Employee Handbook Writer (EHW) is an application that helps human resources staff (or small businesses) easily produce customized employee handbooks.
Prestwood was engaged in 2004 to create this application for the California Chamber of Commerce. The requirements are quite extensive, and this is far from a tivial program.
Each year, government and regulatory agencies promulgate new policies pertaining to employer/employee rights and obligations.CA Chamber employs experienced labor law attorneys to track these changes, and to update EHW "content." This is a task that very few businesses can afford to do "in house."
What is EHW?
EHW content consists of hundreds of professionally written "policies" that may, or may not, be relevant to a particular business.To help users create complete and accurate handbooks, EHW includes a handbook "wizard," that walks the user through a series of questions about their business.After completing a wizard session, the result is a complete handbook pertaining precisely to one specific business, or division thereof.
Users can create multiple handbooks, depending on the specifics of each of their business units.
In addition to the wizard, users can create handbooks manually via simple drag-and-drop operations - and they can customize handbooks produced via the wizard.
For our tool set, Prestwood chose Delphi 7, Raize Components, and the DBISAM database.
Delphi was chosen because of its Rapid Application Development (RAD) features, its language support of OOP (object oriented programming), and the fact that it generates highly-optimized, native machine code.This ensures a snappy, responsive application.
Raize components were selected to enhance the user interface.
The DBISAM database was selected for a number of reasons:
It is rock-solid, one of the most stable desktop databases available.
It is fully embedded in the EHW applicatio's executable, which means there are no special DLLs, or other components that need to be installed on the end users' machines.
It provides full-text indexing - which was crucial for meeting one of the project requirements - searching.
Finally, DBISAM is royalty-free, which drastically lowers Chamber's long-term cost of ownership.
Having just shipped the fifth major release of EHW (v2009), we are especially pleased with DBISAM because not one single reported defect was attributable to the database.
For the end user, virtually all work is performed in the application's main screen, which is divided into four panes. At the left edge of the window are two tree views.The upper tree lists all the available policies, in logical groupings, and each policy is flagged with an icon to indicate whether it is a mandatory policy, a recommended policy, or an optional one.
The lower tree represents the handbook the user is working on. It is identical to the upper tree, except that it lists only those policies presently in the user's handbook.
Policies can be easily dragged from the upper tree to the lower tree to build or customize a handbook.
The right side of the screen has two panes.The upper is both viewer and editor for the currently selected policy.This editor amounts to a nearly full-blown word processor right in the application.
The pane below the editor is actually a small web browser, though it isn't often used in that manner.Instead, it is used to display "policy help" for the policy currently displayed in the editor.Help for a given policy can be fairly simple, or quite involved.Help items may also contain hyperlinks to related topics.
Just above the browser pane is a search panel. This allows users to search for specific words and phrases, and find the policies that qualify for the search criteria.
Other Screen Shots
This is a "quick start" window that gives users instant access to the most commonly needed functions of EHW.
EHW includes a comprehensive module for performing all database maintenance tasks:
As you might imagine, with over 300 policies, and a nearly equal number of corresponding policy help files, it could be a nightmare updating EHW. To solve this problem, Prestwood created EHW Content Manager, a utility program that Chamber Staff uses to manage ever-changing content. To learn a bit about that utility program, follow the link below this article.
The EHW project was both fun, and challenging.Working under a tight deadline, we created a tiger team of one project manager and three developers.The technical lead developer divided the project into discrete "objects" that could be developed independently of each other.This allowed the entire team to work concurrently, and with a predictable outcome.
Since its initial 2005 deployment, EHW has been one of Chamber's most successful products.Just a couple weeks ago, Prestwood received the following unsolicited compliment from an EHW user:
I recently purchased the Employee Handbook Writer from the California Chamber of Commerce. I was so pleased with how the software was written that I absolutely had to write you.
People say that I am very meticulous, am hard to please, and always pick apart other people's work, especially when it comes to software.
They have quoted me in saying "I would have not done it that way," or "that programmer has no clues on how to make their software user friendly and intuitive."
But I have to say that your software is exceptional, well thought out, and a pleasure to use. I have never said that about any other software that I have used, and there is plenty.
Keep up the great work and if I ever need your services, I will definitely be contacting you.