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Work Smart Guides Deliver Key Software and Services Productivity Scenarios

Published: October 2009

Microsoft IT (MSIT) created Work Smart Guides to provide employees with scenario-based, re-usable, best-use productivity aids on Microsoft products and IT technologies. The goal of the Work Smart Guide project is to enable more consistent, productive, and cost-effective use of software and service offerings across the company.


Intended Audience Product & Technologies

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  • Business Decision Makers
  • IT Managers
  • XML Paper Specification


Work Smart Guides provide users with simple, easy-to-use content that guides them through scenario-based tasks. The goal is to reduce training costs, get users up and running quickly with newly deployed software, and encourage users to adopt new features in new technologies. This article discusses the approach that Microsoft IT (MSIT) uses to create the Work Smart Guides.

What is Productivity Content?

Work Smart Guides group similar tasks together into scenario-based content that leads the user through the steps to complete a larger task. The guides are very tactical and focus on how to get key tasks done faster, easier, and with less frustration. For example, the Work Smart team created a Get Started guide for audio conferencing. The guide includes overview information about the different types of audio conferencing available to Microsoft employees and provides procedures that describe how to set up an audio-conferencing subscription, schedule a conference, conduct a conference, and participate in a conference. The guide even shows users how to streamline conference scheduling by using a Microsoft Office Outlook® 2007 signature.

The Work Smart team didn’t want to overwhelm users with too much information, so they limited the number of pages in the guides. The guides are typically anywhere from two to eight pages. If a subject area required more information, the team split the information into separate guides. For example, there are Overview guides, Get Started guides, and Learn More guides. This provides users with a learning progression. If they find the answers they need in an Overview guide or a Get Started guide, they can get back to work quickly and skip the more advanced guides that have “nice to know” information that isn’t necessarily critical for the task at hand.

Work Smart Guides address the most common scenarios. For example, there are guides that show users how to collaborate by using Microsoft Office SharePoint®, how to manage e-mail, and how to protect data by using BitLocker® Drive Encryption. There are also Overview guides for the different applications included in Microsoft Office 2010 so that users can get up to speed quickly on the new features in each of the applications. Other guides are directed at the key pain points that users have. For example, there is a guide that describes how to unblock a smart card PIN. The team also created an Environmental Sustainability guide that shows users how to maintain a paperless office and how to use power settings to reduce energy costs.

Two Sets of Work Smart Guides

“Field IT was a wealth of information because they knew the key pain points. Field IT also did a survey to determine the hot topics and they provided feedback on the look and feel of the new guides.”

The Work Smart team creates two sets of guides. The first set includes information specific to Microsoft employees. For example, Microsoft has audio-conferencing options that wouldn’t necessarily be available to employees at other companies. This set of guides is deployed on ITWeb, a Microsoft intranet site. On ITWeb, users can sort the guides by scenario or by service. For example, a user can see all the guides that have to do with security by sorting by scenario. When the user sorts the guides by service, those guides that have to do with security are listed under the corresponding service, for example, Windows 7, Microsoft Office SharePoint, and so on.

The second set of guides is for external use. Microsoft customers can strip the
Microsoft-specific information from the guides and rebrand them for their own use. This saves time for customers that often need to provide similar documentation for their employees. To protect the guides, the Work Smart team saves them as XML Paper Specification (XPS) files, but customers can request the original Microsoft Office Word 2007 documents if they want to make changes. The external guides are available through Microsoft TechNet Downloads.

Planning Phase

The team spent a lot of time on the planning phase of the project. They had to figure out who their audience was, what topics to cover, and where to get the right information. The team talked to Field IT, Helpdesk management, and the New Employee Orientation (NEO) team. Field IT was a wealth of information because they knew the key pain points. Field IT also did a survey to determine the hot topics and they provided feedback on the look and feel of the new guides. Helpdesk management helped to determine the top 10 guides. The NEO team provided information on the scenarios that new employees needed help with.

The Work Smart team didn’t have to start from scratch. MSIT had created productivity guides in the past that hadn’t been updated for two years. The team looked at the metrics for the old guides to determine which had the most hits. The old guides were created with Microsoft Office PowerPoint but the Work Smart team decided to use Microsoft Word as the authoring environment for the new guides and they decided to save the documents as XPS files. XPS files offer extra security features and they print better and are easier to share. Since many users print the guides, it is essential that they print flawlessly.

During the planning process, the team developed a template to be used worldwide. Since the template involved branding issues, the Work Smart team brought in the marketing team. They also had the legal team review the template.

Pilot Project and Execution of the Plan

After sorting out all of the details and creating the plan, the team decided to do a pilot of 10 Work Smart Guides. To determine the topics for the pilot, the team identified the basic tasks that Microsoft employees are expected to perform on a daily basis. For example, how do you join a domain? How do you install the correct version of Microsoft Office? How do you find a printer or a file?

The team refined the plan during the pilot project. After they started the project, they also started receiving calls from the product groups and other groups interested in having their content included in a Work Smart Guide.

With a solid infrastructure in place and a successful pilot behind them, the team was ready to execute their plan. Questions inevitably arose at this stage, but those questions could typically be answered in the context of the plan and the team was able to turn out new Work Smart Guides very quickly.

Cost Savings

Work Smart Guides offer cost savings in the following areas:

  • Helpdesk
  • Training
  • Productivity


“The second set of guides is for external use. Microsoft customers can strip the Microsoft-specific information from the guides and rebrand them for their own use. This saves time for customers that often need to provide similar documentation for their employees.”

Work Smart Guides offer a self-help environment and since the Helpdesk directs callers to the finished guides, MSIT expects to see a large reduction in Helpdesk costs. The Helpdesk also helps to troubleshoot errors in the guides so users always have the latest and greatest.


For the topics that they cover, Work Smart Guides provide users a faster solution than the product Help files. The guides focus on the key scenarios that users face on a day-to-day basis, and since they’re posted on Microsoft’s ITWeb intranet site, they’re readily available to employees.


Work Smart Guides get users up and running faster by minimizing the disruption normally associated with new software deployments. The faster that MSIT can get people up and running with new software, the greater the cost savings. The guides also encourage faster adoption of new features.


The Work Smart team found that planning early and planning often was the key to their success. The team drew heavily on the experience of Field IT to determine the audience and content as well as the look and feel of the guides. Helpdesk management and the NEO team at Microsoft also provided valuable feedback for content.

The Work Smart team creates two sets of guides—one for employees and one for external customers. Customers can customize the guides and rebrand them for their own use.

Work Smart Guides provide increased productivity for users and they have the potential to significantly lower training and Helpdesk costs. The guides are very popular at Microsoft, with a constant demand for new guides.

For More Information

Please visit http://technet.microsoft.com/video/work-smart-guides-deliver-key-software-and-services-productivity-scenarios.aspx to see a multimedia presentation on the content of this article.

For IT Showcase Windows 7 content, please visit http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb687804.aspx#7.

For IT Showcase content, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itshowcase

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada information Centre at (800) 563-9048. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information through the World Wide Web, go to:


© 2009 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft, BitLocker, Outlook, SharePoint, Windows, and Windows Server are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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