I’m going to tell you a way that you can make change management documents with ease, build ‘run documentation’ for your IT staff in seconds, generate user training articles effortlessly, and it’s all FREE! That’s right. Build, create, and share documentation for free. How you ask? With the Windows built-in psr.exe application.
What? Haven’t heard of psr.exe? Many of you (not enough though) know this as the Problem Steps Recorder built into Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Now I know what you’re thinking, this application was developed for our end users who have issues. Well it’s so under known that we renamed psr.exe to psr.exe in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. What? It is no longer titled: Problem Steps Recorder, it is now named Steps Recorder. See, even at Microsoft we realized the incredible usefulness of this tool to create any kind of documentation or to record a process. It's not only used if there is a problem.
Oh sure there are other software products out there, but those usually cost money. And why pay for something that you already have built in. I run into IT staff members weekly, yes, weekly, and have realized many people just don’t know about PSR or have forgotten that they could use it to build documentation.
In Microsoft Premier we offer the Risk Assessment Programs and have an operational survey that is conducted. We ask questions like; Do you have defined and documented SLA’s (Service Level Agreements)? Do you have documented disaster recovery plans? Do you maintain detailed steps to follow for any (and all) server/application build outs? Overwhelmingly the answer is no. Most engineers have tribal knowledge, but if they were to get hit by the ‘lottery bus’ and don’t come I to work, who really knows what they know?
Quick how to use psr.exe:
One quick way is to search for PSR and it appears as the top search on the OS. Then click it. Hit the start button, and click away. Once you stop the recording, it will ask you to save a zip file. The save location defaults to your desktop. You can modify this behavior in the ‘settings’ of the PSR tool. Now the hard part (usually) is finding the zip file on your desktop. I won’t go into great detail here, so here are some other links if you want more PSR info: Video on how to use PSR and more PSR info.
In the zip file is a mhtml file. Now, what can you do with an html file? The better question is, what CAN’T you do with an html file! That’s right, open it in Word, add your company letter head, type in additional details and specific server names, insert pertinent data of your environment, crop the images if you need to, whatever you do, make it, save it, and share with others.
Is it a perfect tool? Almost. I still want it to be application aware sometimes and not always be full screen prints. You have more than 1 monitor? Guess what? It takes an entire print screen. I also want more than 100 mouse click images to be retained. Nevertheless for free, it is an amazing tool and easy to use. Why am I saying this over and over? Because week, after week, after week, ….I run into staff who have either have forgotten about this tool or they don’t even know it exists!
So please! Create consistent build documents and have documented steps for configurations. There really is no reason not to have these procedures detailed for reference in your environment anymore.
Notes from the field:
I was recently onsite and showed PSR to the three engineers I was working with. None of them had seen it before. They jumped up and down with joy, ran around to the rest of the IT staff, sent emails to other team members, and shared the great discovery. The very next day, I was visiting another company and worked with three more engineers who had not seen PSR. As their jaws hit the floor in amazement, there was a short silence, they all turned to each other and said, ‘We can’t let anyone else know about this secret!’ I think they were half joking, but not sure, as sharing this secret of how to create documentation with just recording your mouse clicks is a bit of an amazement that could be thought of as one of the greatest secrets to hit IT in a long time. Now if we can just let people know that PSR exists and how to use it to their advantage!