Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Keep up with changing human behaviour when building web solutions

You want a new Intranet, You now need to design a solution, the area you consider most important when designing a solution will probably be the following …
  • A strong Home Page with dynamic content for everyone in the organisation
  • A detailed sitemap so users can easily navigate to the content they are looking for
It makes sense, an entry point that is dynamic with content and contains a navigational menu that allows you to access additional information seem like the makings of a good intranet site.  Right?

Well, the answer to that question would be yes, if you were building an Intranet 3 years ago.  End user behavior has changed so much since then, that their expectations and interaction with the Intranet is now very different, meaning that your approach when designing a solution needs to adjust to match their new expectations.

You don’t believe me?  I don’t blame you.  But the signs are there, and we need to stop using that 10 year old approach when designing Intranet solutions (or Internet for that matter), and build an approach that is more in favor with the way users currently interact with intranets.

Confused?  Let me give some examples.  Many of you are familiar with Facebook, well, so are the majority of end users of your Intranet, what makes Facebook great is really the way Facebook presents information that is relevant to you.  It is available as soon as you enter the site, and it only displays information that you want to see. 

Now, let’s look at your home page design.  It will probably contain information that is not specific to an audience, but rather information that somebody determined as relevant to everyone in the organisation, these days, that type of information usually get ignored, because the information is just not relevant.

So what’s the new approach?  Don’t worry about creating a Home Page, they usually get special attention during design and development, meaning that it cost a bit to build, and they don’t work as well as they use to anyways.  Rather deploy mySites and make that the new home page, this way, the end user can configure their environment so it displays information that is relevant to them and also provides links to other areas of the intranet they would find relevant (like a salesman creating a shortcut link to the sales portal).  This will give you a stronger user adoption, a happier end user and whatever objective you were trying to achieve via the home page, you can still achieve via mySites (with the proper configurations).

Still not convinced?  OK, lets look at sitemaps.  Sitemaps really define the navigation of your site.  This usually gets a lot of design time because this was the primary way for your end-users to find content, that’s not the case anymore, sitemaps are flawed, as it is a structure that is defined by a small group of decision makers (typically one person) but this structure may not make sense to the rest of the organisation.  I explain this in detail with a previous post

End users are now used to finding content via searching tools, they are familiar with Google and other search engines, even the latest windows operating system provided a search feature to help you find the programme you want rather than being solely dependent on the menu.  End-users are now expecting content to be correctly classified (be it taxonomy or folksonomy) – so they can easily find it via the search feature (which must be easily accessible, anywhere in the intranet).  They also expect the first page of the search results to contain the information they are looking for.

So search is now the preferred approach in finding content.  Your solution design time should place more emphasis on correctly classifying content, so you can provide a better search experience.

Thankfully, Microsoft has identified this new human behaviour and have designed SharePoint 2010 to work accordingly (mySites, taxonomy, etc).  Unfortunately, the developers/architects of SharePoint solutions have not yet identified this new human behavior, and see no harm in deploying the solution in an approach that is pretty much 10 years old. 

We are currently at the age where people are calling email “the way old people communicate”.  If we are not going to adjust our approach to meet the current needs, we are building an obsolete system right from the start.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Retaining Staff

We have already established that there is a shortage of SharePoint skills; my post on that topic has been my most popular post to date. This problem becomes the root cause of other problems, and the problem I want to focus on today is the fact that the shortage of SharePoint skills places your existing SharePoint team in high demand and if proper steps are not taken to retain this staff, consider them lost.

It’s unfortunate but true, due to lack of training available, the number of new SharePoint players entering the market is low (and still needs a lot of work before they can add real value to projects), so in order for a company to deliver on a SharePoint need, they need to use existing SharePoint players, and in order to do that, they need to figure out who’s the competitors key players, and make them an offer they cannot refuse.

Sometimes these “offers they cannot refuse” are ridiculously high, meaning that a counter offer is out of the question, so the big question I’m placing out there is “if money cannot be used to retain staff, what else can you do?”.

The big secret in retaining staff, is identifying the staff’s key motivational factors and focusing on those needs. Easily said, but not so easily done, many staff members don’t even know what there motivational factors are, so just asking them what motivates them may send you down the wrong path, rather focus on what they do. Also, there are surveys available that will help you (and the staff member) identify there motivational factors.

Records from surveys and intensive studies have proven that if you are under the age of 30, your most significant motivating factor is money, so, sadly, it matters not (or at least very little) how great the work is and how happy you are, if someone offers you a significant bump in your salary, chances are, you going to take it, and there isn’t much that can be done about it.

Once over the age of 30, the motivational factors are more diverse, the top motivational factors are usually the following (not in any specific order):

  • Staff needs to feel that their job and the company is secured
  • Staff needs career advancements
  • Staff needs to feel that they are contributing to the company’s strategy for success
  • The work itself needs to be exciting and challenging
  • If you are not a senior, mentors should be available to help you grow and improve
  • Staff needs recognition for the work done
  • Staff wants financial rewards based on company performance (profit share)
  • Staff must enjoy the workplace culture
  • Staff wants to be managed well (management must be fair, honest and consistent)
After you have observed your staffs action, and identified there motivational factors, you need to do something about it. Here are some ideas (I would appreciate more ideas if you have any):
  • Get staff more involved with company’s strategy: get them passionate about the job, let them see the value they are adding – this will increase their commitment to the job, which helps with their loyalty.
  • Develop a training and mentorship programme: Provide a programme for the staff to improve their skills, and contribution to the company’s strategy. Fund there training, provide mentoring or coaching and even setting time aside for studying is an investment that can only improve your current skillset and delivery quality
  • Give team opportunities to socialise: team building outings and celebrating project success shows that your focus is not just on work, but also on team development which helps in with the loyalty development
  • Highlight achievements: Having a forum where staffs achievements are acknowledge is a great way in providing recognition of a job well done. Some people live for these moments, and will do what they can for the recognition. With a forum like this in place, offering rewards (like a weekend getaway or an additional leave day) for exceptional work is a well worth additional cost, a positive ROI for this cost is guaranteed.

When staff leave, try to identify where you went wrong, sometimes it’s just about the money so it may not be your fault, but in most cases something happened (or didn’t happen), that planted the seed of uncertainty, something that you could have done differently or is interpreted differently that makes a staff member decide that they will enter the market to see if something better is out there, after that point is crossed, it’s difficult to go back. So try to ensure that point is never reached, and good luck.