In recent years, I’ve had several experiences where a mobile performance support solution lost out to training. Each time this has happened, I’ve tried to understand why each team was reluctant to embrace that option. I’ve identified a few reasons:

  • Beyond simple procedural step-by-steps, many team members may not be well versed in performance support. Understanding how, when, and why to use performance support may not be a strong point for some teams.
  • Mobile technology is constantly changing; as such, some team members may not be aware of its full potential. Understanding APIs, responsive design, native vs. web apps, UI design patterns, and other functions may be a challenge to many on your team.
  • Skills and time are often a limitation in our projects. Maybe mobile app development is seen as something that will take extensive skill or time—resources that your team may not have.

These all point to a vision issue—that is, our teams may not be ready for these solutions. Even when you have storyboards and prototypes of a solution, team members may not be able to “see it” as a viable option. Luckily, I’ve found some tools that should help you overcome these vision problems.

Moving beyond simple job aids

Checklists, decision support trees, and calculators are performance support tools that we can employ in our solutions. When used correctly, these tools can increase efficiencies, reduce errors, and drive standard work. These tools can be especially powerful when combined with technology.

To illustrate their power, let’s look at a simple decision support tree on “Dad Troubleshooting” (Figure 1). Decision support trees are a type of performance tool designed to guide decisions based on several inputs.

Figure 1: Simple decision support tree for “Dad Troubleshooting 101”

A paper-based job aid of this tree would allow you to quickly determine which issues were real problems, and of those, which would require WD-40 or duct tape. This paper tool could be used on-site and at the time of need. One limitation is that this would force users to dig it up every time they needed it, and any updates could require extensive redeployment to ensure everyone has the current version.

Creating a mobile application of this tree would address these needs, as users would only need to dig out their mobile devices to access the tool. As a mobile option, you could also ensure that everyone has the latest version of the tool and create additional efficiencies.

For example, as an application, you could create alert functions so that users are notified when their supplies of WD-40 or duct tape may be running low—e.g., after 25 records of duct tape being needed, set a flag. As your tool is used for a longer period, you could also begin to make predictions on when to expect a greater need for duct tape. With additional decisions and fields (adding decisions on checking batteries, or the type of object: toy, automobile, appliance), your tool may become even more powerful.

Building a mobile application with Google Forms

Fortunately, building a mobile application like this doesn’t have to be a time-consuming or resource-intensive activity, as Google Forms presents a solution for this troubleshooting application. Watch the embedded video below to see how easy building an application like this can be:

Following the steps outlined in the video will create a URL to the Dad Troubleshooting application. Since Google Forms are responsive across platforms, you could access and use this app on mobile devices. To do this, you would simply need to open the URL on a mobile device. Once it’s open, you can easily add a launch shortcut to your home screen for quick access to the application. In addition, if your organization uses mobile device management (MDM), this URL can be pushed to your users’ home screens automatically.

Advanced features

The Dad Troubleshooting application is a very simple decision support tree, but it illustrates the potential of using Google Forms for building mobile performance support tools. You can use the back-end features in Google Sheets to provide dynamic reporting capability on these tools or to calculate the data entered in your forms. In addition, the Add-on option in Forms can be used to expand your abilities. For instance, some add-ons will allow you to create rule-based email notifications on how people filled out the form. Other add-ons will expand your reporting capabilities within Google Forms.

Besides Google Forms, there are other alternatives to building mobile applications that can be pushed out to your users. Airtable and Ninox are database creation tools that you can download onto your devices to create and share mobile applications. These tools are easy to use and will allow you to create relational databases when required. In addition, they will allow you to incorporate data feeds and API integrations into your applications if needed. 

Seeing it

Of course, there is always the option of creating custom native applications. These will give you greater flexibility and allow access to additional options like the alert and notification features on your mobile devices. Native applications, however, will require time and skills to develop, so you may need to build prototypes in Google Forms, Airtable, or Ninox to help your teams “see” the application. You may find that with proper planning, you don’t really need a native application after all.