Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nine Tips for People-friendly Forms

Many people think of forms as an unnecessary evil—a steep foothill in an organization’s paper mountain range. But forms can serve several useful functions in your company. If you think of them as information templates, then you also may think of forms as efficient vehicles for gathering the same kind of information from many sources. Forms work well and reduce operating time and expense if they are designed and used according to the following nine tips:
  1. Name the form so its purpose is clear. Avoid using general terms such as “Administrative Request.” That is too vague and may force users to spend extra time locating the form they need. Be more specific.
  2. Maintain the expected order of fields. Use headers that are standard for your organization to easily identify the form. Sequence fields logically, for example: Forms chronologically, or most important information to least, or highest value item field to least value. If your organization’s standard memo lists Date first, then To, next From, and finally Subject, maintain that order for all memos. Staff who expect to see the date first will be able to quickly file and retrieve completed memos chronologically. If they expect to see the subject last, they can thumb through a pile of memos quickly, scanning for a topic. If a group of forms requires the last name first, but one form specifies the first name first, many people will complete the form incorrectly or cross out, white out, or erase information. Or they may start with a new blank form. In any case, extra time and stock will be consumed needlessly.
  3. Avoid hiding small but essential fields where they may be overlooked. It is easy to miss a social security number field between two large comment boxes. Emphasize the often-overlooked field, for example, by surrounding it with extra space, using bolder text, or repositioning it to a more prominent location on the form.
  4. Design the form to be clear without instructions. No one wants to read a lengthy procedure to discover how to fill out a form. Make the form so clear it can be completed independently. However, if instructions are required, place them on the form itself, not in a separate procedure manual. If the form is printed in bulk, have those essential instructions printed on the back. If the form is computer-generated on demand, position instructions on the face of the form, generally at the bottom or top to help users find information quickly.
  5. Position field names clearly with their corresponding fields. Don’t make users guess whether they need to write above a field name or below it (or to the left or to the right of it). Place field names close to their corresponding fields.
  6. Use a single form for multiple duty. If the same information is required for several different forms, consider consolidating the forms. Sometimes a single form can be used to feed information into a data base accessible by each of several functions, for example, sales, inspection, and shipping. 
  7. Identify each form with a number and revision date. To simplify and control maintenance processes and ensure that only current forms are being used, identify each form with a number and revision date. Key the form number to other documentation covering the same function or process, such as an ISO 9001 quality system manual, standard operating procedures, or records (or all of these).
  8. Avoid referencing individuals’ names or telephone numbers, except if the form is online or otherwise economical to revise, or if the information is hard to find elsewhere. Organizations change. Rerouting forms to other individuals or placing multiple telephone calls is expensive and delays an organization’s transactions.
  9. Automate forms where practical. Competitive companies often contain resources considerably by automating their forms, whether designing them through computer software, creating computer-generated templates, or implementing a “paperless” online forms system, including online approval.
A people-friendly form is one that helps employees submit important information, gather it, locate it, approve it, and move it quickly to where it is needed.

Escoe Bliss Professional Resources has an expert team of consultants that can help your company improve processes and operational efficiency. Please call (949.336.6444) or email if we can partner with you on your organizational needs.

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