Extending the help application model

Subject: Extending the help application model
From: Susan Harkus <susanh -at- CARDSETC -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 5 May 1999 08:40:37 +1000

Hi Richard, (and all)

Richard, you asked about "creating online help to supplement the help files
furnished with the commercial product." You also set the information
extension in the context of training and user performance support.

I was going to reply directly to you but thought that others might be
interested in an information model that I have evolved over the past four
years, so I am replying to the list.

With the assistance of very proactive information users, I developed and
evolved an information model which I call an "Info Pack" and which provides
a bridge between business information requirements and the information
provided with a software product.

Technically an Info Pack is a Help application with numerous attachments:
documents (task checklists, reference papers, cheat sheets and quick
try-out tutorials); sample source files; short presentations; video clips
of application use sequences and links to web info sources. = a truely
multi media solution not just a multimedia solution!

The purpose of an Info Pack is to provide the critical and essential
information that addresses user isses and answers the early questions that
users have about achieving business goals. Because the Info Pack focuses on
building up user confidence (the feeling of being in control), the intial
and subsequent Info packs were able to include survival information on
software and practices that were beyond the company's product but that were
always an impediment to customers using the product successfully.

Is such an information model well received by users? After the release of
the first Info Pack, customers and field engineers demanded Info Packs for
every subsequent product release. In our division of the company, one of
the Info Packs was used as the only in-house training option. I also used
an Info Pack model to underpin a minimal mentoring training program for
software developers.

I believe the Info Pack model is successful because the contents and
attachments are designed to give value within the context of user
performance; all content focuses on what the user is trying to achieve and
attempts to prevent user failure by documenting fall-over points within the
user work flow, rather than the product sequence. In other words the model
is very much based on the minimalist principles espoused by John Carroll
and other minimalist travellers. (By the way, if you haven't caught up with
the recent publication, Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnell, I strongly
recommmend doing so).

Till now my Info Packs have targeted software development/operations
environments. In my current project (new company, new challenges), I will
be developing an Info Pack that targets the intersection of product and
business processes.

On the merging of a custom-built Help and existing product Help, you would
need to ask what the value is for the user but it is possible to do so by
editing the .CNT file of the parent Help to include other Helps. Just
tested it again to be sure and it works fine HOWEVER mixed styles of
information within the one (APPARENTLY ONE) Help system could confuse the
very people you are trying to support.

Susan Harkus

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