellent examples of how developing comprehensive quality education programs built around the needs of the professionals they serve also helped the companies achieve sales objectives. These three companies designed courses based upon needs assessments that helped professionals understand the right product to use and under the right conditions to reach the maximum results. Better installation of products equated to more satisfied customers. Each of these companies created multiple interrelated courses which evolved into a comprehensive, award winning education program. These companies built in a continuing process and a system that provided them with the flexibility and ability to make course adjustments over the years.