What Are Walkthroughs, and Why Are They Necessary?

You might be wondering, what does walkthrough mean in the sense of businesses? Well, in the simplest terms it’s a step-by-step guide that lets users go through the actions that they need to in order to complete a process. Think about how you might write the word “sphinx”. First you write the letter S, then P, and so on. If you write the letter N first, you’ll end up with a completely different word which is not what you wanted to do. Walkthroughs are like that process, but applied to software, workflows, apps, tasks and more!

Walkthroughs are very good for training new personnel in how to perform the tasks you want them to do, but more importantly it teaches them how to complete and record them – if things aren’t done and recorded in a standard format, it can get confusing if someone else needs to access the record later on. In large organisations especially, where one department might do the start of a procedure and another complete it, standardised formatting is crucial to keeping your operations running.

Types of Walkthrough: Context Is Key

There are many types of walkthrough, too many to discuss in a brief article. Below you can find several types of walkthrough classification, what distinguishes them from other, similar guides and how best to leverage them:

Customer Facing vs Employee Facing: When it comes to your employees, walkthroughs are mostly used during onboarding in order to get new personnel up to scratch with the techniques and technologies you use. In terms of complexity, these walkthroughs don’t have to be that complex or even complete, since fellow employees and/or supervisors can help instruct in the proper procedures and use of software or workflows.

Customer-focused walkthroughs, on the other hand, need to be polished to perfection. Remember, it’s best to assume that your customers won’t have anyone next to them already familiar with your product/service, and a confusing guide can lead to a bad customer experience as a whole. Walkthroughs in this case generally need to assume the worst, that your consumers are beginners with any technology or technique they might need to use.

This isn’t strictly true; specialised products developed for advanced users of certain pieces of software for example, don’t need to be as simplified, but on the whole it’s better to be safe than sorry. When your software is easy to use, your customer retention will be higher, which means more profits for you.

Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs): Digital Adoption Platforms are pieces of software designed to help you get the most out of other applications. You can think of them as in-app support to your users, offering tips and training on the go while the user is actually using the software, rather than having them work in the abstract to learn the procedures.

DAPS have become increasingly important with the rise of working from home that the 2020 pandemic initiated, letting remote workers train on the job without being dependent on an instructor or trainer. It’s one thing to pop your head in the office next door, it’s a whole other kettle of fish to try and liaise with someone who might be half the world away.

The same can be said for customer-based products, especially software suites like 3D modelling software or image editing, where the necessary steps to alter something aren’t always intuitive. The aim of a customer-facing DAP is always to make using the product or service easier, since an easy to use piece of software will be usable by a far larger audience.

Creating A Walkthrough

When it comes to creating a walkthrough, you need to know precisely what you intend to outline, as well as who you intend to instruct. The second point is key to effectiveness. Is your walkthrough aimed at employees with a prior understanding of computer science? If so, high-level technical language can be used.

Are you aiming it at a layperson who may or may not have experience with software? Using simplified language and not assuming prior knowledge would be best. In these cases it’s always better to over-simplify and have personnel skip over sections than to make it unduly brief such that they won’t have a clue where to begin.

In order to create an effective walkthrough, it’s necessary to know the expectations of your audience, and how they might react to certain instructions or phrases. The lingo you use is merely the first step, you need to differentiate between the type of user that your walkthrough is aimed at.

The key to this is market segmentation, splitting your walkthroughs into different paths depending on the users’ needs. This is easiest with a digital form of walkthrough, but can be done on paper too if you do it right – colour coding to identify the relevant sections is a great way to draw your users’ attention to the area they need to read.

There is also the question of what format to place your walkthrough into. Should you go for a full software add-on, or would a simple written guide do?

This is a matter that takes into account both the who and the what, with the answer falling within the realm of “what you find it necessary to do, and no more”. The complexity of your walkthrough will depend entirely on the combination of the aforementioned two factors, and so there isn’t a simple answer that can be given.

In general, organisations can experiment with prototype walkthroughs, receive feedback and adjust their walkthroughs accordingly. This process can be as simple as correcting a typo in a document, or as complex as changing a key design in a piece of software. Overall, you shouldn’t expect to get it all right the first time around, if you are writing a walkthrough you know the software or workflow it relates to, after all. If in doubt, consult your readers for their insight, as they’ll be able to tell you what needs improvement more than anyone in the know.