PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

Microsoft Word - the most complex software product in the world?

Posted by David Cornwell on 10. June 2015 11:09

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.


“Microsoft Word must be one of the most complex software products in the world” was the thought I had a couple of weeks ago whilst sitting in a hotel room in Seattle preparing to give a Word Master Class presentation at the APMP Bid & Proposal Conference 2015.

I’d just done the maths. Word 2010 has 10 menus (not including the Help function) with over 350 commands. The standard and formatting toolbars alone have around 200 options. What does the web say on the subject? Excel certainly features in some of the ramblings of people who consider such things and most agree that Word has several millions lines of code behind it. Of course, Word is part of the Office Suite and has a number of items in common. The exact number of lines of code in the Office suite is a Microsoft secret but one helpful blog post noted that LibreOffice (broadly functionally equivalent) has just over 7 million lines of code and just under 1.5 million comments (within the code).

Whatever the statistics I think we can agree it’s more complex than your average user needs. Indeed, it’s said that '90% of people only ever use 10% of the functionality'. Of course, not everyone uses the same 10% and therein lies the rub. There are so many ways to do things in Word and, with many people ‘self-taught’, it means that you can very quickly get into a complete mess. In fact, one of our key benefit messages with respect to PleaseReview for document authors is that reviewers can ‘mark-up the document but not mess it up’.

So this inevitably brings us onto best practice. Whilst some clients, typically those in the Pharmaceutical Industry, use standardized templates which (usually) follow best practice, there are many who are using internal (and sometimes very poorly developed) templates and others who are using templates developed 20 years ago which have been progressively updated to the newer versions of Word and, as such, contain a whole load of what can only be described as garbage. 

How do we know this? It’s simple, we have the challenge of taking these various documents, processing them and displaying them in PleaseReview, our collaborative review software. This is difficult enough if the document is a nice consistent document based on Word Styles and following best practice. It’s not at all straightforward if the document is a mess of styles, direct formatting, lists lined up with spaces and so on. 

The types of thing we see are hand typed tables of contents; hand typed numbered lists; hybrids of where the initial TOC/list has been manually edited; direct formatting, drawings all over the place and, of course, manual cross references – I’m sure you get the picture. 

So, when we were considering new topics for speaking slots at events we came up with the concept of the Word Master Class. Offering to speak on document collaboration or document review was not really an option as, by definition, we had to discuss our own products and this was considered as a product pitch. These are deeply frowned upon in conferences and therefore to be avoided.

So the Word Master Class was developed. It leverages the company’s detailed knowledge of Word, helps us as we want nice consistent documents based on Styles and following best practice and appears to be a subject a lot of people want to listen to. It’s proving very popular and receiving some great feedback. An example is given below:

“I attended your session today and wanted to reach out and say thank you. In one hour you managed to save me a serious amount of time formatting and editing documents. Can you please send me the instructions so I can try the new techniques on my own? Again, thanks for opening my eyes to easy tricks to solving everyday proposal problems!”

The Master Class is constantly evolving based on feedback and further research. In addition to the more serious material, we try to cover some of the more quirky items to lighten the mood. A specific trick is the ‘Rand’ function. Typing '=RAND(x,y)' – where x & y are numbers - will generate random Lorem Ipsum text where x is the number of paragraphs and y is the number of lines per paragraph. Most people understand that Lorem Ipsum text is dummy text used to test document layouts, etc. Just to give some background on Lorem Ipsum, its origin is in the early days of typesetting (in the early 1500s) when an unknown printer took a gallery of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. Since then, further research has concluded that it has roots in a piece of classical Latin literature from 45 BC (source: Lipsum.com). I use the Rand function regularly when demonstrating co-authoring and it occasionally raises a comment along the lines of "I didn’t know you could do that in Word". 

Whilst writing this blog I thought I’d research 'Microsoft Word and humor' to see if there was anything which caught my eye. Well I’m very grateful to a chap called William Smith who preserved and published this exchange from a Microsoft Word forum which was about to be terminated. 

In short and in summary, the questioner concludes that “Latin seems a bizarre choice”. I guess if we look beyond the immediate humor this demonstrates that it’s not just professional writers who use Word. Almost everyone uses it and, if they haven’t been trained (and they frequently haven’t), they somehow make it look right using their limited knowledge. This even applies to people who spend a considerable amount of their time using Word in a professional capacity. 

In fact, it’s precisely these people – people who may be subject matter experts who end up writing documents rather than Word experts – who are the target audience for our Master Class. 

Anyway, the Word Master Class is a 45 minute presentation/demonstration of some of the features of Word, covering the use of Styles, Section Breaks, Outline View, Drawings, Hyperlinks and Cross References, Macros and the Quick Access Toolbar. We will be running the Word Master Class as a webinar in the 2nd half of the year so, if it’s of interest, send us an email and we will advise you of the webinar details as soon as available.

 

What's your problem?

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 18. June 2014 09:56

The other half of marketing... Google


What’s your problem?  No really, we want to know.  What are the problems you’re experiencing with your document review process?  Do you have a higher number of documents to review, how are you reviewing those documents, is the process working well for you?

It’s these sort of questions we’ve been asking prospective customers at the shows we’ve been attending this year.  At PleaseTech marketing HQ, it not only helps us get our messaging right, it also educates us so we can fully understand the inefficiencies of other review options (PDF, track changes with email, SharePoint, etc.) and why they don’t provide a completely effective review process.

Our latest research was gathered at the APMP Bid & Proposal Conference in Chicago in May of this year and highlighted something we’ve suspected for some time; that the document workload is increasing.   For proposal professionals, this means the number of documents they have to review is getting bigger and bigger.

Fine if the size of your team is increasing in proportion to the number of documents.   Or if you have a process in place to effectively manage the number of reviews coming across your desk, but our research suggests this isn’t the case.

Lots of color team reviewers don’t have simultaneous access to documents, nor can they review whenever, wherever and on any device.  Frustratingly, this means they’re sat at their desk waiting for a colleague to finish working on a document before they can begin. 

Many also say they’d like to know which of their changes do or don’t make the final draft, and associated rationale.

From the perspective of managing a review, document owners still have to merge several sets of changes into a master copy; they aren’t using a system which allows them to automatically incorporate all changes in one go. 

Often reviews are delayed when people forget about deadlines, and people tell us that a system that sent out reminders would be seriously helpful.  On the flip side, using a system that also showed each of the reviewers’ status on a review is also highlighted as being extremely useful by respondents. 

We know from past research conducted at SharePoint conferences that people are using legacy tools to review documents and this is the same for proposal professionals – tools of the trade include PDF mark-up, track changes with email or shared drives, and even hard copy. 

This amounts to proposals that miss deadlines; take far longer than necessary to complete; cost valuable work hours and causes inevitable disharmony amongst reviewers.

Every year, lots of new users come on board and start using PleaseReview.  Some of them from our existing customer base who see their colleagues using our software and want a slice of the cake, others new customers who come to us via our website, or who we meet at shows.  What they all have in common was a poor document review process, and the knowledge that there is a better way.  As for the rest of you, hopefully our research will begin to help you understand and improve your own processes.  We look forward to discussing it with you at one of the next shows we’re attending.

 

The PleaseTech exhibition booth guide…we tried, we tested, we concluded…

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 29. April 2014 10:23

The other half of marketing... Google


By the end of this year, PleaseTech will have exhibited at 13 conferences across the US and UK.  The eternal question we ask ourselves is, “is our booth working as well as possible?  Are the messages still correct, is the stand eye catching, is there anything we can improve?”

Budget is always a key factor, and making changes to a perfectly good stand is hard to justify, but recently the decision was made for us when the x-banner started to look faded and the panels on the table top started to break.

So it was with great excitement (well for the marketing department) that we embarked on a project to research new ideas for our stand.  We looked at everything from booths with in-built TV monitors, projectors to ping images of live demos, and other clever gizmos.

And there are so many options out there; most of them costing way more than their anticipated ROI.  However, what these sales promotion companies fail to consider time and time again, is how the average business is supposed to ship these exhibition booths and all the equipment that goes with them, from both a cost and logistics point of view?

Go to any show, and you’ll generally find one or two people manning a booth.  Unless they work for a really big company, those manning the booth are responsible for the set up and break down of all the kit.   

Big organizations employ companies to take care of this for them, but for businesses such as ourselves, once the conference is over, you’ll find our colleagues dragging the booth kit to the nearest UPS store for shipping back to our US storage facility.  And there’s a limit to how much you can drag or carry, not to mention how much you want to spend on shipping costs…

So where did we end up?  We’re currently re-doing our table top display to reflect new messaging and we’ve bought some nifty iPad stands to enable us to conduct surveys when we’re at shows (a brilliant way to collect data, which we then turn into content and distribute across our social media sites).  A new 22” TV has been purchased, which sits on a round cocktail table and enables us to run our new sales demo movie (if you haven’t seen it, please watch it here).

But the booth is only part of the story. A major factor for us is our use of cartoons.  We use these to bring to life what PleaseReview does, why people might use it and what it can do for them.  Our experience shows that the people who visit our stand genuinely resonate with the scenarios our cartoons depict (email chaos sound familiar, multiple copies of marked up documents?!).   We give away postcards of our cartoons and they are hugely successful in drawing interest and questions about what we do.  We also have a cartoon website, have a look at it here. 

So all of this combined, along with pre-show mailings to conference attendees, cross partner promotions and a great attitude from our booth staff means we’re pretty pleased with how well our booth now functions.  You can see it in operation at the next show, APMP in Chicago, followed by ABA in New Orleans and DIA in San Diego.

Of course, we’re always looking for new ideas…

 

They see us here, they see us there

Posted by Sarah Edmonds on 3. October 2013 16:43

The other half of marketing... Google


The last couple of weeks have kicked off a busy few weeks for us event wise.  There was Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco, followed by RAPS in Boston.  On the 16th of October, we’re speaking at the DIA EDM and ERS/eCTD meeting in San Diego before embarking on a mammoth three week trip to the US at the beginning of November.  You'll find us at ISPE in Washington, AMWA in Columbus, PMO in San Diego and OpenText Enterprise World in Orlando – and that’s not to mention the European and UK shows – UK APMP in the Cotswolds, another speaking event at DIA EDM in Dublin and ISPE in Shakespeare’s country, Stratford Upon Avon.

That’s a lot of air miles, but for us, physically getting in front of prospective customers really works.  Not only do we get to fully understand people’s document collaboration requirements and current provision, but we can show them PleaseReview and demo how it works.  Shows are also a great way to see existing customers and get their feedback on how PleaseReview is working for them.  

We’re always keen to better understand people’s document collaboration requirements, so if you’re attending any of the above, do pop by and say hello, maybe even stop for a demo…

 

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