E-manuals: A User’s Guide

E-manuals: A User’s Guide

Digital performance tools also known as E-manuals, are an important element in expediting your employee’s efficiency.  They function to allow your staff quick access to reference material or job-related guidance practices.  By managing and streamlining your employee’s daily operations, performance tools enable them to function more effectively.  They can be manifested in many forms, although regardless of appearance, all performance tools serve to provide the user with information.

 The Handbook of Job Aids defines a performance tool as a repository for information, processes or perspectives that is external to the individual and supports work and activity by directing, guiding and enlightening performance.

The all purpose by-word to use when identifying an effective performance tool is “Simplicity”.  They are not meant to be complex  eLearning programs. They are intended for daily use, offering straightforward sets of job-specific information.

A sound E-manual should include only the necessary information required by the user.  Omit “window dressing,” and steps that are not vital to the task at hand.  In other words, keep the information as simple and concise as possible.  In the same vein, a good E-manual should employ language that the user will understand.  It should avoid technically dense phrasing and use verbs and action words at the beginning of sentences wherever possible.

One of the most important advantages of E-manuals going digital, is that now employees needing to find specs on say, “DC-10 flap repair”, can simply do so on their portable devices.   Instead of lugging a 1000-plus page monster book around, the repair manual can be accessed on a tablet or phone and referenced on the spot.

According to Rossett and Gautier-Downes, authors of A Handbook of Job Aids, there are six main types of performance tools commonly employed today, all of which can be deployed in a digital format.

  1. Steps
    The step-by-step format presents information and directions in a specific sequence.  It is most appropriate when the employee has to complete a series of linear procedures where detail and sequence are critical to completing the task.

  2. Forms and Worksheets
    These are similar to the step format in that they guide the user through a process in a specific sequence.  However, forms and worksheets require employee participation by providing blank spaces within the text upon which the user can record their responses.

  3. Checklists
    Checklists are groups of items to be considered when planning or evaluating.  They present guidelines for completing a task and are commonly used to ensure consistency.  The flight crews of commercial airlines employ a checklist every time they prepare to take off.

  4. Decision Tables
    These allow the user to make decisions and complete tasks based on a set of conditions.  They are usually comprised of “If-Then” statements that guide employees to appropriate decisions.  For instance, if we were to convert instructions on when it is time to change the tires on an oversized mining truck how into a decision table format, one entry might read “If tire tread height measures less than one inch in thickness, then it is recommended to replace worn tires as soon as possible.”

  5. Flowcharts
    Flowchart E-manuals are similar to decision tables in that completing the task or deciding on a course of action is dependant on dynamic conditions.  It differs however, when questions in a flowchart can be answered with a “Yes” or “No.”  Each answer the employee provides leads to another decision and question – again answered “Y/N.”  This pattern is continued until enough questions have been answered to render an accurate decision or prove the task complete.

  6. Reference Sources
    Unlike the other types of E-manuals discussed above, reference sources do not provide information to be followed in a step-by-step manner, nor do they coach the employee in a decision making process.  They simply provide the information required for proper task completion.  Examples include telephone books and parts catalogs.

While they are not as advanced as an online learning course employing interactive role playing features, digital E-manuals perform a vital function in many a workplace.  Anything an employee can use to make their job less complicated and expedite production of a consistent, quality product is valuable not only to staff, but to the company as a whole.

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