Saturday, March 17, 2007

Process Sensitive Information Support

Where I work, we have a document repository. I've done a fair amount of observing and interviewing people to determine how they use the repository. The key performers spend their lunch hours browsing around, locating documents, and learning what's there. Most everyone else doesn't like it and doesn't use it efficiently. There are plenty of reasons why people don't use it, but the primary one seems to be that they need to find information quickly and the repository doesn't get them the information as quickly as they need it.

This led me to thinking, how can I get them the information they need in the context of the procedure they're performing. My thinking is that, if I can know where in the process they are, I can know the documents that will help them at that point. I know, nothing revolutionary here.

Here's what I'm suggesting we do.

I work in a process-based organization. There is a team that has documented in MS Visio the processes the audience I'm targeting performs. I'm working with them to identify the procedures and information resources required at each step in that process. We'll take the Visio process flows, link them to the supporting information (loaded in the content repository), export the Visio flows as HTML, and provide the HTML to the performers (both in training and on-the-job).

Right now, we're at the stage of linking the process flows to the supporting information. Here's a principle I think should be followed, based upon what I'm learning.

No post processing

Let me explain. The process team has, along with the process flow, all sorts of notes in the documents. The people who will follow these processes don't need the notes. I can't ask the process flow team to pull their notes. What we did decide to do, is to have the process team add a Visio layer and put their notes on that layer. This way, they can have their notes, but when we need to export to HTML, we can turn off the notes layer. This allows us to have two levels of dialogue in the document. It also means that whenever we decide to export a version for HTML, there is no work we do aside from the export.

In the past, I've had the same dilemma while using Word. How do we present the information to the user, but still allow for a discussion about the content to remain in the Word document. In Word, we did it with styles and hidden text.

This is a big effort for me right now. If we're successful in doing this, I expect we can cut down the time required for training the new processes. I also expect we will have greater conformance to the process. I also expect we can reduce processing time by getting people information in context of the process they're performing - Process Sensitive Information Support.

More to come. I'll start talking about usability in the next post.

IU IST Annual Conference

I gave a version of the presentation I gave at Masie's conferene at the annual IU IST conference a couple of weeks ago.

I want to talk a bit about the presentation. But first, a comment or two about the IU IST conference. This is a great conference at a tremendous value. I saw a great presentation by Darryl Sink on efficient learning content development. Andy Gibbons from BYU presented on different types of reserach (science and technology). I'm at Humana right now. I'm going to encourage my team to attend/present next year. I'm also getting active in the local ISP chapter and I'll see if I can get them involved as well. It's a beautiful 90-mile drive from L'ville to Bloomington. I think this conference can become a professional development highlight .

On to the presentation.

First of all, here are some additional resources:

Here's the original presentation page:

There you'll find an example that demonstrates the XML portion of the presenation that you can download and try.

I'm working on a paper based upon this presentation and the feedback I've received. Sections coming soon...

Briefly, here are some of the main points from the presentation:

Content should be authored, maintained, and delivered in one tool - preferably a tool that your SMEs use.
Word for textual content
Visio for process flows

Yes, I'm saying you should think twice about using a tool like Toolbook, Lectora, or the like for development. Use them only if you can import the content at runtime from XML output or web output from the program in which the content was authored.

"Why?" you ask. Because of the inefficiency resulting from moving the content into a tool your SMEs don't use. Other benefits: no content freezes, your SMEs can participate in authoring content throughout the entire development process, you will be more efficient in developing content.

It is better to have content used once quickly that never reused.
I misspent my youth chasing the dream of content reuse. Forget about it. Focus on developing the content quickly. The reuse that is going to happen as our tools and methods mature is functionality reuse and content reuse (with no additional effort) within the lifecycle of information use.

What does this mean? It means that a tool that displays multiple choice questions directly from a Word file (saved as XML) can be reused - but the questions probably will not be reused. A course where the content is tagged (concepts, facts, principles, procedures) will have content reused WITHIN the course. For example, the procedures can be presented and practiced throughout the course - then "reused" in a job-aid format at the end of the course.

Then there is the idea of Quickly. Information has a lifecycle. You get it from your SME one day and sometime the next week, it's no longer current (sure, some hyperbole here, but not much). Have you ever wondered why your SMEs chafe so much at content freezes? If you freeze the content for 3 weeks while you put the finishing touches on a course, I may not be accurate when you're finished.

Prospect, KY
Happy St. Patrick day