The creation of user documentation is a big component of any software project. Unfortunately, its often undervalued and left to the last minute. But that doesnt mean it should be without a good management plan.This is the first in a series of three articles outlining the key elements of a good user documentation process. Its kind of an ideal process; very few projects will be able to implement every step, and some will require additional steps. Nonetheless, it should provide you with a good foundation (especially if youre new to user documentation management).Heres an overview of the three articles.Article 1 (this article) UnderstandIdentify your scopeFamiliarise yourself with the work environmentFamiliarise yourself with the productIdentify the audience for the documentationSpecify perceived audience requirementsRoughly estimate doco project duration and resourcesResearch audience requirementsArticle 2 Specify (See http://www.divinewrite.com/docoprocess2.htm)State your goalsWrite your concept specificationsDesign some possible implementationsConduct usability testing on your prototypesWrite your requirements specificationsEstimate project duration & resourcesConduct usability testing on your writing sampleWrite your work pracs & design specsArticle 3 Write (see http://www.divinewrite.com/docoprocess3.htm)Write the docoManage productionSo here goesUnderstand Your ProjectIdentify Your ScopeThe first step in any project is to identify exactly what youre expected to do. Generally this will happen before you take on the job, but it should still be the first thing that you document. Identifying your scope involves figuring out where you fit in the overall development process and where you fit within the company. No documentation project is ever just documentation, so its important to know exactly what else is involved. Some of the other areas that documentation people are/should be commonly be involved in include:Spec reviewGUI reviewProduct user requirements researchDocumentation audience requirements researchUsability testingAll of these things are integral to the development process, and should be scheduled properly.Familiarise Yourself with the Work EnvironmentGet to know everyone involved in the product. For a software project, this will mean the project manager, the designers, and the guys that will be doing the low-level coding. Try to have a really good relationship with them. They have to respect you, otherwise theyre not going to listen to much of what you have to say.Familiarise Yourself with the ProductFind out whats going to be involved in the product. You must know:what are the goals of the developmentwhat user requirements they are trying to meethow the product will be usedwho will be using itwhat the features of the product arehow the product will look and feelwill it require a specific doco design? For instance, it may only run on the latest version of Windows, it may have a particular look and feel, a particular environment (that the help may have to be integrated into), etc.These are all things that you may have input into, either through simple critique, or through input into user research requirements. Try to read as much documentation as you can find, and interview as many people stakeholders as possible. As you go, note down any issues you identify, any questions you have, or anything you think needs to be different.Some (non-human) sources that you can utilise to achieve this include:Feature and product specificationsProject plansFunding application documentation if applicableIdentify the Audience for the DocumentationDiscuss with the project manager (and other stakeholders esp. marketing) the perceived user/audience.Specify Perceived Audience RequirementsMake some educated guesses about audience requirements so youll be able to provide a rough estimate of product duration and resource requirements.Discuss with the project manager (and other stakeholders esp. marketing) the perceived user requirements that the help must satisfy. See if someone has researched user goals, tasks, and the mental models users employ when using the product (or similar products). If they havent, interview inhouse experts to identify perceived goals, tasks, mental models, etc.Secondly, you should identify what the theory says about user documentation (i.e. documentation approach, visual considerations, indexing considerations, etc.). I recommend Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel, (1998) edited by John M. Carroll.Roughly estimate doco project duration and resourcesAlthough, by this stage, you dont really know enough about the product or your audience requirements to know how long the documentation will take to complete, management will nonetheless like a rough estimate. This is OK, as long as everyone is aware that it is a VERY rough estimate, and subject to change pending further knowledge and research. This initial estimate must incorporate all of the time youll spend on the stages that occur before and after the writing stage. Remember, these stages are important, and should not be short-changed. (TIP: In a well managed project, planning should take approx 30% of your time, writing 50%, production 19%, and evaluation 1%.)Estimating pre-writing stagesAllowing for the pre-writing stages is trickier than allowing for writing. If youre having trouble, estimate the writing stage, then base all other estimates on that, using the above figures as a guide.Estimating writing and post-writing stagesBecause you probably still dont know a great deal about the product or the users, your estimate here will be based primarily on a combination of past records, experience, intuition (gut feel), and industry standards in combination with the goals and tasks youve already specified. Start with the following steps.1.Estimate the quantity of work required to document the tasks the user will need to perform to achieve their goals.2.Track down any previous doco records. See if you can cross reference the time taken to produce similar doco in the past with the current quantity estimate. Derive a figure based on this method.3.See how this compares with the estimate derived from industry standard figures (e.g., I think the current industry standard is to allow 1 day per page of documentation this covers all drafts and reviews).4.Compare the two figures and determine a good compromise based on your experience and intuition.5.Figure out how long you actually have to do it, then how many writers youll need to get it done during this time. 6.Draw up a project schedule using something like Microsoft Project. Dont forget to allow time for recruiting, training, and writing work practices.TIP: At this stage, you should write the first draft of the Documentation Project Plan. It should include or refer to all of the steps outlined in this document. Basically, it should reflect the process advocated here, but be specific to the project youre working on. It should also include a timeline.Research Audience RequirementsResearch on the users of the product and the audience of the documentation is one of the most important parts of any successful product. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most often overlooked aspects of any project. This generally occurs because decision makers feel they already know pretty much everything there is to know about the users and audience. When managing a documentation project, you should investigate the chance of conducting research. If youre employed late in the product life cycle, you should ask if user research has already been conducted for the product itself. If it hasnt, theres a good chance you wont get support for audience research. Audience research should seek to identify:user goals (what the user hopes to achieve with the product)user expectations of the doco (Manuals? Online help? Tutorials?, usability requirements, localisation requirements, etc.)user mental models (how they already see online help, what impressions they have of it, etc.)user tasks (how the user uses the product to achieve their goals)which users perform what tasks (user/task matrix)how long have users been doing these tasks?which tasks are one-off and which are repeated?did they ever do them differently?do they do a variety of tasks, or just a few?do they hate doing it? (is it tedious, repetitive?)do they find it difficult?which tasks are considered essential?are they normally under pressure when they do the task?are there other distractions (environmental, social, etc.)?Some research methods to consider are:Observation of users doing their work in their work environmentFocus groups and interviews with usersQuestionnairesTIP: For further details on these methods, take a look at Managing Your Documentation Projects by Hackos (1994), User and Task Analysis for Interface Design by Hackos & Redish (1998), Social Marketing: New Imperative for Public Health by Manoff (1985), Designing Qualitative Research 2nd Edition by Marshall & Rossman (1995), and Conducting Focus Groups A Guide for First-Time Users, in Marketing Intelligence and Planning by Tynan & Drayton (1988).To be continued See part 2 of this article (http://www.divinewrite.com/docoprocess2.htm) for information on preparing your specifications.
There is that lure in the city. Cities have in its arms the infrastructures and commerce which makes it busy but productive. In the USA, there are these rural areas which are experiencing problems due to the lack of businesses even small-scale ones.The establishment of businesses is a start of economic growth. One problem of the rural areas is that people lack capital. A few ventures because they do not have that much amount to initiate a business. With this, the local governments decided to provide loans and other financial assistance for those who wish to start right. There are agencies which cater the needs of borrowers. Some are short-term loans and some are assisting people to find an organization or entity to borrow capital from.However, another problem is really a huge one though these loans are available. It was discovered that most rural Americans do not have the necessary skills in planning for the business or marketing.We suggest that before getting a loan, borrowers must consider some points:First, learn what a business plan is.A business plan helps entrepreneurs demonstrate they have fully researched their proposed business, that they know how to build their product line and provide excellent customer service, that they know how to sell their products and that they know how to manage financial risk.Second, know how to develop a marketing plan.To develop a detailed marketing plan you must thoroughly understand your business, your target audience, your industry and your company's position in that industry. At the conclusion of this class you will have a written, detailed plan for your business that covers the structure of business, your product, marketing and financing. You will have the opportunity to work with legal, marketing and finance experts so that at the end of the course you will know how to access resources to help you start and build your business.Third, attend some symposium on business planning.The course will include presentations on business planning, worksheets to develop the business plan, and guest speakers on core issues such as legal matters and financial risk. Even if you come from what sector, a background about business planning will really help you out meet your objectives. Business is a venture but not a suicide. So, equip your self with the necessary preparation.Always bear in mind that the rural area is essential. Its progress is a big factor in the over-all development of the whole state or country. Building businesses in rural areas is building the strong niche of the whole place.
Employee Development: Motivate Employee Participation in Professional Development Opportunities and Improve Performance
When companies think of employee development, they often search for training programs, educational seminars, coaching or the latest book that might offer ideas on what employees can do to sharpen skills or strengthen expertise. However, none of these programs will be effective if the organization lacks one critical success factor: individual motivation. An individual has to want to develop himself before any employee training and development program can be successful. Some say theyre 'too busy.' Some say theyre 'already developed.' Some blame the boss. Some like burying their heads in the sand, afraid of what they might learn about themselves. What can you do to help your employees achieve best performance?Here are some tips to help motivate the seemingly unmotivated and increase your organizations overall performance.1. Target the highly motivated and strong performers. All organizations have individuals who are highly motivated. They stand out more easily. They typically like challenges and welcome growth opportunities for themselves. Engage them in activities to help them get even better. The improved performance of the highly motivated will help raise the bar for your entire organization. Those who are less motivated will have to step up the pace.2. Focus on the future. Rather than concentrate on performance areas that arent working for an individual, talk about possibilities for the future. Its easier to become energized about new possibilities than dwelling on weaknesses. Determine the positive outcome that will occur if a change/improvement is made. For example, you might say, "We can reach more buyers if you can speak more frequently to groups. What can you do to hone your presentation skills to help secure more business?" Help employees keep their eye on the goal, not their ego.3. Open dialogue about desire. Discussions about development should be positive and ongoing -- not limited to annual performance reviews. Let the individual lead. Rather than saying, "Here are areas you need to develop," ask "What would help you build on your strengths or increase your effectiveness?" When a particular approach has been identified, ask for commitment to follow-through. Create a culture where ongoing development is expected, encouraged and rewarded at all levels. 4. Start at the top. Executives should model the commitment to growth and development that they want to see throughout the organization. After all, many problems disguised as "employee development" issues actually reflect leadership deficiencies of the firm or organization.Consider using assessments of some kind to help employees gain a more objective perspective about them. Assessments can be helpful or destructive depending on how they are used. In the end, its all about achieving what both the employees and what the organization wants. Be clear about whats most important to both. An employee development and training program is not something to be checked off on a checklist. The strongest organizations make employee development an integral part of their culture and strategies for success. They constantly seek new and innovate ways to engage their people in development opportunities to achieve best results.
Productivity almost always suffers in times of great change, because employee stress dramatically increases due to the universal fear of the unknown. In these times, communication becomes more important than ever.Often senior executives genuinely believe they are communicating with employees when it comes to matters that affect them. Unfortunately, they often underestimate the number of matters that includes, for the fact is that most high level decisions will affect employees in one way or another. (That's why a new law recently went into effect in Britain forcing employers to answer employees' questions on any changes or decisions that affect them.)So how do you know what is important to employees and what to tell them? Well, you need to put yourself in the position, the mind, the heart of employeesone employee at a time. If you were that person, what would you be worried about right now in the current situation? What would be important for you to know? What is the worst thing that could happen, and would you want to know about it in advance? How would you want to be told? Of course, you can't answer those questions yourself. You need input from the very people you are trying to understand. Depending on how much you can discuss or how much is already known, you might ask a few individuals what the grapevine is saying, and what people are worrying and wondering about.Now, armed with this information, draft the answers to the questions. Of course they must be truthful answers, for insincerity is easily recognized and will deal a death blow to your communication efforts. Then they must be couched in terms that are clear and uncompromising, but also considerate and compassionate. It's worth spending some time on this partlack of commitment to your message is also easily read and will automatically raise the cynicism level among employees.Next comes dissemination of the information. There is, as we all know, no shortage of communication technology in the business world. However, the way a person receives news can dramatically affect how he or she feels about it, so you need to choose the medium very carefully. E-mail can be perceived as cold and unfeeling in many cases, although it is useful for routine updates that don't have emotional overtones. Some messages are better spoken, either by managers to their groups or by the CEO to the whole organization. If the messengers don't have highly developed communication skills, it's worth engaging the services of professional speech writers or presentation coaches to help them, but be sure the message remains honest, clear and compassionate.And above all, follow through on your commitments and promises. Nothing turns employees off more than empty words, but sincere, caring, ongoing communication can form the basis for building employee engagement when the present time of turmoil ends.
It is hard to imagine anyone in today's age of computers not being able to scan a document, let alone know what to do with it once it is scanned. Yet, there are countless services offering to do just that--scan, upload and make your file as you want. Whether you want it simply stored on your computer, changed into a PDF, converted into c.d. form or simply sent out as an email, these services will do it. The question is: are they actually needed? Do you have to have someone else scan and create your documents?The answer is both yes and no, and below we will offer the advantages and disadvantages of using such services.Why To Use It:Most companies suffer from poor storage. They have row after row of filing cabinets, all stuffed with documents and important papers. What most services will do is offer to convert all of these into computer files, saving you the time of 1) having to scan all the papers yourself or 2) continually rummaging through the cabinets in hopes to find what you are looking for. They will go through your mountain of paper and organize them on the computer. This can save you a great deal of time both now and later. Now since you don't have to spend your time organizing, as opposed to focusing on current projects. Later since you won't have to try and find what you need in a messy file cabinet.Another reason to use a document scanning service is the quality. These companies guarantee that you will have perfectly scanned and organized files. They will do whatever you need to be done, so you won't have to waste your time guessing against a piece of equipment that you swear hates you since it never seems to work.Why Not To Use It:Ultimately, most--if not all--office workers know how to scan. It's routine. To pay someone else to do it can seem wasteful and, since the prices can be expensive, it can also seem foolish. Scanning and organizing are traits that any worker should have, and employers may hesitate to send for someone else to do what is, essentially, your job.Also, since the prices can be expensive, it has to be viewed from an objective point: is it better to spend the money and save some time, or just have a worker come in an extra day? Employers may look toward the latter.Is It Worth It:Depending on your situation, "document scanning" services can either seem very appealing or very pointless. If you are unfamiliar with how to fully use your computer (perhaps you can scan but the rest is just guesswork), then using a service might be an excellent way to learn and get yourself organized. If you are competent with scanning, however, you may see this as a waste of money and time. It all comes down to how much faith you have in your skills and how much money you are willing to spend.