Your policy and procedures manual as software

Jared Spool tweeted this morning:

HyperCard was a hypertext program that came with Apple Macintosh in the 1980s. It allowed you to create “stacks” of online cards, which organsiations used to create some of the first online guides. It also contained a scripting language called HyperTalk that a non-programmer could easily learn. This meant HyperCard could do more than just display content: it could be used to create books, games (such as Myst), develop oil-spill models, and even dial the telephone.

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Why you probably shouldn’t use Word to create your policy documents

Flickr image "Holmes McDougall Employee Handbook" by Edinburgh City of PrintImagine you are an IT manager for an organisation that has been implementing new IT systems. You have now reached the point where you need to create and document the new IT policies and procedures. The organisation already has some general policies for IT in its staff handbook, but you need to provide more detailed information on how to use the organisation’s IT efficiently and securely.

For example, the staff handbook tells staff that customer information must be treated confidentially and only approved communication channels must used. The IT policy and procedures document will provide more detail  – that web email services (such as Yahoo Mail) must not be used to send customer information, because they often store a copy of the email even if you have deleted your sent message.

The best approach would be to have some sections in both the staff handbook and the IT policy document. In other words, the same content in different documents. Otherwise, staff would need to have two manuals open each time they wanted to check they were doing things correctly.

If you use Word, you’re likely to do this by coping the text from one Word document and pasting it into the other Word document. The problem with this approach is that when you make a change to the text, you need to remember to paste any amended sections into the other document. This make it very difficult to create customised variations of documents, such as cut down versions for managers or new staff, branch-specific versions etc. It becomes unmanageable.

One of the benefits of using some of the alternatives to Word is you can embed a piece of information into multiple documents. In a similar way to how you can use the same image in lots of different web pages, you can use the same chunk of text in lots of different documents. The advantage of this approach is that in the future you’ll only need to change the source, embedded chunk of text when it’s time to make a revision. That piece of text gets updated automatically (or semi-automatically) in all the documents that use it.

Getting information from Subject Matter Experts

Flickr photo an interview by illustirInterviews with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are some of the most useful sources for Technical Authors when they are gathering information about a product or procedure. This often involves asking a developer or departmental manager a series of questions focused on the types of questions end users are likely to ask.

Interviewing is one of those dark arts that Technical Authors pick up over time – techniques for getting SMEs to find the time to speak to you and review your drafts, ways to avoid conversations meandering away from what the user will want to know, tools for capturing the interview, and so on.

So what tools should you use?

Coming armed with biscuits (cookies in the USA) is probably the most effective tool! After that, the most useful tool to have is a voice recording device. If you have a smartphone, in effect, you have a digital voice recorder. There are many voice recording apps for both iOS and Android, but the one we like is Recordium.

Recordium

In addition to recording audio, Recordium also enables you annotate the voice recording. You can highlight and tag certain parts of audio recordings (for example: to indicate a new topic or to mark sections that relate to definitions of terms etc), and add attachments to those sections as well. You can use it, in effect, as an audio-orientated note clipping application, similar to Evernote.

Recordium also enables you to vary the playback speed. We’ve found this useful when SMEs are using specialist terminology – you can slow down the recording to check what it was they actually said. Listening at a faster speed is also a useful way of reviewing a recording quickly.

Technical Authors still need to transcribe sections of the interview, so it becomes text. Unfortunately, Text-to-Speech applications still have some way to go. Dragon Dictation is available for Apple devices, and ListNote offers similar functionality for Android. However, even if you are just a two fingered typist, you’re probably better off transcribing the audio yourself.

Are there any other apps you’d recommend? Let us know.

Policies and procedures writing courses – beginner and advanced

You’ll find we’ve updated the Policies and procedures writing courses – beginner and advanced page on our website. This course will train your staff in how to create clear and effective policies and procedures information.

This course was originally developed to train NHS staff in how to write and organise non-clinical policy, process and procedures documents in a clear and simple way, and it can be customised so it suits your requirements.

We’re can also offer this course in an alternative  “live and online” format over the Web. The course is delivered live, not recorded, with delegates completing exercises and able to ask questions during the course.

See Policies and procedures writing courses – beginner and advanced

Case study: Creating an easy to use Listener Guide for the Samaritans and the Prison Service

Through its Listener Scheme in prisons, Samaritans  provides  emotional support to prisoners who are struggling to cope, are self harming or are feeling suicidal.

Guidance for Samaritans volunteers that run and support Listener schemes was contained in a hard copy manual (the Guide to Prisons) which was cumbersome to update, difficult to navigate and not in a format that made it easy to share with prison staff. As a result, over the years, volunteers referred to it  less and less frequently meaning that consistency in delivery of the Listener scheme across the prison estate was being compromised.

Cherryleaf were tasked with converting the manual to a fully searchable, easy to use, online resource that would link to other relevant information on the Samaritans intranet and could also be made available on the Prison Service intranet. The new online Guide to the Listener scheme means that both Samaritans volunteers and prison staff have access to the same, up to date, comprehensive set of guidelines and information.

Maria Foster, Samaritans’ Prison Support Officer said:

“For Samaritans volunteers, having the information available on the intranet rather than in a manual in their branches, means they can find out what they need to know at any time; the search facility and page style ensures that information can be located and read quickly and easily.

For prison staff, this is the first time they will be able to see all of the Samaritans guidelines for running the Listener scheme; this will help to further develop their understanding of the scheme and will support them in facilitating the operation of the scheme in their prison.

Samaritans is delighted with the result of the project;

Cherryleaf understood the brief and very quickly got to grips with the subject matter, turning a cumbersome manual into a streamlined user friendly resource.”

 

The Samaritans provides confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts. You can talk to them, any time, on 08457 909090 (UK), 1850 60 90 90 (Republic of Ireland) or jo@samaritans.org .

How can growing businesses get past the 5 and 10 employee barriers?

According to Dr Alan Rae, the number of companies in the UK that go from employing fewer than 10 to more than 10 in a year is only about 1600.

The reason, he explains, is that each new person hired adds another layer of relationships. By the time you’re up to about 12 or 13 staff, people issues gobble up all the owners’ time. The result is senior management don’t have the time to think about strategy.

A growing business that wants to grow will need to resolve this issue early on, probably when it hits the 4-6 employee mark. This is the really point when you need to start formalising and documenting your systems, processes and procedures.

You don’t want to lose the agility that’s made the business successful, so how can you keep agile and formalise the business?

One approach is to document your processes and procedures in a way that’s as agile and nimble as your business:

  • Use  professional business writers (such as Cherryleaf) who can capture critical (but missing) information and improve existing content. You can use them to  take your “brain dumps”, talk to others, look at what documents exist, and turn that into information that communicates your message clearly and simply.
  • Use software that makes it straightforward to both get to the information that staff need and keep it up to date. There’s software you can use that costs as little as $10/year.
  • Embed the information into the systems that staff use, so it’s always to hand.

With measures like these in place, you’re more likely to have a scalable business with fewer growing pains.

See also

Cherryleaf featured in Data Quality Pro Journal – improving Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management

Data Quality Pro logoIn Data Quality Pro Journal, Dylan Jones interviews Ellis Pratt, Director at Cherryleaf, about how to improve Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management. According to Dylan,

“One of the single most common root-causes of poor information quality is outdated documentation and a lack of governance in the way policies and procedures are managed. Nowhere is this more critical than in the healthcare sector.”

Ellis shares a range of practical techniques and methods to help improve policy and procedure documentation within the healthcare sector.

Article – How to improve Healthcare data quality through policy and procedure management.

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