Finding the Right Balance of Detail
Challenge: A team at our client’s site that had been developing a complex medical device now needed to create an operator’s manual, which would be simple enough for first-time users and complete enough for those who were much more advanced. With input from all the team members, written in different styles, the source file included 200 dense, single-spaced pages. The team looked for guidance about how to make all this good information less intimidating and more approachable for our client’s customers.
Solution: The file grew even larger when Shenouda converted it to a user-friendly template with more headings and whitespace; then it started to shrink as we refined the text. Where possible, we simplified paragraphs into step-by-step procedures, tables, or graphics that could easily be skimmed. A Shenouda writer traveled cross-country to the client site to validate the steps in detail and to capture software screens and photos, both of which were later edited using Adobe Photoshop software. The more we learned, the more we were able to advocate for novice users and ask questions about gaps in the content, which resulted in Shenouda writing dozens of new pages.
Result: Although it ended up having about the same page count as the first draft, the final manual was more usable. Advanced users could skip the basics, and novices now had all the steps required to handle various situations that might arise in their work. Sometimes, as with this manual, a project requires both addition and subtraction to equal the right balance of detail.
Starting at the Beginning
Challenge: While on the phone with less-than-happy customers whose products required repair, help desk agents quickly had to find the correct process to follow. Where did the customer live? Was the product new? What was its model? The help desk agents asked many questions from memory and then looked for the most appropriate Word file on their hard drive. Many steps in these long procedures overlapped. When managers changed the steps in one file, they couldn’t always remember to review and update all the related steps elsewhere.
Solution: Shenouda started where the help desk agents would: at the beginning. While converting the files to HTML and posting them on an Intranet site, we created a new Web page article (procedure) that would be the starting point for every call. From there, steps branched off to other linked articles, depending on the customer’s answers to questions.
Result: By editing to minimize inconsistency and repetition, we were able to make suggestions that streamlined the actual process steps, not just the way they were documented. Agents ended up with half as many processes, which were interlinked and organized in a more logical way. Managers had less work to do when maintaining content. Best of all, customers could have their concerns addressed more quickly, with consistency and confidence, resulting in a positive customer experience—good for the customer and great for our client.
A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way—for Those Who Love to Cook, Bake, and Eat!
Challenge: The Ellison famiy wanted a cookbook that included favorite, time-tested family recipes passed on from grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles that would be available to present and future generations. The cousins and others sent Judy many, many recipes, written in all kinds of creative, yet inconsistent, ways. From this, Judy's job was to make a readable, meaningful, inspirational book.
Solution: From her many years of experience writing manuals for her clients and from authoring and publishing Career Success in 12 Easy Steps | a Journal, Judy got to work. She organized over 100 recipes into categories, rewrote them for consistency in format and terminology, created a template with styles and fonts that reflected the flavor of the book, and sprinkled the pages with family lore. She self-published the book using CreateSpace, making it available for those who contributed to the book, the entire extended family, and the world at large!
Result: Part cookbook, part inspiration, part memoir, A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way is available at online retail stores, including CreateSpace and Amazon.
Cultivated Seedling Project—now Blossoming!
Challenge: Judy has looked into compiling lessons learned over the years and encapsulating these seeds of wisdom into a profitable project. She found that this seedling project was easily planted, but that it required the proper attention from the gardener in order to take root and grow. The question Judy asked herself was, “how do you find the time to cultivate a seedling project in the whirlwind of the work week?”
Solution: Luckily, Judy has found her solution! Through hard work and determination, Judy was able to carve out a bunker amidst billable projects—mostly evenings and weekends—and took care of her seedling project until it grew into a blossoming, profitable plant!
Cultivating a Seedling Project
Challenge: Judy has been looking to compile lessons learned over the years and encapsulate the seeds of wisdom into a profitable project. However, she often finds that these seedling projects get planted, but require the proper attention from the gardener in order to take root and grow. It is not that these projects will not be profitable eventually, but, as Judy says, “doing real work that clients need and want (and for which payment is forthcoming) has its advantages – particularly during economically challenging times.” So, the question remains, “how do you find the time to cultivate a seedling project in the whirlwind of the work week?”
Solution: The solution to Judy’s dilemma became clear when she ran into an old colleague, and current SCORE advisor. This garden helper assessed the marketability of the product and helped Judy decide that yes, growing this seedling project would be worth the time. Once the two decided this seedling project could thrive, Judy’s SCORE advisor encouraged her to look into the whirlwind of her workweek and carve out a bunker where she would have time to care for her seedling project so it could grow into a flowering, profitable plant. For this specific project, Judy decided rolling up her sleeves one morning a week to cultivate this seedling project would be the best way to see this project grow!
Result: When asked about her progress, Judy commented, “This seedling project moved from the wispy winds of the workweek to solid ground where it can now take root and grow… I made it a priority. I also found a friendly gardener who works alongside me. Together, we are making excellent progress toward cultivating this seedling into a beautiful, marketable plant.”
Finding a Needle in a Haystack
Challenge: “I received error code 555 and don’t know what to do.” “Why doesn’t the network include my printer?” When end users of our client’s products have such questions, they call the client’s support center for help. The service providers who respond to calls search a knowledgebase of thousands of documents. Their challenge is to find the needle in the haystack (i.e., the document that offers the solution), resolve the issue, and do it quickly. The next caller is waiting.
Solution: The Shenouda resource on this project had a huge task.
- First, determine how the service providers searched and navigated the knowledgebase to find information and then, enable easy access to the right documents. This involved adding titles, keywords, and an architecture that was based on the product, component, and document type.
- Based on the callers’ questions, determine the existing documents that provided the right answer. Identify the gaps in which no right answer was documented, and recommend the creation of new documents.
- Beyond making the right publications easy to locate, ensure that the contents of all documents were accurate, readable, and usable.
As you might guess, managing this knowledgebase became an ongoing effort that involved the cooperation of writers, subject matter experts, service providers, and others at the client organization.
Result: The Shenouda resource knows the architecture of the knowledgebase, knows the products, and knows when to revise existing documents and add new ones. As a result of our ongoing involvement, the service providers can access accurate information quickly and resolve their callers’ issues, retaining their customers’ loyalty and their business.
Trimming the Fat!
Challenge: A worldwide company purchased products that needed to be integrated into its system of related offerings. Not only did the products require changes to meet the company’s requirements, the company also needed to make the documents comply with its own standards. This large project included source documentation consisting of over 300 pages.
Solution: Shenouda rose to the challenge of creating new documents by analyzing the source documents and studying our client’s standards, samples, templates, and controlled language requirements. We followed the direction of the project manager from the client’s publication department, depended on our subject matter experts for content accuracy, and coordinated our text with the graphics of technical illustrators. We engaged in a continual exchange of information with the entire team via face-to-face meetings, email, and telephone discussions, allowing for a constant updating of material.
Result: Our meticulous attention to detail resulted in high quality documents. The page reduction from 300+ bulky, awkward pages to 125 streamlined pages immensely trimmed the fat and improved readability. Content reviewers had minimal recommendations for improvement. With only minor changes required, we delivered ahead of schedule and under budget.
Style—It’s More than Looking Good!
Challenge: Companies, both large and small, have approached us to develop a style guide for their writers to follow when creating publications. Because multiple writers often have their hands in a publication, and multiple voices with multiple styles do not enhance readability, there is a need for standards. From the reader’s perspective, the number of hands and voices should be transparent. After all, the reader’s goal is to deal with the content, not with inconsistencies in grammar, formatting, tone, and so forth.
Solution: We analyzed the client’s existing style guides, taking note of where stylistic standards were the same and where they were different. We reviewed a sampling of the client’s publications to identify recurring errors and inconsistencies. We researched the industry standard for the types of publications that our client distributes and recommended the best stylistic decision.
For example, we recommended spelling out numbers from zero to nine. We suggested using boldface font to emphasize a word. We indicated starting each item in a bulleted list with an uppercase letter and ending with a period only if the item was a complete sentence. Not only did we identify the contents, we determined the best way to organize topics, the best application to use to develop the guide, and the best way to distribute it.
Result: Often, we edit publications written by the same writers for whom we created a style guide. Over time, there is less and less for us to edit. This is a clear indication that the writers are following the guide and improving their writing skills. What do improved writing and improved publications mean for our clients? Their customers can assemble a new product, their technicians can install equipment, their sales force can articulate the features and benefits of new products. Then, of course, there is the bottom line. The publication may be the deciding factor for readers who are purchasing a product or service, making an investment, or selecting companies with which to do business.
Making Every Penny Count
Challenge: The worldwide employee training organization for a major multi-national corporation was in the process of converting the software used for all company operations from an outdated legacy system to a totally new system. This meant that the contents of all instructor-led training programs needed to be reviewed for accuracy and then revised.
Solution: Over a span of several years, Shenouda provided on-site, full-time instructional designers who learned the new software, consulted with content experts, and revised the training material. Once the new content was complete, our staff converted the instructor-based courses to online training modules.
Result: Employees could use the corporate intranet site to complete the training modules that we created and master the new software, which they used to do their jobs. They learned the in’s and out’s of issuing purchase orders, processing payments, managing inventories, invoicing service providers, and much more! The company no longer had to shoulder the cost of having employees and instructors travel to training locations.
Moreover, employees could learn from the comfort of their electronic desktops and continue to do their regular daily work! In an environment in which every penny counts, the savings in money and time was huge. Cha-ching!
Changing Names (and Other Vital Statistics)
Challenge: Our client, an organization responsible for managing all of its customers' documents, faced a challenge when one of its major customers acquired the products of an electronics firm and approximately 500 publications, with thousands of pages! Marketing collateral, user and operator guides, service manuals, training material, and internal process and procedural documents needed to be rebranded with the vital statistics of the company that made the acquisition. This included changing the company name and logo, addresses, phone numbers, trademarks, product names, part numbers and more on all of the acquired company’s documents.
Solution: Shenouda looked at several sample documents to see what needed to be changed globally and made a checklist to use when rebranding the documents. Our writers methodically revised documents (electronically). As we came across additional changes, such as contact names, job titles, dates, and prices, we updated our checklist of global changes, sought confirmation that the changes were valid, and made the additional changes. We kept a detailed spreadsheet to track progress. At any moment, we could identify the status of all documents under our control.
Result: We finished the massive effort on time and on budget. Because we were so close to the documents, we identified and corrected desktop publishing problems, such as odd page breaks, broken links, and inconsistent formatting. Because the acquiring company could not maintain documents authored in PageMaker, we converted those documents to Quark, its preferred authoring application. When we completed our work, the rebranded documents were noticeably easier to read and easier to use.
Going the Extra Mile
Challenge: An organization within a major multi-national corporation needed to have all policies and procedures documented for compliance with ISO standards. This would enable our client to do business worldwide. Our task was to document all processes so that workers could demonstrate that they performed their tasks as documented.
Solution: Shenouda provided on-site, full-time writers to document all of the organization’s policies and procedures. The writers began by creating a template so that all documents would follow the same format and be easy to use, both for those who performed the procedure and for those who would conduct the audit. By interviewing and observing workers, Shenouda staff wrote the documents and delivered a full set of policies and standard operating procedures.
Result: On the big day, the auditors arrived. Believing their work was complete, the writers drew a breath of relief until it was discovered that a few procedures had been overlooked and the organization was at risk of failing the audit! Without hesitation, the Shenouda writers worked well into the night, researching and documenting the forgotten procedures. When the auditors returned in the morning, the gaps had been filled, and the surprised auditors indicated that our client passed the audit. We are accustomed to going the extra mile!
Please come back soon for more examples of our work...