Creating Standards, Part 2: Organizing and Tuning

27 May, 2008 By: Robert Green

Set up your standards in digital form for maximum efficiency and ease of use.

In the last issue of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I talked about how to capture standards into an electronic format (typically Microsoft Word) and using video capture tools to assist in the composition of your standards. Using these tools, you should be well on your way to creating better, more graphically rich standards in print form.

In this installment I'll focus on how to take the standards you've created in Word and distribute those standards via digital formats like Adobe Acrobat's PDF and create video recordings of the standards as you do so. The end result should be a completely digital CAD standard document that users can read and print on their own with a video tutorial they can watch. Here goes.

Prioritize and Organize Standards
Before you do any work on any of your standards, take the time to get the right order so that you'll work on the most valuable standards first. So which standards are most important? The standards that can best help your users solve problems and productivity losses.

If you are having tons of problems with plotting and file management but very few problems with correct design standards, you should focus on plotting and file management standards as your first task and put everything else off until those are dealt with. I know there's always a temptation to work on all problems, but at some point you have to make a business-focused decision and get to work on a limited number of problems. So think through the problems you have and how your standards can help you deal with them and get going.

Debug Standards
In the last installment I explained how to create a first draft standards and training document. Now, take the time to go back over your document for completeness and fix any problems you find. Pay particular attention to awkward wording or vague instructions. As you work through the standards documents, remember that the reason for the standard is to make it easy for users to understand a complex concept.

After you make your changes to the standards documents, let some of your trusted power users have a look just to get another opinion. You'll never be sorry that you took the time to make your standards clear, but you'll always be sorry if you put out a bad standard that raises more questions than it answers.

Publish the Standards
Now turn your written standards into digital files for easy email and network delivery. I use Adobe's Acrobat (PDF) format because it yields good file compression, universal support via the free PDF viewer, and is, by far, the market standard for delivering written information in digital form. You will have to get a copy of Adobe Acrobat Professional to create your own PDF files, but at roughly $300, it is a small price to pay for the results you can obtain.

Create Video Captures
Using your completed standards, create training videos that explain the standard document from a show-and-tell perspective. In fact, if you ever do lunch-and-learn or training presentations, just record those classes and get your videos done with no extra effort at all.

I use a software application called Camtasia and a desktop microphone to create videos directly from my training laptop. In the next edition of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll give you much more information on the process of creating your own videos.

Produce Videos
So what video format should you use to deliver your training videos? I've found that two options, Windows Media and Flash, work well in 99% of circumstances. Here are some details on each format along with the benefits of each.

Windows Media (WMV). This is the format I like to use by default simply because everyone with a Microsoft XP or Vista operating system already has Windows Media Player. And when you don't have to worry about which media player users have installed, you'll never be stuck supporting users through the process of downloading and installing those players. Later versions of Windows Media format achieve good compression and, even with audio included, average 1.2 to 1.5 MB per minute of produced video, making even several long training sessions easily burnable to a CD.

Flash. This format is optimized for delivery via low bandwidth Internet connections and is thus favored for Web delivery or even WAN delivery for companies with low bandwidth connections between offices. The only problem with Flash format is that it does require a Flash player and may necessitate support from you as a result. Flash is the preferred compressed format for these types of delivery environments, but it should be used only if required because of potential support issues.

Set Up Your Infrastructure
Now that you've got standards saved to digital formats and videos recorded, it is time to deploy everything. In order to link the standards document to your video segments, some infrastructure planning must be done so that all your linkages reference stable network paths, and all hyperlinks will resolve properly. At a minimum you'll need the following for your deploy:

A network location with adequate space. This could be a UNC resource or a mapped drive letter that has enough space to hold all videos and standards that you will ultimately produce. Please note that storage isn't based on what you have now, but on what you'll have moving forward. I prefer a mapped drive letter simply because if the files ever have to change servers, the UNC paths will change, thus breaking all your hyperlinks.

Correct network permissions. This most likely will be read-only control for everyone except you so that no tampering with any files can occur.

Wrapping Up
You should now be able to create and deploy CAD standards in a purely digital format for maximum flexibility and reach. Further, you'll have standards that include an audio/video training program so that everyone knows how to use and follow standards. This recipe is a win-win for CAD manager and users alike!

In the next edition of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll start a two-part series on how to create your own video training materials and link the video results to your written standards environment. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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