Every documentation team gets stuck in a rut, working heads down, trying to meet deadlines and at the same time produce the best quality content. This workflow doesn’t just apply to groups creating application help, but can relate to marketing writing groups or even your own internal departments creating company-specific documentation.
So what are you missing when your head is down and your nose is to the grindstone? Stop to check with your end consumers that what you are producing is what they are expecting and need. Here at Epicor, we have several different ways to make sure we are soliciting feedback from our consumers.
- Epicor provides an easy means of communication. Within our application help and embedded education courses, we provide a link to send content feedback directly to us (firstname.lastname@example.org). This comes straight to the management team to address, and if valid, to schedule updates. We also have email links on our Epicor extranet, EPICweb. Customers, partners, and employees use this site to contact us regarding not only the documentation available, but also education courses and classes.
- Epicor University booth at annual Insights user conference. This might not pertain to all of you out there, but we always make sure we have a booth at our user conference and spend countless hours chatting with our customers and gathering their suggestions and feedback. We’ve created many lasting relationships during these events.
- Customer lunches during Insights user conference. Months before the conference begins we solicit the Epicor User Group presidents to poll their membership for those who may be interested in a more private atmosphere to discuss our current offerings, discuss strategic initiatives, and again, build relationships. Anytime you can get some one on one time with your consumers – take advantage of it!
- Documentation Feedback Committees. This is something we just started here at Epicor this past year, and it came from an idea offered at one of the customer lunches at Insights. We’ve been meeting for the past five months with members of the Epicor ERP User Group. There are two of us from the Epicor University team that meet with the five members. Each month, we as a committee choose a type of documentation to review. We send a sample out about two weeks before the meeting so the users can have plenty of time to review any unfamiliar content. The meetings are scheduled around the same time of the month for one hour. During the actual meeting, we all join an online conference and review the material, and the Epicor team takes notes on the feedback, answers questions, and provides answers about why the content looks the way it does. This has been an invaluable resource for Epicor ERP, and we are in the process of launching the same program with our Prophet 21 customers.
My message this month is simple -- keep your consumers in sight– find a way to work with them and make it easy for them to help you help them.
Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
In this month’s article I’d like to provide some tips and tricks I’ve learned and use to manage remote employees. This topic is near and dear to me, as I am a manager of 14 employees – all of whom are geographically far from me. I have team members located across the globe – across the US and into Mexico, Russia, and Slovakia. Needless to say, there are definitely special considerations for managing such a large, international group. Here are a few things I recommend:
Build solid relationships. While it’s easy to connect with people when you are located in the same office by strolling by their cubicle, seeing them in the lunchroom or even a quick chat by the water cooler, you are required to make an effort in remote situations. It’s important to connect with employees individually so they know you are committed to their professional development and are interested in their successful contribution to the company. Ultimately, it would be great to touch base with each employee on a daily basis, but let’s face it, meetings, and your own projects sometimes don’t make that possible, but make it a goal . . .every day. When you do check in with them, ask pointed questions, like, “What type of roadblocks do you see coming up?”, and “How can I help you overcome these obstacles?” Just asking “How are things going?” will not unearth the problems your employees are trying to solve, and you can’t fix what you don’t know about.
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! In today’s electronic world there’s a wide range of options here. If you implement video conferencing you can capture tone and body language, which makes it a lot easier to really see how your employees are doing. Instant messaging allows for the real-time exchange of dialog. This is my go- to means of communication with my team. Not only can I check in with people, I can multi-task and work on emails as they are writing their responses. Phone and voicemail, which by today’s standards are “old school” are more personal and at least allow you to hear your employee’s tone of voice, which can help you evaluate their happiness and confidence with their current task load.
Reinforce positive results. Find ways to positively reinforce your remote workers so they repeat performance. As suggested by Mark Murphy from Leadership IQ – dedicate a portion of your team meetings to employee recognition. You can also ask other managers to give your employees recognition, and peers to recognize each other. We have a program in place that allows for this, and it is a great, easy way to motivate people.
Keep your employees accountable. I use a project management system that details all upcoming projects, due date, and estimated hours to complete. This sets the expectations for the employees, and allows me to monitor their work as the project progresses, making status update meetings run smoothly and quickly. When projects are taking longer than we thought we can discuss why: Was it bigger than we thought? Is the employee struggling with getting the job done? Is there a performance issue?
These are just a few things to get you going when you are in the position of managing remote employees. As I mentioned, Mark Murphy from Leadership IQ has some great suggestions. Read more on what he has to say here: https://www.leadershipiq.com/tips-for-managing-remote-employees/.
Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
As summer comes to a close, I am busily preparing my daughters for the new school year. And like most kids that are entering middle-school, they resist the end of summer and say how lucky I am that I no longer attend school. Like most of you reading this blog, I am not part of a formal education program. However, this shouldn’t mean we stop developing skills or widening our knowledge. A recent article
from GetSmarter, an online education company, summed up in five main reasons why we need to continue learning.
Opens new career doors - Lifelong learning will broaden your horizons and give you new opportunities. This is most easily witnessed in your career. Consider your career path – where do you want to be in five years’ time? What skills will you need to get there? Make an effort now to start learning those skills so that when opportunities for promotion arise, you will have an edge on other candidates. Not only will you already have some of the new skills you would need to perform the job, but your boss will be impressed by your demonstrated willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges.
Keeps your brain healthy - Studies have shown that keeping your mind active is an excellent way to keep it healthy. Mental challenges may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and generally slow age-related memory loss. Learning a new skill and putting it into practice will develop your intellectual capacity and thereby help protect your future self from loss of mental aptitude.
Become more self-sufficient - Learning new skills means not having to ask or hire someone else to do something for you. From basic car maintenance to being able to compose an eloquent business letter, there are many skills that you could easily outsource, but that you could just as easily learn to do yourself. Save yourself a bit of money over the long term and learn to do one of those things that you’re currently paying someone else to do!
Widens your social circle - Joining a class or a group to learn new skills or discuss new ideas will put you in a position to meet new people with similar interests. Learning is a fantastic way to broaden your social horizons. And not only will you make new friends in the actual classes, but you’ll also improve your confidence and become a more interesting person, meaning that you’ll be more interesting to people you come across in all areas of your life.
Personal fulfillment - The best reason for continuing your education is simply that it is fun. An attitude of never being able to learn enough is the adult version of that sense of wonder at the world that young children have. Learning keeps you young. It gives you the opportunity to express your creativity and to avoid the complacency about life that some of us develop as we leave childhood behind and become “grown-ups”. And if you think you don’t have any creativity, then all the more reason to challenge yourself to find it within yourself by signing up for art classes, dance lessons or a photography course.
Posted by Becky Bunkers, Sr. Manager, Epicor University
About how much of what you hear do you remember? It probably depends on what you are doing when you are listening. Most adults in these days are juggling many tasks at the same time – reading emails, texting messages on their smart phones and checking in on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest news. It is quite difficult to get a person’s complete attention, and keeping it is another thing altogether! That begs the question, even when you do have their attention, did they hear you? Do they understand what you are saying?
Over twenty four hundred years ago, Confucius said, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. This quote from the famous Chinese philosopher is as accurate today as it was 2400 years ago. What we know today based on research is that retention rates increase dramatically when learners actually do something rather than just listen to a lecture. The average trainer speaks about 100-200 words per minute, but how much of that is really heard? Of course that depends on what the learner is doing while listening, distractions surround us every day – and in every class, that is the job of the trainer – to keep a learners attention and to ensure that they gain knowledge during the session.
A trainer must be able to deliver material and information to satisfy the three key learning styles: Auditory (hear it), Visual (see it) and Kinesthetic (do it). The visual and auditory parts are easy, a traditional meeting or webcast typically satisfies these learning styles. A great way to ensure there is a connection with the learners is to discuss the information and ask questions. Learning is enhanced when people are asked to state information in their own words, give examples of it, provide connections between it and other facts, and apply it to relevant scenarios.
However, the act of “doing it” is where the real knowledge is applied, and therefore learned. When a learner has the opportunity to try something out, or to do something, the learning becomes active and not just memorized. The act of practicing a skill or using an application requires thinking and problem solving. This in turn provides the learner with practical experience that can be applied immediately in their life. Hands-on exercises, workshops, and even completing exams/assessments are ways to actively engage a learner. Other activities such as polling the audience, asking questions, breaking the audience into groups to discuss case studies or to solve a problem also provide valuable methods to increase knowledge and retention.
The key to an effective training program is to provide well designed learning activities in which participants acquire knowledge and skill rather than just receive them. Active learning is a two way street, it takes more than just a trainer to show and tell information. Today the learner must take ownership of their destiny by actively participating in the learning process.
Posted by Amy Melton, WW Director of Education and Delivery, Epicor University
In my first blog I talked about leveraging your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These are the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. Today I want to explore the process of collaborating with an SME to create a job aid.
Overall, job aids aim to provide quick instructions for the end user. They are repositories of information or explanations of processes used to support work activities and increase performance. A job aid may come in several formats, such as a checklist of guidelines to follow to achieve positive results, a list of step by step processes, or a flowchart. Phone books, tax forms, posters, and even sticky notes are examples of job aids we all use every day.
Select the Right Type of Job Aid
As I mentioned, there are many different types of job aids that all serve their own purposes. Let’s assume you are creating something to help the end consumer complete a process. Use a checklist if there are many factors to consider. Note, though that a checklist may require some sort of knowledge about or experience with the process before it can be used effectively. Create a decision table, such as a flow chart, if there are multiple variables involved in the process. Flowcharts show a clear path to the solution in different sets of circumstances. A worksheet is another common type of job aid for processes. They have an implied sequence and engage the end user by requiring responses.
Let’s assume that a flow chart is the chosen job aid.
Find the Right SME
Probably the most important step in the process of creating a job aid happens before any writing or collaboration does. You need to start by finding the person that has the information you need. As I mentioned, SMEs are the people with the real-world knowledge. Find someone with whom you’d like to work. We all know there are SMEs out there, that while they have a wealth of information, they may not be the easiest to work with or share the desire to use a collaborative approach. Do some legwork and ask your colleagues for recommendations.
Determine the Best Means of Communication
You are a professional communicator, so use those skills to figure out which form of communication works best with your SME and adapt to their needs. Do you need to schedule meetings to nail down one-on-one time? Does email exchange work better? Ask probing questions in order to get the buy-in that your requests will be noticed and acted upon within the necessary timeframe.
Choose the Right Process
You know the type of job aid you’re creating; you know how to communicate with your SME, now hammer out what the best process is. Depending on the situation, you may need to educate your SME a bit. Chat with them about what it is you’re attempting to create. Explain who the target audience is. Most importantly, show an example of what the end product might look like. This will help ensure you are both on the same wave length throughout the project.
Complete Your Project
At this point you’re ready to do the actual work. Meet or correspond with your SME to gather the details and knowledge they have related to the work process you are describing, explaining, or demonstrating. Before you end that first communication, advise them what the next step will be (their review of your first draft). Send the draft to your SME with easy instructions on how to provide feedback on the flowchart and the timeframe in which you need them to respond. Thank them for their help.
Depending on how long you provide your collaborator to provide you feedback, you may want/need to send a friendly reminder a day or two before your deadline so they don’t forget about their commitment. Once you hear back from them, thank them for helping you, let them know what happens next, and when to expect to hear from you again. Keep up with your promises to meet timelines and send them the next revision, with the same feedback details.
This process can go through several iterations depending on the complexity, length, correctness of your interpretation of their knowledge. Once you get the final, approved job aid complete, send them the end product. Thank them for their help. Let their manager know how well the process went, and how you appreciate the SME transferring their knowledge to you. If you follow this process, you are bound to have a strong relationship with the SME, and help on future projects. As you make these connections you may even get useful information to add in other deliverables without having to ask!
Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
For years companies have been providing training in classrooms. The traditional classroom environment is the way in which we all grew up learning - with a teacher in a classroom filled with students. Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain and update training facilities with the latest hardware and software requirements. Not to mention the furniture and facility that needs to be maintained, and what about the costs for traveling to these locations? Spending time and money to travel and be away from our families is looked at very closely these days. Thankfully technology has enabled us to provide a solution that some people say is even better than our traditional ways of learning.
According to the Sloan Consortium
, a leading professional online learning society,“A majority of academic leaders believe that online instruction is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction." While certainly the instructor does make a difference in how the class is evaluated, we have seen a huge increase in the acceptance of the online training delivery method. Customers now expect to have online training options available to them. Whether you want to watch a recorded training session or attend a live instructor-led virtual training course, these options don’t require travel for the end user, and cost organizations much less to produce and deliver.
At Epicor, we have been able to bring the best of both worlds to our customers through our virtual training program. Students enroll in a scheduled online class via our Learning Management System (LMS), and participate in hands-on exercises with a live instructor all from the comfort of their home or office. The only requirements include a phone line and an internet connection – things that most people have readily available. The virtual classroom has all the bells and whistles you would expect in a physical classroom: a virtual whiteboard, communication with other students and the instructor through a chat window, and polling systems that allow you to assess the learning that is taking place. What if you can’t find a course that fits your schedule? Enroll in an online recorded session and watch it at your leisure. No matter where you live or what business you are in, you can find an education option that works for your budget and learning style.
If you are one of the few who have yet to try online learning, give it a chance. All it takes is one great virtual training experience to make you a believer too!
Posted by Amy Melton, Director, Epicor University
Life in the world of content development can easily turn into one in which your writers are under pressure to meet deadlines, where they are forced to stay focused on the job at hand and to overlook the outside world. By doing that, they sometimes miss using one of the most useful resources to them – the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. It’s easy to fall back on only writing the academics of the software...the step-by-step processes to complete tasks, but what customers need to know are the why and how of the application, along with practical examples based on real-world scenarios.
Getting the ‘buy-in’
The challenge in working with this group of individuals is getting buy-in that their input is worth the time away from the next consulting engagement, training class, or a break between support calls. Start by building a solid relationship with your subject matter expert (SME) group. Meet with the leaders, for example the Professional Services Director, or Technical Support Manager; explain the value of their expertise and your willingness to make contributions from their teams as painless as possible. Next, find a way to motivate them to contribute. It may be as easy as recognizing these contributing individuals. An easy way to start is to add their names and titles to content produced. Another idea is to build participation into a compensation plan, if possible. Or, content contribution can be written into their job descriptions.
Smooth content process
Once you get the buy-in, it’s important to have a painless and understandable process for SMEs to send you their content. Have this mapped out before you begin the first call – it will help with your credibility and with building trust with the group. For example, utilize Microsoft SharePoint® - long known as a tool for team collaboration. Create a site specifically to support your project. Include areas to share documents, post your processes, and list out the project team. Test out the process with a set of supporters before releasing to the masses. Welcome all feedback and implement change requests quickly.
On the other side of the SME equation is the content producer. The content producers also need training on the process of interacting with the SMEs - both the formal process (as described above) and the informal etiquette. The informal etiquette includes things like learning what the average daily and weekly demands are of the SME, what their crunch times are, and when they are most likely to have a moment to work with the content producer. Typically the end of the month or the end of the quarter are not good times to launch these kinds of projects. Consultants in the field will most likely be working on finalizing customer projects and tying up internal loose ends. Emphasize patience and perseverance to your writers. Remember, SMEs are a very busy group of individuals who have different goals from content writers. During that first meeting, ask the necessary questions to learn about their current demands so you can properly set expectations for all involved.
Next time I’ll focus on creating a specific deliverable with an expert - working with a SME to create a job aid.
Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
The word “Scrum” has been used quite extensively within the Epicor Development department for the past year. Surprisingly, it is not an acronym that stands for something. Instead, it is something.
Scrum is a word whose origin starts with a game that was unknown to me until last fall, when I went to my first rugby game to help cheer on some friends who were very passionate about the sport. The only thing I knew about rugby was that it looked like American football but they didn’t wear any of the protective equipment like shoulder pads or helmets. Seemed crazy for a full-contact sport, but I was excited to see what it was all about.
It didn’t take long after the kick-off for me to become lost in the plays. Without knowing the rules of the game, I only saw chaos on the field. I couldn’t tell the forwards from the backs, I was never sure where the ball was supposed to be, and couldn’t figure out why a seemingly dead ball could be scooped up and flicked to an advancing team member.
Instead of getting frustrated with not understanding what was going on, I kept noticing the beauty of the flowing formation on the field. From way up in the stands, my “bird’s eye view” of the entire field allowed me to see the strategy of the plays and therefore start to understand them. The team who controlled the ball positioned their players into a diagonal line, starting from the center of the field and stretching backwards so that the end person was standing near the sidelines.
And then when they got the ball, it looked like pure magic. The center would toss the ball to the player on his side and that person would run up the field as far as he could go, and at the same time, the whole line moved up, synchronized with the player carrying the ball. They travelled in a line, progressing forward, yard-by-yard, and as one player approached a block, he tossed the ball to another who was close by and then the line continued to advance diagonally behind the player with the ball.
The progression up the field, towards the end zone, was gained in a constant, team-driven effort. It was systematic. It was methodical. To someone unknowing, it may have looked like chaos. But to the players, it was well-planned and executed. Each player was simply performing the job that was expected of him.
And when the play stops, and the ball is declared “dead,” a scrum is needed to restart the play. A Scrum forms as the players huddle tight in a pack, interlocking themselves into several rows. The Scrum team has a single vision … to regain possession of the ball. Each player uses his best strengths to help his team gain control and achieve success. And after a team gains control, the ball is passed and the beautiful formations are again progressing down the field.
This is rugby and this is also Epicor Development.
In the book “The Elements of Scrum”, written by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson, it says that the term “scrum” was first used in the 1986 Harvard Business Review article by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. The article
titled “The New New Product Development Game” used scrum as a metaphor for a new kind of teamwork. It described an approach where the team tries to advance as a unit, passing the ball back and forth.
In Epicor Development, each Scrum team has a vision that is defined by the team as a whole. The vision might be to add enhancements, fix existing issues, or create new deliverables. Whatever the vision, each scrum team member takes seriously the responsibility to perform at his or her best to keep the team moving swiftly forward. Within each team, the players progress down the field, passing the ball back and forth. Together, they sprint down the field towards the end of the Epicor product release.
I have the privilege of being the ScrumMaster of the Epicor University Scrum team. As ScrumMaster, it’s my responsibility to facilitate the daily scrum meetings and to monitor our team’s progress. My main job is to remove any obstacles or blocks so that each team member can make forward progress each day.
As the Epicor University Scrum Team, we line up with our teammates at our sides in what is called a “sprint”. When one is given a task (passed the ball), the rest of the team runs forward synchronized with that player. Someone helps set up an environment, another assists with testing, and yet another performs a peer review. With each sprint, we gain confidence from the knowledge that we are surrounded by people who have the same vision, the same goals that we all agreed to before the sprint started. It’s definitely an all-for-one, one-for-all team dynamic.
If you ever have the chance to attend a rugby game, try to sit up as high as you can in the stands. And even if you don’t know the difference between the fly-half and a flanker, or a hooker and a prop, don’t fret. Just watch the beauty of the game as the diagonal formations start to flow up and down the field. Watch as players give it their all for the successful forward-motion of the team.
Watching rugby and scrum development can be quite mesmerizing. And very inspiring.
Posted by Linda Robinson, Senior Manager, Epicor University
Having just returned from the Epicor Insights
conference, I thought to review some information that I ended giving out in conversation with attendees in our Solutions Pavilion, including some basics of help installation.
The help installation is, of course, covered in the Epicor installation guide, but there are a few items to highlight. Once you run the basic help installer (which more or less just unzips the help), there will be a folder below the Help folder named Setup. You could theoretically use the help without the next step but then the help files would be served up via the file system and performance would suffer. For best performance, go into the Setup folder, right-click the EpicorHelpSearchSetup.exe, and select Run as Administrator.
Technical reference guides
Now that you have your help installed and configured, in the help enter this search: technical reference guides. The first search result should link to an overview topic of the Epicor technical reference guides. Use the links in that topic to access the dozen or so guides we have that are aimed at the power user or system administrator who needs an end-to-end explanation of a subject. You can use the online or PDF versions of the guides.
Web resources/downloading documentation
All of the Epicor documentation is posted on the Epicor customer portal Epicweb – http://epicweb.epicor.com
. After logging into Epicweb (contact your Customer Account Manager if you need an account), click the Documentation menu item on the top level menu and select Epicor 9 from the sub-level menu. The documentation deliverables are organized by release. You’ll notice that a major release (usually one with schema changes) will have the largest number of items. For example, release 9.05.700 has something close to 100 deliverables while release 9.05.702 has 70. Some deliverables are not regenerated in each service pack, so if you are not finding a deliverable in a service pack, remember to go back to the last major release and look there.
User guides are another great resource. These are our illustrated guides that go step-by-step through application and system processes. Because of their size (due to screenshots), they are broken into several PDFs per guide. To find the user guides on Epicweb, click the Documentation menu item on the top level menu and select Epicor 9 from the sub-level menu. Then look to the right-most column under the heading More Information. You will find a link to the user guides there (as well as links to hosted versions of help and feature summaries).
I hope I covered enough in this entry to accelerate your use of Epicor documentation. Feedback is always welcomed at email@example.com
Posted by Charles Lloyd, Sr. Content Manager, Epicor University
Each year Epicor employees look forward to the Insights conference for many reasons – most importantly, the opportunity to educate our customers. For those with Epicor University, we look forward to the preparation of education sessions. The team dedicates their time to content development in preparation to deliver the best education sessions possible for our customers. And, this year we are proud to share the following key points regarding this Insights conference:
- Two full days devoted to pre-conference Extended Education Sessions with over 1,100 enrollees – record attendance
- Over 130 unique conference education session labs with full attendance
- All lab books printed and new this year eBook format
- Customer luncheon education roundtables for each product line – dedicated to hearing customer feedback on education
- Dedicated Epicor University booth, ERP demo area, and Distribution demo area for education deliverables in Solutions Pavilion
We are inspired to apply what we’ve heard and learned from our customers after this year’s conference. So much valuable first-hand customer feedback – thank you to all of our customers!
Posted by Louise Keppel, Vice President Epicor University