Case study: minimalism helps new users

Adaco is the industry leader in hospitality procurement, management, and optimization (www.adaco.com). Adaco .NET improves efficiency and eliminates labour-intensive manual and paper-based processes. Adaco's software is used in more than 54 countries. Since 1985, Adaco has focused exclusively on the hospitality industry.

Adaco's problem

In December 2010, Sunil Ippagunta, the president of Adaco, contacted Mike Unwalla, the principal of TechScribe. Sunil explained that Adaco had a new version of the software (Adaco .NET). The documentation for the previous version of the software was not clear. Therefore, Adaco wanted help from an external expert to create effective documentation for Adaco .NET.

Adaco needed documentation that was effective in the following conditions:

A first step to helping users is to supply a user guide that explains processes and procedures. To prevent the user guide becoming obsolete quickly, the user guide must contain only necessary screen shots. Adaco will supply the user guide to its customers as a printed document and as a PDF file.

The current version of Adaco .NET does not have online documentation. However, future versions of Adaco .NET will have online documentation that explains all the fields in Adaco .NET.

Although Adaco did not use the term minimalism, Adaco wanted a minimalist user guide

Why Adaco chose TechScribe

Adaco is a US company. Therefore, using a freelance technical writer in the UK was a risk. However, TechScribe overcame Adaco's worries.

Sunil explains, "Trust was the primary concern since it is very hard to hold any freelancer accountable to their commitments. When interacting with Mike, we did get a good feeling that he was capable of delivering a high quality product at a fair price. We did screen a few other technical writers from India and the UK. The quotes from India were significantly lower but we were not convinced that we would get a good product. The other technical writer from the UK did not convince us on the trust and accountability."

What TechScribe did

Mike spoke to personnel at Adaco to learn more about the users and their problems. The support team at Adaco supplied TechScribe with a list of the most frequent problems that users have.

Starwood is a customer of Adaco. At the start of the documentation project, Mike visited a Starwood hotel in London. Mike learnt about the users, the users' tasks, and the users' work environment.

An important part of the user guide is the glossary. Some users are new to the hospitality industry. New users do not know the terms that Adaco uses. Early in the project, Mike identified the technical terms that are on the screens.

Sometimes, different terms referred to the same thing. Sometimes, the same term was used for different things. Sometimes, a term had a meaning different from the usual dictionary meaning. For example, the usual dictionary meaning of the term 'recipe' is 'instructions that explain how to prepare an item of food'. For Adaco, a recipe is an item of food that is sold, and the related instructions and costs. Mike spoke to subject-matter experts at Adaco to identify the preferred terms and to write definitions for those preferred terms.

TechScribe put effort into solving the problems that the support team identified as the largest problems. Therefore, the user guide does not explain all parts of Adaco .NET at the same level of detail. Two examples are as follows:

Benefits to Adaco

Adaco now has an effective user guide that conforms to Adaco's initial requirements:

  1. The content of printed documentation and online documentation is different. The information that is in the printed user guide will not change frequently. The technical people at Adaco will update the online documentation.
  2. The printed documentation contains only necessary screen shots. Most procedures do not show screen shots.
  3. The printed documentation is sufficient for most tasks that users need to do. Usually, fields are not explained.

TechScribe gave Adaco advice about how to increase the usability of Adaco .NET. For example, Adaco .NET has approximately 150 reports. Different hotels use different reports. Initially, Adaco wanted information about the reports in the user guide, because the report descriptions on the screens are not sufficient. However, the necessary information about each report is better on screen, instead of in a user guide. Therefore, TechScribe put only one example of a report in the user guide. The software developers at Adaco will add the necessary information to the report screens.

Previously, a large problem was that new users did not know where to start with Adaco .NET. The new user guide solves the problem. Sunil explained the benefits of the new user guide. "We needed a quick-start guide for our application which would enable users at different levels – from first time users to experienced users of our legacy application, to quickly grasp the flow. The quick-start guide is organized in a good way and the overview map will be really helpful to get an overview of the application at a glance and also for quick navigation."

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