Do You Really Read the Manual?
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Do You Really Read the Manual?

2015.11.17.

Woman Checklist CheckmarkHave you ever bought a piece of furniture at a store, brought it home and then opened the box to find a stack of miscellaneous wood pieces that you have to assemble?  It’s moments like those when you realize the importance of reading the documentation.  You can’t build something without understanding the steps required to put it together properly.

This recently happened to me. I bought a bookcase for my daughter’s bedroom and had to put it together.  I was in a hurry and I made the mistake of skimming the instruction manual.  It’s a book case; some screws, some nails, some precut wood, an Allen key. How hard can it be? Several frustrating hours later, I ended up with bruised fingers, six “extra” screws, a mysterious starfish shaped part I still don’t recognize and a bookcase that sways and creaks alarmingly when my daughter gets within five feet of it.  If I had just taken the time to read the manual properly, I would have assembled something that could actually hold a book without collapsing.

If you are new to a task or haven’t performed it recently, reading and following the instructions provides the most consistent way to complete the task successfully and construct something that will last.  Of course you can assume but with guess work comes the risk that you will make a mistake and mistakes can be costly and time consuming. Reading the instruction manual might take some extra time but it takes a lot less time than trying to figure out where you went wrong or having to start all over again.

Whether you are putting together a bookcase or using software to run your business, there are common things that you need to know to complete your tasks successfully; the materials required, the steps that must be performed and an understanding of the finished goal. When you read the documentation, it tells you what you need, what to do and what done looks like. Without these three elements, you take the risk of ending up with a badly constructed end product. 

Having the Materials - Documentation lists the materials required to complete a task.  For furniture, this is the materials and the tools. For software, this might be setup data. You cannot complete a task without all the parts.  When you read the manual, it tells you what you need so you don’t have to figure out what you are missing after the fact.  It’s a lot easier to find a replacement screw than to locate the source of an incorrect piece of transaction data. Reading the manual before you start saves you from the time consuming process of locating missing or incorrect data in a large software product.

Completing the Task - Every task has a sequence of steps that have to be performed.  Taking a moment to carefully read the manual reduces the risk of missing a step that could result in the failure of the task. Beyond that, reading documentation also gives you the opportunity to get the full value and functionality of your product. There could be important information that could affect you or an additional feature that would benefit you. Instructions manuals provide all of the necessary information to perform your task correctly and get the most out of your product.

Understanding the Goal – When you perform a task, you need to understand what the product or goal should look like when the task is successfully completed. An important part of documentation is describing what should happen when the task is complete, whether it’s what the finished book looks like or how a process transaction should affect the general ledger.  It is difficult to recognize success if you don’t know what it looks like.

In conclusion, documentation is a valuable and necessary tool when trying to perform a myriad of activities in and out of the workplace. Reading the manual increases your chance of success and reduces potentially costly and time consuming mistakes. I wish I had come to this realization before I had to face the suspicious and judgmental eyes of my daughter as I tried to explain why her new book case was even better as an experimental art piece that would hold no books at all.  I don’t think she bought it.

Posted by Staci Cummings, WW Director, Epicor University

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