CAD Standards, Part 3: Crafting Your Standards

10 Jul, 2007 By: Robert Green

Create support materials that provide maximum information with minimal effort.

In the June 27 issue of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I continued my series on CAD standards by emphasizing how critical it is to craft your CAD standards as a set of processes that enable people to work more effectively rather than some random set of rules they have to follow. I stressed that you should explain the “why and how” of CAD standards so your users will want to follow standards, knowing that doing so will help them. If you haven’t had a chance to read the last installment, I recommend doing so now.

This time I will talk about how you can craft CAD standards documents that will impart the maximum amount of information with the least amount of effort for you and your users. And I’m not just talking about written standards!

Imagine Explaining a Concept
If I asked you to explain a new CAD standard process to a user by simply showing them what to do and talking them through the process, I bet you’d be able to do so easily. After all, you’re comfortable with the CAD software you manage and you perform user support all the time, so you should be pretty good at explaining things.

Now, if you’re explaining a new concept to a user, you’ll probably want to take a little time to prepare some sample files and think about the best way to explain the process. Thus, you’ll have to do some preparation work to really be effective in your explanation, right? After doing this preparation, you’ll then be able to sit down with your users and show them how to perform the new CAD process and provide a thorough explanation. In fact, you’ll be prepared to run a training class for multiple users at that point!

Congratulations, you’ve just done exactly what a good CAD standard document should do, which is:

  • illustrate the standard concept
  • show the user how to execute the concept (process)
  • provide examples of how to do so
  • answer common questions from the user

Now Capture the Results
So now that you know how to explain a process and you have the example files, it is time to document the process and turn it into a CAD standard. I make the leap from explaining a concept to written standards in two phases, the first of which I’ll outline here:

Record yourself. Use a video/audio capture utility like Camtasia to capture the exact presentation you would give to a user.

Listen to and watch the recording. Go back and listen to the recording you just made and evaluate how well the explanation flowed. Listen for redundancy, unclear topics, glitches in your presentation, and other problems. Watch how well the example files you used illustrated concepts.

Revise. Based on how well you liked the sample recording, you may want to make revisions to the presentation. If so, fix your sample files and rehearse your new presentation.

Repeat the process. Now repeat the record-listen-revise cycle as needed until you’ve really nailed explaining the process.

Keep the best recording. Once you’ve got a recording you’re happy with, keep the recording as a video standard lesson that you can use for standards training later. After all, you won’t be able to train everybody in person, so letting them watch your well-rehearsed standards session will be the next best thing.

Now take these concepts and modify them to help you substantially improve your standards documents. Feel free to improvise with software utilities, but make sure that you can capture the essence of your verbal training.

Now Write it Down
Now comes the fun part, the creation of the written standard! Since you’ve expertly crafted an audio/video explanation of your new CAD standard process along with all the example files you’ll need, writing your CAD standard is easy. Here’s the process step by step:

Start a document. Simply open Microsoft Word, name a file, set your margins and fonts, and you’re ready to go.

Get your screen captures. Run through your teaching examples step by step and get a screen capture at every logical point where you would want to demonstrate something to a user. At minimum every dialog box, command prompt, menu selection, and command result should be documented. (Hint: the Alt-PrtScr combination can be used to paste the entire screen to your Word session; a more capable screen capture tool like SnagIt can capture menus and cursors).

When in doubt, review the recording. If you can’t remember the sequence of events or all the places you should get screen captures, just go back and watch your video.

Now type in the text. All you have to do now is type in the verbal instructions you would give your users when training them. You can probably type in most of the instructions from memory, but you can always listen to your recording to be sure.

Finish it off. Spell check, align margins, set headers and footers, and make sure your page breaks are correct. You’re done!

Proofread. Print out a copy of your document and follow along with it while listening to your standard recording. If anything seems incorrect in the document, fix it.

Obviously you will find your own set of best practices for making the creation of written documents, but I think you’ll see that this basic procedure works very well.

Benefits for You
The real benefits for you when using my suggested methods for capturing standards in video and written form are these:

  • You create standards using your natural tutoring style, which users are more likely to understand -- helping you explain things better.

  • You tighten and polish your standards verbally and visually rather than spending countless hours on a word processor -- helping you write CAD standards with less writer’s block as a result.

  • You have more opportunities to review yourself because you can see and hear yourself presenting the standards in a live setting -- honing your standards to the minimal essence of the concept you’re trying to teach.

  • You become a better CAD manager and instructor because you’re routinely evaluating yourself!

Summing Up
Now you can craft example files and explanations that users will relate to easily. And your new practice of recording and evaluating yourself will speed you through the drudgery of documentation. And although the paradigm of recording and reviewing yourself may seem painful at first, I guarantee you’ll become a more fluent CAD manager. (That’s how I became a better writer and speaker.)

In the next installment of CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll talk about cataloging your video and written standards into a comprehensive library that can eventually serve as an employee training guide as well as a standards manual. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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