Rewriting the knowledge management rulebook… The story of “Glyma” for SharePoint

Send to Kindle

“If Jeff ever leaves…”

I’m sure you have experienced the “Oh crap” feeling where you have a problem and Jeff is on vacation or unavailable. Jeff happens to be one of those people who’s worked at your organisation for years and has developed such a deep working knowledge of things, it seems like he has a sixth sense about everything that goes on. As a result, Jeff is one of the informal organisational “go to guys” – the calming influence amongst all the chaos. An oft cited refrain among staff is “If Jeff ever leaves, we are in trouble.”

In Microsoft’s case, this scenario is quite close to home. Jeff Teper, who has been an instrumental part of SharePoint’s evolution is moving to another area of Microsoft, leaving SharePoint behind. The implications of this are significant enough that I can literally hear Bjorn Furuknap’s howls of protest all the way from here in Perth.

So, what is Microsoft to do?

Enter the discipline of knowledge management to save the day. We have SharePoint, and with all of that metadata and search, we can ask Jeff to write down his knowledge “to get it out of his head.” After all, if we can capture this knowledge, we can then churn out an entire legion of Jeffs and Microsoft’s continued SharePoint success is assured, right?

Right???

There is only one slight problem with this incredibly common scenario that often underpins a SharePoint business case… the entire premise of “getting it out of your head” is seriously flawed. As such, knowledge management initiatives have never really lived up to expectations. While I will save a detailed explanation as to why this is so for another post, let me just say that Nonaka’s SECI model has a lot to answer for as it is based on a misinterpretation of what tacit knowledge is all about.

Tacit knowledge is expert knowledge that is often associated with intuition and cannot be transferred to others by writing it down. It is the “spider senses” that experts often seem to have when they look at a problem and see things that others do not. Little patterns, subtleties or anomalies that are invisible to the untrained eye. Accordingly, it is precisely this form of knowledge that is of the most value in organisations, yet is the hardest to codify and most vulnerable to knowledge drain. If tacit knowledge could truly be captured and codified in writing, then every project manager who has ever studied PMBOK would have flawless projects, because the body of knowledge is supposed to be all the codified wisdom of many project managers and the projects they have delivered. There would also be no need for Agile coaches, Microsoft’s SharePoint documentation should result in flawless SharePoint projects and reading Wictor’s blog would make you a SAML claims guru.

The truth of tacit knowledge is this: You cannot transfer it, but you acquire it. This is otherwise known as the journey of learning!

Accountants are presently scratching their heads trying to figure out how to measure tacit knowledge. They call it intellectual capital, and the reason it is important to them is that most of the value of organisations today is classified on the books as “intangibles”. According to the book Balanced Scorecard, a company’s physical assets accounted for 62% of its market value in 1982, 38% of its market value in 1992 and only 21% in 2003. This is in part a result of the global shift toward knowledge economies and the resulting rise in the value of intellectual capital. Intellectual capital is the sum total of the skills, knowledge and experience of staff and is critical to sustaining competitiveness, performance and ultimately shareholder value. Organisations must therefore not only protect, but extract maximum value from their intellectual capital.

image

Now consider this. We are in an era where baby boomers are retiring, taking all of their hard-earned knowledge with them. This is often referred to as “the knowledge tsunami”, “the organisational brain drain” and the more nerdy “human capital flight”. The issue of human capital flight is a major risk area for organisations. Not only is the exodus of baby boomers an issue, but there are challenges around recruitment and retention of a younger, technologically savvy and mobile workforce with a different set of values and expectations. One of the most pressing management problems of the coming years is the question of how organisations can transfer the critical expertise and experience of their employees before that knowledge walks out the door.

The failed solutions…

After the knowledge management fad of the late 1990’s, a lot of organisations did come to realise that asking experts to “write it down” only worked in limited situations. As broadband came along, enabling the rise of rich media services like YouTube, a digital storytelling movement arose in the early 2000’s. Digital storytelling is the process by which people share stories and reflections while being captured on video.

Unfortunately though, digital storytelling had its own issues. Users were not prepared to sit through hours of footage of an expert explaining their craft or reflecting on a project. To address this, the material was commonly edited down to create much smaller mini-documentaries lasting a few minutes – often by media production companies, so the background music was always nice and inoffensive. But this approach also commonly failed. One reason for failure was well put by David Snowden when he saidInsight cannot be compressed”. While there was value in the edited videos, much of the rich value within the videos was lost. After all, how can one judge ahead of time what someone else finds insightful. The other problem with this approach was that people tended not to use them. There was little means for users to find out these videos existed, let alone watch them.

Our Aha moment

In 2007, my colleagues and I started using a sensemaking approach called Dialogue Mapping in Perth. Since that time, we have performed dialogue mapping across a wide range of public and private sector organisations in areas such as urban planning, strategic planning, process reengineering, organisational redesign and team alignment. If you have read my blog, you would be familiar with dialogue mapping, but just in case you are not, it looks like this…

Dialogue Mapping has proven to be very popular with clients because of its ability to make knowledge more explicit to participants. This increases the chances of collective breakthroughs in understanding. During one dialogue mapping session a few years back, a soon-to-be retiring, long serving employee relived a project from thirty years prior that he realised was relevant to the problem being discussed. This same employee was spending a considerable amount of time writing procedure manuals to capture his knowledge. No mention of this old project was made in the manuals he spent so much time writing, because there was no context to it when he was writing it down. In fact, if he had not been in the room at the time, the relevance of this obscure project would never have been known to other participants.

My immediate thought at the time when mapping this participant was “There is no way that he has written down what he just said”. My next thought was “Someone ought to give him a beer and film him talking. I can then map the video…”

This idea stuck with me and I told this story to my colleagues later that day. We concluded that the value of asking our retiring expert to write his “memoirs” was not making the best use of his limited time. The dialogue mapping session illustrated plainly that much valuable knowledge was not being captured in the manuals. As a result, we seriously started to consider the value of filming this employee discussing his reflections of all of the projects he had worked on as per the digital storytelling approach. However, rather than create ‘mini documentaries’, utilise the entire footage and instead, visually map the rationale using Dialogue Mapping techniques. In this scenario, the map serves as a navigation mechanism and the full video content is retained. By clicking on a particular node in the map, the video is played from the time that particular point was made. We drew a mock-up of the idea, which looked like the picture below.

image

While thinking the idea would be original and cool to do, we also saw several strategic advantages to this approach…

  • It allows the user to quickly find the key points in the conversation that is of value to them, while presenting the entire rationale of the discussion at a glance.
  • It significantly reduces the codification burden on the person or group with the knowledge. They are not forced to put their thoughts into writing, which enables more effective use of their time
  • The map and video content can be linked to the in-built search and content aggregation features of SharePoint.
    • Users can enter a search from their intranet home page and retrieve not only traditional content such as documents, but now will also be able to review stories, reflections and anecdotes from past and present experts.
  • The dialogue mapping notation when stored in a database, also lends itself to more advanced forms of queries. Consider the following examples:
    • “I would like any ideas from lessons learnt discussions in the Calgary area”
    • “What pros or cons have been made about this particular building material?”
  • The applicability of the approach is wide.
    • Any knowledge related industry could take advantage of it easily because it fits into exiting information systems like SharePoint, rather than creating an additional information silo.

This was the moment the vision for Glyma (pronounced “glimmer”) was born…

Enter Glyma…

Glyma (pronounced ‘glimmer’) is a software platform for ‘thought leaders’, knowledge workers, organisations, and other ‘knowledge economy participants’ to capture and trade their knowledge in a way that reduces effort but preserves rich context. It achieves this by providing a new way for users to visually capture and link their ideas with rich media such as video, documents and web sites. As Glyma is a very visually oriented environment, it’s easier to show Glyma rather than talk to it.

Ted

image

What you’re looking at in the first image above are the concepts and knowledge that were captured from a TED talk on education augmented with additional information from Wikipedia. The second is a map that brings together the rationale from a number of SPC14 Vegas videos on the topic of Hybrid SharePoint deployments.

Glyma brings together different types of media, like geographical maps, video, audio, documents etc. and then “glues” them together by visualising the common concepts they exemplify. The idea is to reduce the burden on the expert for codifying their knowledge, while at the same time improving the opportunity for insight for those who are learning. Glyma is all about understanding context, gaining a deeper understanding of issues, and asking the right questions.

We see that depending on your focus area, Glyma offers multiple benefits.

For individuals…

As knowledge workers our task is to gather and learn information, sift through it all, and connect the dots between the relevant information. We create our knowledge by weaving together all this information. This takes place through reading articles, explaining on napkins, diagramming on whiteboards etc. But no one observes us reading, people throw away napkins, whiteboards are wiped clean for re-use. Our journey is too “disposable”, people only care about the “output” – that is until someone needs to understand our “quilt of information”.

Glyma provides end users with an environment to catalogue this journey. The techniques it incorporates helps knowledge workers with learning and “connecting the dots”, or as we know it synthesising. Not only does it help us with doing these two critical tasks, it then provides a way for us to get recognition for that work.

For teams…

Like the scenario I started this post with, we’ve all been on the giving and receiving end of it. That call to Jeff who has gone on holiday for a month prior to starting his promotion and now you need to know the background to solving an issue that has arisen on your watch. Whether you were the person under pressure at the office thinking, “Jeff has left me nothing of use!”, or you are Jeff trying to enjoy your new promotion thinking, “Why do they keep on calling me!”, it’s an uncomfortable situation for all involved.

Because Glyma provides a medium and techniques that aid and enhance the learning journey, it can then act as the project memory long after the project has completed and the team members have moved onto their next challenge. The context and the lessons it captures can then be searched and used both as a historical look at what has happened and, more importantly, as a tool for improving future projects.

For organisations…

As I said earlier, intangible assets now dominate the balance sheets of many organisations. Where in the past, we might have valued companies based on how many widgets they sold and how much they have in their inventory, nowadays intellectual capital is the key driver of value. Like any asset, organisations need to extract maximum value from intellectual capital and in doing so, avoid repeat mistakes, foster innovation and continue growth. Charles G. Sieloff summed this up well in the name of his paper, “if only HP knew what HP knows”.

As Glyma aids, enhances, and captures an individual’s learning journey, that journey can now be shared with others. With Glyma, learning is no longer a silo, it becomes a shared journey. Not only does it do this for individuals but it extends to group work so that the dynamics of a group’s learning is also captured. Continuous improvement of organisational processes and procedures is then possible with this captured knowledge. With Glyma, your knowledge assets are now tangible.

Lemme see it!

So after reading this post this far, I assume that you would like to take a look. Well as luck would have it, we put out a public Glyma site the other day that contains some of my own personal maps. The maps on the SP2013 apps model and hybrid SP2013 deployments in particular represent my own learning journey, so hopefully should help you if you want a synthesis of all the pros and cons of these issues. Be sure to check the videos on the getting started area of the site, and check the sample maps! Smile

glymasite

I hope you like what you see. I have a ton of maps to add to this site, and very soon we will be inviting others to curate their own maps. We are also running a closed beta, so if you want to see this in your organisation, go to the site and then register your interest.

All in all, I am super proud of my colleagues at Seven Sigma for being able to deliver on this vision. I hope that this becomes a valuable knowledge resource for the SharePoint community and that you all like it. I look forward to seeing how history judges this… we think Glyma is innovative, but we are biased! 🙂

 

Thanks for reading…

Paul Culmsee

www.glyma.co

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Making Sense of SharePoint and Digital Records Management…

Send to Kindle

Hi all

One of the conversation areas in SharePoint life that is inevitably complex is that of records management since there are just as many differing opinions on records management as there are legal jurisdictions and different standards to choose from. Accordingly, a lot of confusion abounds as we move into a world dominated by cloud computing, inter-agency collaboration, changes in attitudes to information assets via the open data/government 2.0 movements, and of course, the increasing usage of enterprise collaboration systems like SharePoint. As a result, I feel for record managers because generally they are an unloved lot and it is not really their fault. They have to meet legal compliance requirements governed by various acts of legislation, but their job is made all the harder by the paradox that the more one tries to enforce compliance, the less likely one is to be compliant. This is because more compliance generally equates to more effort on the part of users for little perceived benefit. This results in direct avoidance of using record management systems or the plain misuse of those systems (both which in turn results in a lack of compliance).

As it happens, my company works with many government agencies primarily in the state of Western Australia, both at a state agency and local government level. We have seen most enterprise document management systems out there such as HP Trim, Objective, Hummingbird/OpenText and have to field questions on how SharePoint should integrate and interact with them (little known fact – I started my career with Hummingbird in 1998 when it was called PCDOCS Open and before SharePoint existed).

Now while I am sympathetic to the plight of your average records management professional, I have also seen the other side of the coin, where records management is used to create fear, uncertainty and doubt. “You can’t do that, because of the records act” is a refrain that is oft-levelled at initiatives like SharePoint or cloud based solutions to try and shut them down or curtail their scope. What makes it hard to argue against such statements is that few ever read such acts (including those who make these sort of statements). So being a sucker for punishment, I decided to read the Western Australian State Records Act 2000 and the associated standard on digital recordkeeping, published by the State Records Office. My goal was to understand the intent of these standards and the minimum compliance requirements they mandate, so I could better help clients integrate potentially disruptive tools into their compliance strategies.

I did this by starting out with the core standard in Western Australia – SRC Standard 8: Digital Recordkeeping. I created an IBIS Issue Map of this standard using Compendium software. What I soon discovered was that Standard 8 refers to other standards, such as Standard 2: Recordkeeping Plans and Standard 3: Appraisal of Records. That meant that I had to add these to the map, as well as any other documents they referred to. In the end, I followed every standard, policy or guideline in a recursive fashion, until I was back at the digital recordkeeping standard where I started. This took a while, but I eventually got there. You can click the image below to examine the standards in all of their detail and watch the video to see more about how I created it.

Map   

Now I need to make it clear that my map is not endorsed by the State Records Office, so it is provided as-is with a disclaimer that it is not intended to drive policy or be used as anything more than an example of the mapping approaches I use. I felt that by putting the standards into a IBIS based issue map, I feel I was able to reduce some of the complexity of understanding them, because now one can visually see how the standards relate to each other. Additionally, by taking advantage of Compendiums ability to have the same node in multiple maps, it allowed me to create a single ‘meta map’ that pulled in all of the compliance requirements into a single integrated place. One can look at the compliance requirements of all the standards in one place and ask themselves “Am I meeting the intent of these standards?”

Reflections…

In terms of my conclusions undertaking this work, there are a few. For a start, everything is a record, so people should just get over the whole debate of “is it or isn’t it”. In short, if you work for a government agency and are doing actual work, then your work outputs are records. The issue is not what is and is not a record, but how you control and manage them. Secondly, the notion that there has to be “one RMS system to rule them all” to ensure compliance is plain rubbish and does not stand up to any form of serious scrutiny. While it is highly desirable to have a single management point for digital recordkeeping, it is often not practical and insistence in doing this often makes agencies less compliant because of the aforementioned difficulties of use, resulting in passive resistance and outright subversion of such systems. It additionally causes all sorts of unnecessary stress in the areas of new initiatives or inter-agency collaboration efforts. In fact, to meet the intent of the standards I mapped, one by definition, has to take a portfolio approach to the management of records as data will reside in multiple repositories. It was Andrew Jolly who first suggested the portfolio idea to me and provided this excellent example: There is nothing stopping records management departments designating MS Exchange 2013 Site mailboxes as part of the records management portfolio and at the same time having a much better integrated email and document management story for users.

For me, the real crux of the digital records management challenge is hidden away in SRC Standard 8, Principle 5 (preservation). One of the statements of compliance in relation to preservation is that “digital records and their metadata remain accessible and usable for as long as they are required in accordance with an approved disposal authority.”  In my opinion, the key challenge for agencies and consultancies alike is being able to meet the requirements of Disposal Authorities (DA’s) without over burdening users. DA’s are the legal documents published by the State Records Commission that specify how data is handled in terms of whether it is archived or deleted and when this should happen. They are also quite prescriptive (some are mandated), and their classification of content from a retention and disposal point of view poses many challenges, both technically and organisationally. While for the sake of size, this article is not going to get into this topic in detail, I would advise any SharePoint practitioner to understand the relevant disposal authorities that their organisation has to adhere to. You will come away with a new respect for the challenges that record managers face, an understanding on why they use the classification schemes that they do, why records management systems are not popular among users of the systems and why the paradox around “chasing compliance only to become non-compliant” happens.

Maybe you might come away with some insights on how to better integrate SharePoint into the story? Then you can tell the rest of us Smile

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

paul.culmssee@sevensigma.com.au

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Why can’t people find stuff on the intranet?–Final summary

Send to Kindle

Hi

Those of you who get an RSS feed of this blog might have noticed it was busy over last week. This is because I pushed out 4 blog posts that showed my analysis using IBIS of a detailed linear discussion on LinkedIn. To save people getting lost in the analysis, I thought I’d quickly post a bit of an executive summary from the exercise.

To set context, Issue Mapping is a technique of visually capturing rationale. It is graphically represented using a simple, but powerful, visual structure called IBIS (Issue Based Information System). IBIS allows all elements and rationale of a conversation to be captured in a manner that can be easily reflected upon. Unlike prose, which is linear, the advantage of visually representing argument structure is it helps people to form a better mental model of the nature of a problem or issue. Even better, when captured this way, makes it significantly easier to identify emergent themes or key aspects to an issue.

You can find out all about IBIS and Dialogue Mapping in my new book, at the Cognexus site or the other articles on my blog.

The challenge…

On the Intranet Professionals group on LinkedIn recently, the following question was asked:

What are the main three reasons users cannot find the content they were looking for on intranet?

In all, there were more than 60 responses from various people with some really valuable input. I decided that it might be an interesting experiment to capture this discussion using the IBIS notion to see if it makes it easier for people to understand the depth of the issue/discussion and reach a synthesis of root causes.

I wrote 4 posts, each building on the last, until I had covered the full conversation. For each post, I supplied an analysis of how I created the IBIS map and then exported the maps themselves. You can follow those below:

Part 1 analysis: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2012/01/15/why-cant-users-find-stuff-on-the-intranet-in-ibis-synthesispart-1/
Part 2 analysis: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2012/01/15/why-cant-users-find-stuff-on-the-intranet-an-ibis-synthesispart-2/
Part 3 analysis: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2012/01/16/why-cant-users-find-stuff-on-the-intranet-an-ibis-synthesispart-3/
Part 4 analysis: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2012/01/16/why-cant-users-find-stuff-on-the-intranet-an-ibis-synthesispart-4/

Final map: http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/maps/findstuffpart4/Linkedin_Discussion__192168031326631637693.html

For what its worth, the summary of themes from the discussion was that there were 5 main reasons for users not finding what they are looking for on the intranet.

  1. Poor information architecture
  2. Issues with the content itself
  3. People and change aspects
  4. Inadequate governance
  5. Lack of user-centred design

Within these areas or “meta-themes” there were varied sub issues. These are captured in the table below.

Poor information architecture Issues with content People and change aspects Inadequate governance Lack of user-centred design
Vocabulary and labelling issues

· Inconsistent vocabulary and acronyms

· Not using the vocabulary of users

· Documents have no naming convention

Poor navigation

Lack of metadata

· Tagging does not come naturally to employees

Poor structure of data

· Organisation structure focus instead of user task focussed

· The intranet’s lazy over-reliance on search

Old content not deleted

Too much information of little value

Duplicate or “near duplicate” content

Information does not exist or an unrecognisable form

People with different backgrounds, language, education and bias’ all creating content

Too much “hard drive” thinking

People not knowing what they want

Lack of motivation for contributors to make information easier to use

Google inspired inflated expectations on search functionality on intranet

Adopting social media from a hype driven motivation

Lack of governance/training around metadata and tagging

Not regularly reviewing search analytics

Poor and/or low cost search engine is deployed

Search engine is not set up properly or used to full potential

Lack of “before the fact” coordination with business communications and training

Comms and intranet don’t listen and learn from all levels of the business.

Ambiguous, under-resourced or misplaced Intranet ownership

The wrong content is being managed

There are easier alternatives available

Content is structured according to the view of the owners rather than the audience

Not accounting for two types of visitors… task-driven and browse-based

No social aspects to search

Not making the search box available enough

A failure to offer an entry level view

Not accounting for people who do not know what they are looking for versus those who do

Not soliciting feedback from a user on a failed search about what was being looked for

So now you have seen the final output, be sure to visit the maps and analysis and read about the journey on how this table emerged. One thing is for sure, it sure took me a hell of a lot longer to write about it than to actually do it!

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

www.hereticsguidebooks.com

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Why can’t users find stuff on the intranet? An IBIS synthesis–Part 4

Send to Kindle

Hi and welcome to my final post on the linkedin discussion on why users cannot find what they are looking for on intranets. This time the emphasis is on synthesis… so let’s get the last few comments done shall we?

Michael Rosager • @ Simon. I agree.
Findability and search can never be better than the content available on the intranet.
Therefore, non-existing content should always be number 1
Some content may not be published with the terminology or language used by the users (especially on a multilingual intranet). The content may lack the appropriate meta tags. – Or maybe you need to adjust your search engine or information structure. And there can be several other causes…
But the first thing that must always be checked is whether they sought information / data is posted on the intranet or indexed by the search engine.

Rasmus Carlsen • in short:
1: Too much content (that nobody really owns)
2: Too many local editors (with less knowledge of online-stuff)
3: Too much “hard-drive-thinking” (the intranet is like a shared drive – just with a lot of colors = a place you keep things just to say that you have done your job)

Nick Morris • There are many valid points being made here and all are worth considering.
To add a slightly different one I think too often we arrange information in a way that is logical to us. In large companies this isn’t necessarily the same for every group of workers and so people create their own ‘one stop shop’ and chaos.
Tools and processes are great but somewhere I believe you need to analyse what information is needed\valued and by whom and create a flexible design to suit. That is really difficult and begins to touch on how organisations are structured and the roles and functions of employees.

Taino Cribb • Hi everyone
What a great discussion! I have to agree to any and all of the above comments. Enabling users to find info can definately be a complicated undertaking that involves many facets. To add a few more considerations to this discussion:
Preference to have higher expectations of intranet search and therefore “blame” it, whereas Google is King – I hear this too many times, when users enter a random (sometimes misspelled) keyword and don’t get the result they wish in the first 5 results, therefore the “search is crap, we should have Google”. I’ve seen users go through 5 pages of Google results, but not even scroll down the search results page on the intranet.
Known VS Learned topics – metadata and user-tagging is fantastic to organise content we and our users know about, but what about new concepts where everyone is learning for the first time? It is very difficult to be proactive and predict this content value, therefore we often have to do so afterwards, which may very well miss our ‘window of opportunity’ if the content is time-specific (ie only high value for a month or so).
Lack of co-ordination with business communications/ training etc (before the fact). Quite often business owners will manage their communications, but may not consider the search implications too. A major comms plan will only go so far if users cannot search the keywords contained in that message and get the info they need. Again, we miss our window if the high content value is valid for only a short time.
I very much believe in metadata, but it can be difficult to manage in SP2007. Its good to see the IM changes in SP2010 are much improved.

Of the next four comments most covered old ground (a sure sign the conversation is now fairly well saturated). Nick says he is making a “a slightly different” point, but I think issues of structure not suiting a particular audience has been covered previously. I thought Taino’s reply was interesting because she focused on the issue of not accounting for known vs. learned topics and the notion of a “window of opportunity” in relation to appropriate tagging. Perhaps this reply was inspired by what Nick was getting at? In any event, adding it was a line call between governance and information architecture and for now, I chose the latter (and I have a habit of changing my mind with this stuff :-).

image_thumb[12]

I also liked Taino’s point about user expectations around the “google experience” and her examples. I also loved earlier Rasmus’s point about “hard-drive thinking” (I’m nicking that one for my own clients Rasmus Smile). Both of these issues are clearly people aspects, so I added them as examples around that particular theme.

image_thumb[14]

Finally, I added Taino’s “lack of co-ordination” comments as another example of inadequate governance.

image_thumb[18]

Anne-Marie Low • The one other thing I think missing from here (other than lack of metadata, and often the search tool itself) is too much content, particularly out of date information. I think this is key to ensuring good search results, making sure all the items are up to date and relevant.

Andrew Wright • Great discussion. My top 3 reasons why people can’t find content are:
* Lack of meta data and it’s use in enabling a range of navigation paths to content (for example, being able to locate content by popularity, ownership, audience, date, subject, etc.) See articles on faceted classification:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faceted_classification
and
Contextual integration
http://cibasolutions.typepad.com/wic/2011/03/contextual-integration-how-it-can-transform-your-intranet.html#tp
* Too much out-of-date, irrelevant and redundant information
See slide 11 from the following presentation (based on research of over 80 intranets)
http://www.slideshare.net/roowright/intranets2011-intranet-features-that-staff-love
* Important information is buried too far down in the hierarchy
Bonus 2 reasons 🙂
* Web analytics and measures not being used to continuously improve how information is structured
* Over reliance on Search instead of Browsing – see the following article for a good discussion about this
Browse Versus Search: Stumbling into the Unknown
http://idratherbewriting.com/2010/05/26/browse-versus-search-organizing-content-9/

Both Anne and Andrew make good points and Andrew supplies some excellent links too, but all of these issues have been covered in the map so nothing more has been added from this part of the discussion.

Juan Alchourron • 1) that particular, very important content, is not yet on the intranet, because “the” director don’t understand what the intranet stands for.
2) we’re asuming the user will know WHERE that particular content will be placed on the intranet : section, folder and subfolder.
3) bad search engines or not fully configured or not enough SEO applied to the intranet

John Anslow • Nowt new from me
1. Search ineffective
2. Navigation unintuitive
3. Useability issues
Too often companies organise data/sites/navigation along operational lines rather than along more practical means, team A is part of team X therefore team A should be a sub section of team X etc. this works very well for head office where people tend to have a good grip of what team reports where but for average users can cause headaches.
The obvious and mostly overlooked method of sorting out web sites is Multi Variant Testing (MVT) and with the advent of some pretty powerful tools this is no longer the headache that it once was, why not let the users decide how they want to navigate, see data, what colour works best, what text encourages them to follow what links, in fact how it works altogether?
Divorcing design, usability, navigation and layout from owners is a tough step to take, especially convincing the owners but once taken the results speak for themselves.

Most of these points are already well discussed, but I realised I had never made a reference to John’s point about organisational structures versus task based structures for intranets. I had previously captured rationale around the fact that structures were inappropriate, so I added this as another example to that argument within information architecture…

image

Edwin van de Bospoort • I think one of the main reasons for not finding the content is not poor search engines or so, but simply because there’s too much irrelevant information disclosed in the first place.
It’s not difficult to start with a smaller intranet, just focussing on filling out users needs. Which usually are: how do I do… (service-orientated), who should I ask for… (corporate facebok), and only 3rd will be ‘news’.
So intranets should be task-focussed instead if information-focussed…
My 2cnts 😉

Steven Kent • Agree with Suzanne’s suggestion “Old content is not deleted and therefore too many results/documents returned” – there can be more than one reason why this happens, but it’s a quick way to user frustration.

Maish Nichani • It is interesting to see how many of us think metadata and structure are key to finding information on the intranet. I agree too. But come to think of it, staff aren’t experts in information management. It’s all very alien to them. Not too long ago, they had their desktops and folders and they could find their information when they wanted. All this while it was about “me and my content”. Now we have this intranet and shared folders and all of a sudden they’re supposed to be thinking about how “others” would like to find and use the information. They’ve never done this before. They’ve never created or organized information for “others”. Metadata and structure are just “techie” stuff that they have to do as part of their publishing, but they don’t know why they’re doing it or for what reason. They real problem, in my opinion, is lack of empathy.

Barry Bassnett • * in establishing a corporate taxonomy.1. Lack of relevance to the user; search produces too many documents.3. Not training people in the concept that all documents are not created by the individual for the same individual but as a document that is meant to be shared. e.g. does anybody right click PDFs to add metadata to its properties? Emails with a subject line stat describe what is in it.

Luc de Ruijter • @Maish. Good point about information management.
Q: Who’d be responsible to oversee the management of information?
Shouldn’t intranet managers/governors have that responsibility?
I can go along with (lack of) empathy as an underlying reason why content isn’t put away properly. This is a media management legacy reason: In media management content producers never had to have empathy with participating users, for there were only passive audiences.
If empathy is an issue. Then it proves to me that communication strategies are still slow to pick up on the changes in communication behaviour and shift in mediapower, in the digital age.
So if we step back from technological reasons for not finding stuff (search, meta, office automation systems etc.) another big reason looks around the corner of intranet management: those responsible for intranet policies and strategy.

Most of this discussion covers stuff already represented in the map, although I can see that in this part of the conversation there is a preoccupation with content and its relevance. Maish also makes a couple of good points. First up he makes the point that staff are not experts in information management and don’t tend to think about how someone else might wish to find the information later. He also concludes by stating the real problem is a lack of empathy. I liked this and felt that this was a nice supporting argument to the whole conjecture that “people issues” is a major theme in this discussion, so I added it as a pro.

image

 

Now we have an interesting bit in the conversation (for me anyway). Terry throws a curveball question. (Side note: Curveball questions are usually asked with genuine intent, but tend to have a negative effect on live meetings. Dialogue Mapping loves curveball questions as it is often able to deflect its negative impacts).

Terry Golding • Can I play devils advocate and ask WHY you feel meta data is so vital? Dont misunderstand me I am not saying that it is not important, but I cant help feeling that just saying meta data as a reason for not finding things is rather a simplification. Let me ask it another way, what is GOOD meta data, can you give examples please ?

Luc de Ruijter • @Terry. Good questions which can have many answers (see all comments above where you’ll find several answers already). Why do library books have labels on their covers? Those labels are in fact metadata (avant la lettre) which help library people ordering their collection, and clients to find titles. How do you create tag clouds which offer a more intuitive and user centered way to navigate a website/blog? By tagging all content with (structured) meta tags.Look around a bit and you’ll see that metadata are everywhere and that they serve you in browsing and retrieving content. That’s why metadata are vital these days.I think there are no strict right and good meta structures. Structures depend on organisational contexts. Some metastructures are very complex and formal (see comments about taxonomies above), others are quite simple.Metadata can enable users to browse information blocks. By comparisson navigation schemes can only offer rigid sender driven structures to navigate to pages.

Andrew Wright • @Terry. Meta data enables content to be found in a number of different ways – not just one as is typical of paper based content (and many intranets as well unfortunately).
For instance, if you advertise a house for sale you may have meta data about the house such as location, number of rooms and price. This then allows people to locate the house using this meta data (eg. search by number of bedrooms, price range, location). Compare this with how houses are advertised in newspapers (ie. by location only) and you can see the benefits of meta data.
For a good article about the benefits of meta data, read Card Sorting Doesn’t Cut the Custard:
http://www.zefamedia.com/websites/card-sorting-doesnt-cut-the-custard/
To read a more detailed example about how meta data can be applied to intranets, read:
Contextual integration: how it can transform your intranet
http://cibasolutions.typepad.com/wic/2011/03/contextual-integration-how-it-can-transform-your-intranet.html

Terry questions the notion of metadata. I framed it as a con against the previous metadata arguments. Both Luc and Andrew answer and I think the line that most succinctly captures the essence of than answer is Andrew’s “Meta data enables content to be found in a number of different ways”. So I reframe that slightly as a pro supporting the notion that lack of metadata is one of the reasons why users can;t find stuff on the intranet.

image

Next is yours truly…

Paul Culmsee • Hi all
Terry a devils advocate flippant answer to your devils advocate question comes from Corey Doctrow with his dated, but still hilarious essay on the seven insurmountable obstacles to meta-utopia 🙂 Have a read and let me know what you think.
http://www.well.com/~doctorow/metacrap.htm
Further to your question (and I *think* I sense the undertone behind your question)…I think that the discussion around metadata can get a little … rational and as such, rational metadata metaphors are used when they are perhaps not necessarily appropriate. Yes metadata is all around us – humans are natural sensemakers and we love to classify things. BUT usually the person doing the information architecture has a vested interest in making the information easy for you. That vested interest drives the energy to maintain the metadata.
In user land in most organisations, there is not that vested interest unless its on a persons job description and their success is measured on it. For the rest of us, the energy required to maintain metadata tends to dissipate over time. This is essentially entropy (something I wrote about in my SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome post)
http://www.cleverworkarounds.com/2011/10/12/sharepoint-fatigue-syndrome/

Bob Meier • Paul, I think you (and that metacrap post) hit the nail on the head describing the conflict between rational, unambiguous IA vs. the personal motivations and backgrounds of the people tagging and consuming content. I suspect it’s near impossible to develop a system where anyone can consistently and uniquely tag every type of information.
For me, it’s easy to get paralyzed thinking about metadata or IA abstractly for an entire business or organization. It becomes much easier for me when I think about a very specific problem – like the library book example, medical reports, or finance documents.

Taino Cribb • @Terry, brilliant question – and one which is quite challenging to us that think ‘metadata is king’. Good on you @Paul for submitting that article – I wouldn’t dare start to argue that. Metadata certainly has its place, in the absence of content that is filed according to an agreed taxonomy, correctly titled, the most recent version (at any point in time), written for the audience/purpose, valued and ranked comparitively to all other content, old and new. In the absence of this technical writer’s utopia, the closest we can come to sorting the wheat from the chaff is classifcation. It’s not a perfect workaround by any means, though it is a workaround.
Have you considered that the inability to find useful information is a natural by-product of the times? Remember when there was a central pool to type and file everything? It was the utopia and it worked, though it had its perceived drawbacks. Fast forward, and now the role of knowledge worker is disseminated to the population – people with different backgrounds, language, education and bias’ all creating content.
It is no wonder there is content chaos – it is the price we pay for progress. The best we as information professionals can do is ride the wave and hold on the best we can!

Now my reply to Terry was essentially speaking about the previously spoken of issue around lack of motivation on the part of users to make their information easy to use. I added a pro to that existing idea to capture my point that users who are not measured on accurate metadata have little incentive to put in the extra effort. Taino then refers to pace of change more broadly with her “natural by-product of the times” comment. This made me realise my meta theme of “people aspects” was not encompassing enough. I retitled it “people and change aspects” and added two of Taino’s points as supporting arguments for it.

image

At this point I stopped as enough had been captured the the conversation had definitely reached saturation point. It was time to look at what we had…

For those interested, the final map had 139 nodes.

The second refactor

At this point is was time to sit back and look at the map with the view of seeing if my emergent themes were correct and to consolidate any conversational chaff. Almost immediately, the notion of “content” started to bubble to the surface of my thinking. I had noticed that a lot of conversation and re-iteration by various people related to the content being searched in the first place. I currently had some of that captured in Information Architecture and in light of the final map, I felt that this wasn’t correct. The evidence for this is that Information Architecture topics dominated the maps. There were 55 nodes for information architecture, compared to 34 for people and change and 31 for governance.

Accordingly, I took all of the captured rationale related to content and made it its own meta-theme as shown below…

image

Within the “Issues with the content being searched” map are the following nodes…

image

I also did another bit of fine tuning too here and there and overall, I was pretty happy with the map in its current form.

The root causes

If you have followed my synthesis of what the dialogue from the discussion told me, it boiled down to 5 key recurring themes.

  1. Poor Information Architecture
  2. Issues with the content itself
  3. People and change aspects
  4. Inadequate governance
  5. Lack of user-centred design

I took the completed maps, exported the content to word and then pared things back further. This allowed me to create the summary table below:

Poor Information Architecture Issues with content People and change aspects Inadequate governance Lack of user-centred design
Vocabulary and labelling issues

· Inconsistent vocabulary and acronyms

· Not using the vocabulary of users

· Documents have no naming convention

Poor navigation

Lack of metadata

· Tagging does not come naturally to employees

Poor structure of data

· Organisation structure focus instead of user task focussed

· The intranet’s lazy over-reliance on search

Old content not deleted

Too much information of little value

Duplicate or “near duplicate” content

Information does not exist or an unrecognisable form

People with different backgrounds, language, education and bias’ all creating content

Too much “hard drive” thinking

People not knowing what they want

Lack of motivation for contributors to make information easier to use

Google inspired inflated expectations on search functionality on intranet

Adopting social media from a hype driven motivation

Lack of governance/training around metadata and tagging

Not regularly reviewing search analytics

Poor and/or low cost search engine is deployed

Search engine is not set up properly or used to full potential

Lack of “before the fact” coordination with business communications and training

Comms and intranet don’t listen and learn from all levels of the business.

Ambiguous, under-resourced or misplaced Intranet ownership

The wrong content is being managed

There are easier alternatives available

Content is structured according to the view of the owners rather than the audience

Not accounting for two types of visitors… task-driven and browse-based

No social aspects to search

Not making the search box available enough

A failure to offer an entry level view

Not accounting for people who do not know what they are looking for versus those who do

Not soliciting feedback from a user on a failed search about what was being looked for

The final maps

The final map can be found here (for those who truly like to see full context I included an “un-chunked” map which would look terrific when printed on a large sized plotter). Below however, is a summary as best I can do in a blog post format (click to enlarge). For a decent view of proceedings, visit this site.

Poor Information Architecture

part4map1

Issues with the content itself

part4map2

People and change aspects

part4map3

Inadequate governance

part4map4

Lack of user-centred design

part4map5

Thanks for reading.. as an epilogue I will post a summary with links to all maps and discussion.

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Why can’t users find stuff on the intranet? An IBIS synthesis–Part 3

Send to Kindle

Hi all

This is the third post in a quick series that attempts to use IBIS to analyse an online discussion. The map is getting big now, but luckily, we are halfway through the discussion and will have most of the rationale captured by the end of this post. We finished the part 2 with a summary map that has grouped the identified reasons why it is hard to find information on intranets into core themes. Right now there are 4 themes that have emerged. In this post we see if there are any more to emerge and fully flesh out the existing ones. Below is our starting point for part 3.

part3map1_thumb5

Our next two responses garnered more nodes in the map than most others. I think this is a testament to the quality of their input to the discussion. First up Dan…

Dan Benatan • Having researched this issue across many diffferent company and departmental intranets, my most frequent findings are:
1. A complete lack of user-centred design. Content that many members of the organization need to access is structured according to the view of the content owners rather than the audience. This should come as no surprise, it remains the biggest challenge in public websites.
2. A failure to offer an entry level view. Much of the content held on departmental intranets is at a level of operational detail that is meaningless to those outside the team. The information required is there, but it is buried so deep in the documents that people outside the team can’t find it.
3. The intranet’s lazy over-reliance on search. Although many of us have become accustomed to using Google as our primary entry point to find content across the web, we may do this because we know we have no hope of finding the content through traditional navigation. The web is simply far too vast. We do not, however, rely purely on search once we are in the website we’ve chosen. We expect to be able to navigate to the desired content. Navigation offers context and enables us to build an understanding of the knowledge area as we approach the destination. In my research I found that most employees (>70%) try navigation first because they feel they understand the company well enough to know where to look.
4. Here I agree with many of the comments posted above. Once the user does try search, it still fails. The search engine returns too many results with no clear indication of their relative validity. There is a wealth of duplicate content on most intranets and , even worse, there is a wealth of ‘near duplicate’ content; some of which is accurate and up-to-date and much that is neither. The user has no easy way to know which content to trust. This is where good intranet management and good metadata can help.

My initial impression was that this was an excellent reply and Dan’s experience shone through it. I thought this was one of the best contributions to the discussion thus far. Let’s see what I added shall we?

First up, Dan returned to the user experience issue, which was one of the themes that had emerged. I liked his wording of the issue, so I also changed the theme node of “Inadequate user experience design” to Dan’s framing of “Lack of user-centred design”, which I thought was better put. I then added his point about content structured to the world view of owner, rather than audience. His second point about an “entry level view” relates to the first point in the sense that both are user centred design issues. So I added the entry level view point as an example…

image_thumb14

I added Dan’s point about the intranet’s lazy over-reliance on search to the information architecture theme. I did this because he was discussing the relationship between navigation and search, and navigation had already come up as an information architecture issue.

image_thumb23

Dan’s final point about too many results returned was already covered previously, but he added a lot of valuable arguments around it. I restructured that section of the map somewhat and incorporated his input.

image_thumb6

Next we have Rob, who also made a great contribution (although not as concise as Dan)

Rob Faulkner • Wow… a lot of input, and a lot of good ideas. In my experience there can be major liabilities with all of these more “global” concepts, however.
No secret… Meta data is key for both getting your site found to begin with, as well as aiding in on-site search. The weak link in this is the “people aspect” of the exercise, as has been alluded to. I’ve worked on interactive vehicles with ungodly numbers of pages and documents that rely on meta data for visibility and / or “findability” (yes, I did pay attention in English class once in a while… forgive me), and the problem — more often than not — stems from content managers either being lazy and doing a half ass job of tagging, if at all, or inconsistency of how things are tagged by those that are gung-ho about it. And, as an interactive property gets bigger, so too does the complexity tagging required to make it all work. Which circles back to freaking out providers into being lazy on the one hand, or making it difficult for anyone to get it “right” on the other. Vicious circle. Figure that one out and you win… from my perspective.
Another major issue that was also alluded to is organization. For an enterprise-class site, thorough taxonomy / IA exercises must be hammered out by site strategists and THEN tested for relevance to target audiences. And I don’t mean asking targets what THEY want… because 9 times out of 10 you’re either going to get hair-brained ideas at best, or blank stares at worst. You’ve just got to look at the competitive landscape to figure out where the bar has been set, what your targets are doing with your product (practical application, OEMing, vertical-specific use, etc… then Test the result of your “informed” taxonomy and IA to ensure that it does, in fact, resonate with your targets once you’ve gotten a handle on it.
Stemming from the above, and again alluded to, be cautious about how content is organized in order to reflect how your targets see it, not how internal departments handle it. Most of the time they are not one in the same. Further, you’ve got to assume that you’re going to have at least two types of visitors… task-driven and browse-based. Strict organization by product or service type may be in order for someone that knows what they’re looking for, but may not mean squat to those that don’t. Hence, a second axis of navigation that organizes your solutions / products by industry, pain point, what keeps you up at night, or whatever… will enable those that are browsing, or researching, a back door into the same ultimate content. Having a slick dynamic back-end sure helps pull this off
Finally, I think a big mistake made across all verticals is what the content consists of to begin with. What you may think is the holy grail, and the most important data or interactive gadget in the world may not mean a hill-of-beans to the user. I’ve conducted enough focus groups, worldwide, to know that this is all typically out of alignment. I never cease to be amazed at exactly what it is that most influences decision makers.
I know a lot of this was touched upon by many of you. Sorry about that… damn thread is just getting too long to go back and figure out exactly who said what!
Cheers…

Now Rob was the first to explicitly mention “People aspects”, and I immediately realised this was the real theme that “Lack of motivation on the part of contributors…”was getting at. So I restructured the map so that “people aspects” was the key theme and the previous point of “Lack of motivation” was an example. I then added Rob’s other examples.

image_thumb27

After making his points around people aspects, Rob then covers some areas well covered already (metadata, content organsiation), so I did not add any more nodes. But at the end, he added a point about browse oriented vs. search oriented users, which I did add to the user-centred design discussion.

image_thumb33

Rob also made a point about users who know what they want when searching for information vs. those who do not. (In Information Architecture terms, this is called “Known item seeking” vs “exploratory seeking”). That had not been covered previously, so I added it to the Information Architecture discussion.

image_thumb31

Finally, I captured Rob’s point about the wrong content being managed in the first place. This is a governance issue since the best Information architecture or user experience design won;t matter a hoot if you’re not making the right content available in the first place.

image_thumb32

Hans Leijström • Great posts! I would also like to add lack of quality measurements (e.g. number of likes, useful or not) and the fact that the intranets of today are not social at all…

Caleb Lamz • I think everyone has provided some great reasons for users not being able to find what they are looking for. I lean toward one of the reasons Bob mentions above – many intranets are simply not actively managed, or the department managing it is not equipped to do so.
Every intranet needs a true owner (no matter where it falls in the org chart) that acts a champion of the user. Call it the intranet manager, information architect, collaboration manager, or whatever you want, but their main job needs to be make life easier for users. Responsibilities include doing many of the things mentioned above like refining search, tweaking navigation, setting up a metadata structure, developing social tools (with a purpose), conducting usability tests, etc.
Unfortunately, with the proliferation of platforms like SharePoint, many IT departments roll out a system with no true ownership, so you end up with content chaos.

There is no need to add anything from Hans as he was re-iterating a previous comment about analytics which was captured already. Caleb makes a good point about ownership of content/intranet which is a governance issue in my book. So I added his contribution there…

image

Dena Gazin • @Suzanne. Yes, yes, yes – a big problem is old content. Spinning up new sites (SharePoint) and not using, or migrating sites and not deleting old or duplicative content. Huge problem! I’m surprised more people didn’t mention this. Here’s my three:
1. Metadata woes (@Erin – lack of robust metadata does sound better as improvements can be remedied on multiple levels)
2. Old or duplicate content (Data or SharePoint Governance)
3. Poorly configured search engine
Bonus reason: Overly complicated UIs. There’s a reason people like Google. Why do folks keep trying to mess up a good thing? Keep it as simple as you possibly can. Create views for those who need more. 80/20 rule!

Dena’s points are a reiteration of previous points, but I did like her “there is a reason people like google” point, which I considered to be a nice supporting argument of the entire user-centric design theme.

image

Next up we have another group of discussions. What is interesting here is that there is some disagreement – and a lot of prose – but not a lot of information was added to the map from it.

Luc de Ruijter • @Rob. Getting information and metastructures in place requires interactions with the owners of information. I doubt whether they are lazy or blank staring people – I have different experiences with engaging users in preparing digital working environments. People may stare back at you when you offer complete solutions they can say “yea” or “nay” to. And this is still common practice amogst Communication specialists (who like creating stuff themselves first and then communicate about them to others later). And if colleagues stare blank at your proposal, they obviously are resisting change and in need of some compelling communciation campaign…
Communication media legacy models are a root cause for failing intranets.
Tagging is indeed a complex excercise. And we come from a media-age in which fun predominated and we were all journalists and happy bunnies writing post after post, page after page, untill the whole cluttered intranet environment was ready again for a redesign.
Enterprise content is not media content, but enterprise content. Think about it (again please 🙂 ). If you integrate the storage process of enterprise content into the “saving as” routine, you’ll have no problems anymore with keeping your content clean and consistent. All wil be channeled through consistent routines. This doesn’t kill adding free personal meta though, it just puts the content in a enterprise structure. Think enterprise instead of media and tagging solutions are for grabs.
I agree that working on taxonomies can become a drag. Leadership and vison can speed up the process. And mandate of course.
I believe that the whole target rationale behind websites is part of the Communication media legacy we need to loose in order to move forward in better communication services to eployees. Target-thinking hampers the construction of effectve user centered websites, for it focusses on targets, persona, audiences, scenario’s and the whole extra paper media works.
While users only need flexibility, content in context, filters and sorting options. Filtering and sorting are much more effective than adding one navigation tree ater another. And they require a 180° turn in conventional communciation thinking.
@Caleb. Who manages an intranet?
Is that a dedicated team of intranet managers, previously known as content managers, previously known as communciation advisors, previously known as mere journalists? Or is intranet a community affair in which the community IS the manager of content? Surely you want a metamodel to be managed by a specialist. And make general management as much a non-silo activity as possible. Collaboration isn’t confined to silo’s so intranet shouldn’t be either.
A lot of intranets are run by a small group of ‘experts’ whose basic reasoning is that intranet is a medium like an employee magazine. If you want content management issues, start making such groups responsible for intranet.
In my experience intranets work once you integrate them in primary processes. Itranet works for you if you make intranet part of your work. De-medialise the intranet and you have more chance for sustainable success.
Rolling out Sharepoints is a bit like rolling back time. We’ll end up somewhere where we already were in 2001, when digital IC was IT policy. The fact that we are turning back to that situation is a good and worrying illustration of the fact that strategy on digital communications is lacking in the Communications department – otherwise they wouldn’t loose out to IT.
@Dena. I think your bonus reason is a specific Sharepoint reason. Buy Sharepoint and get a big bonus bag of bad design stuff with it – for free! An offer you can’t refuse 🙂

Luc de Ruijter • @Dena. My last weeks tweet about search: Finding #intranet content doesn’t start with #search #SEO. It starts with putting information in a content #structure which is #searchable. Instead of configuring your search engine, think about configuring your content first.

Once again Luc is playing the devils advocate role with some broader musings. I might have been able to add some of this to the map, but it was mostly going over old ground or musings that were not directly related to the question being asked. This time around, Rob takes issue with some of his points and Caleb agrees…

Rob Faulkner • @Luc, Thanks for your thoughtful response, but I have to respectfully disagree with you on a few points. While my delivery may have been a bit casual, the substance of my post is based on experience.
First of all, my characterizations of users being 1) lazy or 2) blank staring we’re not related to the same topic. Lazy: in reference to tagging content. Blank Staring: related to looking to end users for organizational direction.
Lazy, while not the most diplomatic means of description, I maintain, does occur. I’ve experienced it, first hand. A client I’m thinking of is a major technology, Fortune 100 player with well over 100K tech-focused, internet savvy (for the most part) employees. And while they are great people and dedicated to their respective vocation, they don’t always tag documents and / or content-chunks correctly. It happens. And, it IS why a lot of content isn’t being located by targets — internally or externally. This is especially the case when knowledge or content management grows in complexity as result of content being repurposed for delivery via different vehicles. It’s not as simple as a “save as” fix. This is why I find many large sites that provide for search via pre-packed variables, — i.e. drop-downs, check-boxes, radio-buttons, etc — somewhat suspect, because if you elect to also engage in keyword index search you will, many times, come up with a different set of results. In other words, garbage in, garbage out. That being said, you asked “why,” not “what to do about it” and they are two completely different topics. I maintain that this IS definitely a potential “why.”
As far as my “blank stare” remark, it had nothing to do with the above, which you tied it to… but I am more than fluent in engaging and empowering content owners in the how’s and why’s of content tagging without confusing them or eliciting blank stares. While the client mentioned above is bleeding-edge, I also have vast experience with less tech-sophisticated entities — i.e. 13th-century country house hotels — and, hence, understand the need to communicate with contributors appropriate to what will resonate with them. This is Marketing 101.
In regard to the real aim of my “blank stare” comment, it is very germane to the content organization conversation in that it WILL be one of your results if you endeavour to ask end-users for direction. It is, after all, what we as experts should be bringing to the table… albeit being qualified by user sounding boards.
Regarding my thoughts on taxonomy exercises… I don’t believe I suggested it was a drag, at all. The fact is, I find this component of interactive strategy very engaging… and a means to create a defensible, differentiated marketing advantage if handled with any degree of innovation.
In any event, I could go on and on about this post and some of the assumptions, or misinterpretations, you’ve made, but why bother? When I saw your post initially, it occurred to me you were looking for input and perhaps insight into what could be causing a problem you’re encountering… hence the “why does this happen” tone. Upon reviewing the thread again, it appears you’re far more interested in establishing a platform to pontificate. If you want to open a discussion forum you may want to couch your topic in more of a “what are your thoughts about x, y, z?”… rather than “what could be causing x, y, z?” As professionals, if we know the causes we’re on track to address the problem.

Caleb Lamz • I agree with Rob, that this thread has gone from “looking for input” to “a platform to pontificate”. You’re better off making this a blog post rather than asking for input and then making long and sometimes off the cuff remarks on what everyone else has graciously shared. It’s unproductive to everyone when you jump to conclusions based on the little information that other users can provide in a forum post.

Luc de Ruijter • The list:
Adopting social media from a hype-driven motivation (lack of coherence)
big problem with people just PDFing EVERYTHING instead of posting HTML pages
Comms teams don’t listen and learn from all levels of the business
Content is not where someone thought it would be or should be or its not called what they thought it was called or should be called.
content is titled poorly
content managers either being lazy and doing a half ass job of tagging
content they are trying to find is out of date, cannot be trusted or isn’t even available on the intranet.
Documents have no naming convention
failure to offer an entry level view
inconsistency of how things are tagged
Inconsistent vocabulary and acronyms
info is organised by departmental function rather than focussed on end to end business process.
information being searched does not actually exist or exists only in an unrecognisable form and therefore cannot be found!
intranet’s lazy over-reliance on search
intranets are simply not actively managed, or the department managing it is not equipped to do so.
intranets of today are not social at all
just too much stuff
Lack of content governance, meta-data and inconsistent taxonomy, resulting in poor search capability.
Lack of measuring and feedback on (quality, performance of) the intranet
Lack of metadata
lack of motivation on the part of contributors to make their information easy to use
lack of quality measurements (e.g. number of likes, useful or not
lack of robust metadata
lack of robust metadata, resulting in poor search results;
lack of user-centred design
main navigation is poor
not fitting the fact that there are at least two types of visitors… task-driven and browse-based
Not making the search box available enough
Old content is not deleted and therefore too many results/documents returned
Old or duplicate content (Data or SharePoint Governance)
Overly complicated UIs
Poor navigation, information architecture and content sign-posting
Poorly configured search engine
proliferation of platforms like SharePoint
relevance of content (what’s hot for one is not for another)
Search can’t find it due to poor meta data
Search engine is not set up correctly
search engine returns too many results with no clear indication of their relative validity
structure is not tailored to the way the user thinks

Luc de Ruijter • This discussion has produced a qualitative and limited list of root causes for not finding stuff. I think we can all work with this.
@Rob & @Caleb My following question is always what to do after digesting and analysing information. I’m after solutions, that;s why I asked about root causes (and not symptoms). Reading all the comments triggers me in sharing some points of view. Sometimes that’s good to fuel the conversation sometimes. For if there is only agreement, there is no problem. And if there is no problem, what will we do in our jobs? If I came across clerical, blame it on Xmas.
Asking the “what to do with this input?” is pehaps a question for another time.

The only thing I added to the map from this entire exchange is Rob’s point of no social aspects to search. I thought this was interesting because of an earlier assertion that applying social principles to an intranet caused more silos. Seems Luc and Rob have differing opinions on this point.

image

Where are we at now?

At this point, we are almost at the end of the discussion. In this post, I added 25 nodes against 10 comments. Nevertheless, we are not done yet. In part 4 I will conclude the synthesis of the discussion and produce a final map. I’ll also export the map to MSWord, summarising the discussion as it happened. Like the last three posts, you can click here to see the maps exported in more detail.

There are four major themes that have emerged. Information Architecture, People aspects, Inadequate governance and lack of user-centred design. The summary maps for each of these areas are below (click to enlarge):

Information Architecture

part3map2[5]

People aspects

part3map3[5]

Inadequate Governance

part3map4[5]

Lack of user-centred design

part3map5[5]

Thanks for sticking with me thus far – almost done now…

Paul Culmsee

CoverProof29

www.sevensigma.com.au

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Why can’t users find stuff on the intranet? An IBIS synthesis–Part 2

Send to Kindle

Hi all

This is the second post in a quick series that attempts to use IBIS to analyse an online discussion. Strange as it may sound, but I believe that issue mapping and IBIS is one of the most pure forms of information architecture you can do. This is because a mapper, you are creating a navigable mental model of speech as it is uttered live. This post is semi representative of this. I am creating an IBIS based issue map, but I’m not interacting live with participants. nevertheless, imagine if you will, you sitting in a room with a group of stakeholders answering the question on why users cannot find what they are looking for on the intranet. Can you see its utility in creating shared understanding of a multifaceted issue?

Where we left off…

We finished the previous discussion with a summary map that identified several reasons why it is hard to find information on intranets. In this post we will continue our examination of this topic. What you will notice in this post is that the number of nodes that I capture are significantly less than in part 1. This is because some topics start to become saturated and people’s contributions are the same as what is already captured. In Part 1, I captured 55 nodes from the first 11 replies to the question. In this post, I capture an additional 33 nodes from the next 15 replies.

image_thumb72

So without further adieu, lets get into it!

Suzanne Thornley • Just another few to add (sorry 5 not 3 :-):
1. Search engine is not set up correctly or used to full potential
2. Old content is not deleted and therefore too many results/documents returned
3. Documents have no naming convention and therefore it is impossible to clearly identify what they are and if they are current.
4. Not just a lack of metadata but also a lack of governance/training around metadata/meta tagging so that less relevant content may surface because the tagging and metadata is better.
5. Poor and/or low cost search engine is deployed in the mistaken belief that users will be happy/capable of finding content by navigating through a complex intranet structure.

Suzanne offered 5 additional ideas to the original map from where we last left off. She was also straight to the point too, which always makes a mappers job of expressing it in IBIS easier. You might notice that I reversed “Old content is not deleted and therefore too many results/documents returned” in the resulting map. This is because I felt that old content not being deleted was one of a number arguments supporting why too many results are returned.

image_thumb[26]

My first map refactor

With the addition of Suzanne’s contributions, I felt that it was a good time to take stock and adjust the map. First up, I felt that a lot of topics were starting to revolve around the notion of information architecture, governance and user experience design. So I grouped the themes of vocabulary, lack of metadata, excessive results and issues around structure of data as part of a meta theme of “information architecture”. I similarly grouped a bunch of answers into “governance” and “user experience design”. These for me, seemed to be the three meta-themes that were emerging so far…

For the trainspotters, Suzanne’s comment about document naming conventions was added to the “Vocabulary and labelling issues” sub-map. You can’t see it here because I collapsed the detailed so you can see the full picture of themes as they are at this point.

part2map1

Patrik Bergman • Several of you mention the importance of adding good metadata. Since this doesn’t come natural to all employees, and the wording they use can differ – how do you establish a baseline for all regarding how to use metadata consistently? I have seen this in a KM product from Layer 2 for example, but it can of course be managed without this too, but maybe to a higher cost, or?

Patrick’s comment was a little hard to map. I captured his point that metadata does not come natural to employees as a pro, supporting the idea that lack of metadata is an example of poor information architecture. The other points I opted to leave off, because they were not really related to the core question on why people can’t find stuff on the intranet.

image_thumb[7]

Luc de Ruijter • @Patrik. Metadata are crucial. I’ve been using them since 2005 (Tridion at that time).You can build a lot of functionality with it. And it requires standardisation. If everyone adds his own meta, this will not enable you to create solutions. You can standardize anything in any CMS. So use your CMS to include metadata. If you have a DMS the same applies. (DMS are a more logical tool for intranets, as most enterprise content exists as documenst. Software such as LiveLink can facilitate adding meta in the save as process. You just have to tick some fields before you can save a document on to the intranet.)
@Suzanne. There’s been a lot of buzz about governance. You don’t need governance over meta, you just need a sound metastructure (and a dept of function to manage it – such as library of information management). Basically a lot of ‘governance’ can be automated instead of being discussed all the time :-).

Like Patricks comment, much of what Luc said here wasn’t really related to the question at hand or has been captured already. But I did acknowledge his contribution to the governance debate, and he specifically argued against Suzanne’s point about lack of governance around metadata tagging.

image_thumb[11]

Next we have a series of answers, but you will notice that most of the points are re-iterating points that have already been made.

Patrik Bergman • Thanks Luc. It seems SharePoint gives us some basic metadata handling, but perhaps we need something strong in addition to SharePoint later.

Simon Evans • My top three?
1) The information being searched does not actually exist or exists only in an unrecognisable form and therefore cannot be found!
2) As Karen says above, info is organised by departmental function rather than focussed on end to end business process.
3) Lack of metadata as above

Mahmood Ahmad • @Simon evan. I want to also add Poor Information Structure in the list. Therefore Information Management should be an important factor.

Luc de Ruijter • @Patrik. Sharepoint 2010 is the first version that does something with it. Ms is a bit slow in pushing the possibilities with it.
@Simon @Mahmood Let’s say that information structure is the foundation for an intranet (or any website), and that a lack of metadata is only a symptom of a bad foundation?

Patrik Bergman • Good thing we use the 2010 version then 😀 I will see how good it handles it, and see if we need additional software.

Erin Dammen • I believe 1) lack of robust metadata, resulting in poor search results; 2) structure is not tailored to the way the user thinks; 3) lack of motivation on the part of contributors to make their information easy to use (we have a big problem with people just PDFing EVERYTHING instead of posting HTML pages.) I like that in SP 2010, users have the power to add their own keywords and flag pages as "I like it." Let your community do some of the legwork, I think it helps!

Simon’s first point that the information searched may not exist or may not be in the right format was new, so that was captured under governance. (After all, its hard to architect information when its not there!).

image_thumb[16]

I also added Erin’s third point about lack of motivation on the part of contributors. I mulled over this and decided it was a new theme, so I added it to the root question, rather than trying to make it fit into information architecture, governance or user experience design. I also captured her point on letting the community do the legwork through user tagging (known as folksonomy).

image_thumb[19]

Luc de Ruijter • @all. The list of root causes remains small. This is not surprising (it would be really worrying if the list of causes would be a long list). And it is good to learn that we encounter the same (few but not so easy to solve) issues.
Still, in our line of work these root causes lack overall attention. What could be the reason for that? 🙂
@Erin Motivation is not the issue, I think; and facilitation is. If it is easier to PDF everything, than everyone will do so. And apparently everyone has the tools to do so. (If you don’t want people to PDF stuff, don’t offer them the quick fix.)
If another method of sharing documents is easier, then people will migrate. How easy is it to find PDF’s through search? How easy is it to add metadata to PDF’s? And are colleagues explained why consistent(!) meta is so relevant? Can employees add their own meta keywords? How do you maintain the quality and integrity of your keywords?
Of course it depends on your professional usergroup whether professionals will use "I like" buttons. Its a bit on the Facebook consumer edge if you’d ask me. Very en vogue perhaps, but in my view not so business ‘like’.

Luc, who is playing the devils advocate role as this discussion progresses, provides three counter arguments to Erin’s argument around user motivation. They are all captured as con’s.

image_thumb[21]

Steven Osborne • 1) Its not there and never was
2) Its there but inactive so can no longer be accessed
3) Its not where someone thought it would be or should be or its not called what they thought it was called or should be called.

Marcus Hamilton-Mills • 1) The main navigation is poor
2) The content is titled poorly (e.g internal branding, uncommon wording, not easy to differentiate from other content etc.)
3) Search can’t find it due to poor meta data

patrick c walsh • 1) Navigation breaks down because there’s too much stuff
2) There’s too much crap content hidden away because there’s just too much stuff
and
3) er…there’s just too much stuff

Mark Smith • 1. Poor navigation, information architecture and content sign-posting
2. Lack of content governance, meta-data and inconsistent taxonomy, resulting in poor search capability.
3. The content they are trying to find is out of date, cannot be trusted or isn’t even available on the intranet

Luc de Ruijter • @Steven Had a bit of a laugh there
@all Am I right in making the connection between
– the huge amount of content is an issue
– that internal branding causes confusion (in labeling and titles).
and
the fact that – in most cases – these causes can be back tracked to the owners of intranet, the comms department? They produce most content clutter.
Or am I too quick in drawing that conclusion?

Now the conversation is really starting to saturate. Most of the contributions above are captured already in the map as it is, so I only added two nodes: Patrick’s point about navigation (an information architecture issue) and too much information.

image_thumb[25]

Where are we at now?

We will end part 2 with a summary below. Like the first post, you can click here to see the maps exported in more detail. In part 3, the conversation got richer again, so the maps will change once again.

Until then, thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

CoverProof29

www.sevensigma.com.au

part2map2

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

The end of a journey… my book is now out!

Send to Kindle

About bloody time eh?

The Heretics Guide to Best Practices is now available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iUniverse.

 

]image

In Paul and Kailash I have found kindred spirits who understand how messed up most organizations are, and how urgent it is that organizations discover what Buddhists call ‘expedient means’—not more ‘best practices’ or better change management for the enterprise, but transparent methods and theories that are simple to learn and apply, and that foster organizational intelligence as a natural expression of individual intelligence. This book is a bold step forward on that path, and it has the wonderful quality, like a walk at dawn through a beautiful park, of presenting profound insights with humor, precision, and clarity.”

Jeff Conklin, Director, Cognexus Institute

 

Hugely enjoyable, deeply reflective, and intensely practical. This book is about weaving human artistry and improvisation, with appropriate methods and technologies, in order to pool collective intelligence and wisdom under pressure.”

Simon Buckingham Shum, Knowledge Media Institute, The Open University, UK.

 

“This is a terrific piece of work: important, insightful, and very entertaining. Culmsee and Awati have produced a refreshing take on the problems that plague organisations, the problems that plague attempts to fix organisations, and what can be done to make things better. If you’re trying to deal with wicked problems in your organisation, then drop everything and read this book.”

Tim Van Gelder, Principal Consultant, Austhink Consulting

 

“This book has been a brilliantly fun read. Paul and Kailash interweave forty years of management theory using entertaining and engaging personal stories. These guys know their stuff and demonstrate how it can be used via real world examples. As a long time blogger, lecturer and consultant/practitioner I have always been served well by contrarian approaches, and have sought stories and case studies to understand the reasons why my methods have worked. This book has helped me understand why I have been effective in dealing with complex business problems. Moreover, it has encouraged me to delve into the foundations of various management practices and thus further extend my professional skills.”

Craig Brown, Director, Evaluator

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

Why SharePoint training sometimes doesn’t deliver (and what to do about it)

Send to Kindle

image

I was surprised to see the recent SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome post got some traction in the interweb. As it happened, that particular post was kicking around in an unfinished state for months. The thing is, its not the only “home truth” type of post that I have sitting in my “drafts” folder. I also have one on the state of the SharePoint training market. Given that I have a training announcement to make, I thought that I would combine them.

A day in the life…

We recently worked on a SharePoint upgrade project, where the previous developers did an excellent job overall. That is…if you judge them on the SharePoint governance metrics of writing clean and maintainable code, packaging it up properly, not hacking away at system files and actually writing documentation.

Unfortunately, although they did an excellent job through that lens, the actual solution, when judged on whether users found that it made their life easier, it was an epic fail. Users hated it with passion and like many solution that users hate, the system was soon relegated to being a little-used legacy platform where the maintenance costs now outweighed the benefits. The organisation had invested a couple-hundred thousand dollars on this solution and saw very little value for that money. Accordingly, they took their business elsewhere…to us. After a workshop, the client had one of those inverse “aha” moments when they realised that if they had taken a little more time to understand SharePoint, the custom solution would have never been developed in the first place.

This sort of example, to me, highlights where SharePoint governance goes so wrong. The care and diligence the developers exercised was necessary, but clearly not sufficient. No matter what the quality of the code, the unit testing regime and its packaging, at the end of the day a blueberry pie was baked and the client wanted an apple pie. The problem was not in the ingredients or the baking. The problem was that by the time they delivered the pie, it was clear that the wrong recipe was used. In the above case, the developer had omitted a whole raft of critical considerations in creating the solution – none of which were covered in developer training.

Necessary but not sufficient…

image

When you think about it, the current approach to SharePoint training seems not to be about recipes, but all about ingredients. Trainees get shipped off to “boot camps” for an indoctrination of all of the ingredients in the cupboard (and SharePoint is a bloody big cupboard!). SharePoint features and components are examined in individual detail, usually with an accompanying exercise or lab to demonstrate competency in that particular component. Graduates then return with a huge list of ingredients, but still no skills in how to develop the right recipes.

What exacerbates this problem is that training is siloed across disciplines. As an example: An “IT Pro” bootcamp will go into meticulous detail about performance, scalability and design aspects. Any considerations around development, information architecture and user engagement are seen through the lens of the infrastructure nerd. (Ah – who am I kidding… user engagement in an IT pro bootcamp has never happened. Smile)

Now consider for a second, how we design SharePoint sites. These days, it is common for people to actively discourage designing SharePoint solutions based on organisational departmental boundaries. (By organisational departmental boundaries I mean Marketing, HR, IT etc.) Why is this design approach frowned upon? Proponents claim that it tends to perpetuate  the problem of information silos and doesn’t stand the test of time, given that organisations tend to restructure just when your information architecture masterpiece is ready for prime time. In fact, the research organisation Jackob Neilsen did a study and found that task based structures (characterised by “My…” and “I need to…”) endured better than organisational based structures. Quoting from them:

In our study, task-based structures often endured better than intranets organized departmentally. In our user testing of intranets, we’ve also found that task-based navigation tends to facilitate ease-of-learning. Thus, the benefits for IA durability are just one more argument in favor of adopting a task-based structure for your intranet.

So what I find ironically funny is the second sentence of the Jackob Neilsen quote: “Ease-of-learning.” I wonder what sort of learning they are talking about? Presumably something other than delivering a failed solution with some really nice programming governance behind it! Yet the way SharePoint training is designed and marketed actually compartmentalises SharePoint training into similar silos. The result? Students get a rose coloured view of the SharePoint world, based on their discipline. This is because, as Ackoff brilliantly put it,  “complexity is in the eye of the beholder – the other persons job always looks simple”.

By the way, what I am highlighting is not the fault of the trainers because at the end of the day, they respond to what they think the market wants. Sadly, what the market thinks it wants is often not what it needs.

I feel that the missing link – and most critical aspect of SharePoint training for practitioners – is not about how many ingredients you know, but how you go about creating those recipes. Yet SharePoint training overly focuses on what each ingredient does in isolation – whether a job discipline or a particular component. Whilst I fully accept that knowing the ingredients is a necessity, it is clearly not sufficient. This is an airbrushed version of reality, without due consideration of how ingredients combine in unique scenarios. Accordingly, this training does nothing to teach how to achieve shared understanding between practitioner and the eventual users who have to live with the legacy of what is delivered.

When you think about it, shared understanding is what makes or breaks SharePoint success because it is the pre-requisite to shared commitment to a solution. As demonstrated by the example of great code underpinning a crap solution, lack of shared understanding and commitment will always trump any other good work performed.

What to do about it…

SharePoint is a product that often requires adaptive change on the part of users. Learning the capabilities of the product is one thing – changing entrenched collaborative practice is another altogether. In case you haven’t noticed before, users tend not to be charmed by new, shiny features if they cannot see how it will make their jobs easier. (Nerdy knowledge workers like you and me easily get seduced by shiny things but our world view is seriously skewed compared to those who live on the coal face of organisations). Thus, the skills required to facilitate change and align various roles, require a different type of training course: one that integrates rather than compartmentalises. One that teaches how to synthesise the whole, rather than reductionise into the parts.

For such a course, no virtual machines are needed because there are no labs to demonstrate competence in some SharePoint component that will be out of date by SharePoint vNext. Instead, such a course needs to focus on the concepts, patterns and practices that are typically not seen in the IT practitioners toolkit (and for that matter, not seen in many complex mainstream IT/PM methodologies). The added bonus for such a course is that the skills and learning’s it provides are applicable beyond SharePoint and even beyond IT itself. While a typical SharePoint might give you mileage for the current version, a course like what I describe will give you tools that you can use anywhere, irrespective of the technology and project.

Does such a class exist? (Is that the longest post you have ever read to get to such a rhetorical question? Smile )

Of course it exists – I’ve been running it around the world for a couple of years now. It’s called the SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture Class (#SPGovIA) and it was a year in the making and comes with lots of goodies, such as a CD with a sample performance framework, governance plan, SharePoint ROI calculator (spreadsheet) and sample mind maps of Information Architecture. The class was originally designed for Microsoft New Zealand, on behalf of 3Grow for the Elite program that used to certify gold partners for serious SharePoint competence. Since then its been run in the UK, Netherlands, US, Australia and New Zealand. Next month I will run classes in Singapore and Hong Kong.

For my US readers, early next year I will be taking the course on the road, specifically Canada and the USA in Feb 2012. This course is not run often, because for me the US is a damn long way to travel and my time is tight these days! So I sincerely hope that if this sort of class sounds interesting to you, then you will consider being part of it. Michal Pisarek has already made an announcement for classes in Vancouver, and more details will be forthcoming for one or two US cities. I only have time for 2 classes in North America, so which city should it be?

For more detail on the class, head on over to www.spgovia.com. While there, click the Media link and watch the first half hour of the class. I look forward to seeing you there.

image

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle

SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome

Send to Kindle

Hiya

I have been wrong about many things – I am happy to admit that. In SharePoint land, one of my bigger naive assumptions was that in early 2007, I figured I’d have maybe a 6 month head start before the rest of the industry began to learn from its initial SharePoint deployment mistakes and start delivering SharePoint “properly.” I thought that I’d better make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, as the market would tighten up as more players entered it.

Yet here we are, heading to the latter half of 2011 – some five years later. As I continue to go into organisations, whether in a SharePoint remedial capacity, or a training/architect capacity, I am still seeing the legacy of really poor SharePoint outcomes. Furthermore I am seeing other, frankly disturbing trends that leave me both concerned and pessimistic. I now have a label for this concern: “SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome.” SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome is hard to define, yet its effects are there for all to see. I suffer from it at times, and I am certain others do too. As an example, recently on the Perth SharePoint User Group on LinkedIn the following topic for discussion was raised:

Hi folks, as you already know we have a worrying skills shortage in SharePoint Development / Architecture in Perth and things are getting worse. It’s getting to the stage where companies have to suspend or worse still abandon their SharePoint projects due to lack of available talent. As the core of the SharePoint community in Perth your suggestions are vital towards finding real solutions to this growing problem. What can be done?

Now I know that this problem is not just limited to Perth. There are consistently reports online that speak of SharePoint people being in demand. So you would think that in a “hot” sector like SharePoint, where the industry is crying out for talent, that the rate of attrition would not outpace the uptake of new talent. After all – money talks, right? If you are a .NET developer with half a brain, there is serious money to be made in SharePoint development land. On top of that, there is the collective realisation in the marketplace that actually talking to people about how SharePoint could make their lives easier, leads to better outcomes. Hence the emergence of this notion of a “SharePoint Architect” with a more varied skill-set that just tech or dev. This role has further been legitimised by entire conferences now just catering to the business this end of the market (I am thinking the Share conferences here).

So, we have all of this newfound collective wisdom spreading through the community via various channels, in terms of the skills and roles required in SharePoint circa 2011 and beyond. We have the fat pay-packets being commanded as a result of demand for these skills. So, with that in mind, why is the attrition rate growing?

As an example, I know personally, several exceptional SharePoint practitioners who are no longer in SharePoint. I’ve also had various quiet conversations with many SharePoint practitioners, right up to SharePoint MCM’s, who vent their various frustrations on how difficult it is to get truly lasting SharePoint solutions in their clients and organisations. I’ve reflected on the various reasons I have come to the conclusion that SharePoint is just plain tiring. As a result, people are burning themselves out.

7 causes of SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome…

Burnout, in case you are not aware, is actually a lack of emotional attachment to what you are doing.  Quoting about.com:

The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement.” He originally defined ‘burnout’ as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.

SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome is SharePoint manifested burnout. The symptoms include feeling physically and emotionally drained, difficulty maintaining optimism and energy levels, feeling that you have less to give as the burden of work seems overwhelming. Sound familiar?

So why does SharePoint work run this risk? I see 7 major reasons.

1: Cost pressure leading to overwork

First up, the lure of the big dollar is a double edged sword. Not long ago I shared a beer with a SharePoint developer who’s work I respect greatly, yet I can’t afford to hire. This is because the percentage of chargeable hours he would need to work just so I can break even, is very high. This puts me (the employer) under pressure and at risk. As a result, I need to ensure that my newly minted SharePoint employee is productive from day 1 and I need him to work a lot of hours. But here is the irony. When I had my beer with this developer, the conversation started with him lamenting to me that he is already pulling ridiculous hours (60 to 80 per week). He was looking for a job with less hours and yet more money. This is simply not sustainable, both for employer and employee. The more you chase one (work hours vs. money), the more you lose the other it seems.

2: Structures that force an inappropriate problem solving paradigm (and wicked problems of course)

Then there is the broader problem where structure influences behaviour. As a basic example: from the developers’ perspective, they have to put up with sales guys who promise the world, and project managers who then make their life hell and force them to cut corners delivering the impossible. Project managers find out that their beloved work breakdown structure gets chopped and changed when their pain-in-the-ass developers whine that they can’t make the schedule. As I have stated many times previously, SharePoint project are likely to have wicked problem aspects to them. The structures that work well to deliver tame problems, such as Exchange, a VOIP system or a network upgrade, are much less effective for SharePoint projects. While organisations persist with approaches that consistently fail to deliver good outcomes, and don’t look at the structural issues, the attrition rate will continue. There is only so much that someone can take putting up with these sorts of stresses.

3: Technical complexity

SharePoint’s technical complexity plays a part too. No-one person understands the product in its entirety. The closest person I know is Spence and ages ago on twitter he remarked that even within Microsoft no-one understood it all. As a result, it is simply too easy to make a costly mistake via an untested assumption. (I thought the user profile service was tough – until I did federated claims authentication and multitenancy that is). The utter myriad of features, design options and their even greater number of caveats, mean that one can make a simple design mistake that causes the entire logical edifice of an information architecture to come crashing down. Many have experienced the feeling of having to tell someone that the project time and cost is about to blow out because nobody realised that, say,  Managed Metadata has a bunch of issues that precludes its use in many circumstances. Accordingly, SharePoint architects learn pretty quickly that it is hard to answer a definite “yes” to many questions, because to do so would require a question worded like a contractual clause, to ensure it is framed with appropriate caveats. Even then, consultants would know that lingering feeling in the back of their mind that they might have missed an assumption. This brings me onto…

4: Pace of change

This is BIG…and becoming more acute. Remember the saying ‘The only certainties in life are death and taxes?’ Outside of that, the future is always unpredictable.

In between SharePoint 2003 and SharePoint 2007, the wave of Web 2.0 and social networking broke, forever changing how we collaborate and work with information online (and some of those effects are still to be felt). Microsoft, like any smart organisation, responds to the sentiment of its client base. Microsoft also, like most mature organisations, tends to hedge its bets in terms of marketplace strategy in which it tries to get in on the act with the cool kids, yet tries not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. Just look at Windows 8’s new interface, tablets, app stores and the cloud.

But that is one facet. Change happens in many forms and at many scales. For example, at a project level, it may mean a key team member leaves the organisation suddenly (SharePoint fatigue no doubt). At a global and organisational level, events like the odd global financial crisis force organisations to change strategic focus very quickly indeed.

I don’t know about you, but when Windows 8 was announced recently I was not excited (in fact I was not excited by SharePoint 2010 either). I thought to myself “So soon? I am still figuring out the current platform!”

As an example of the effect of pace of change, consider all the Government 2.0 initiatives around the world. Collaboration is in-vogue baby, so information should be free and government agencies should engage with the community. While that’s nice and all, there is the world of compliance, security and records management that takes a very different view. So, we end up with market forces that push against each other in combination with vendors hedging strategy of being all things to all people. It’s little wonder that SharePoint projects become very complex very fast.

By the way, it is worthwhile checking out what Bill Brantley in this post sums up the whole government 2.0 issue when he said:

What exactly is the nature of the Gov 2.0 challenge? This question was inspired by Andrew Krzmarzick’s post (What Gov 2.0 Needs Now: Managers, Money and Models) and Christina Morrison’s post (What is Gov 2.0? A survey of Government IT pros) on the recent GovLoop survey about Gov 2.0. As Andrew and Christina argued, the survey demonstrates many differing perspectives on Gov 2.0 in terms of what it actually means and how to implement Gov 2.0. To me, this suggests that Gov 2.0 is the classic wicked problem

5: SharePoint Entropy

One of my clients (who you will meet in my book when it’s published), once said to me “All good ideas eventually deteriorate into hard work.” This is a nice way to lead into the concept of SharePoint entropy, which in some ways is the inevitable outcome from the first four symptoms. The easiest way to understand entropy is to watch this awesome TV series called the “Wonders of The Universe.” In that show, the concept of entropy was discussed and for me made a lot of intrinsic sense. Without getting into the detail, entropy is the notion that over time things move from an organised to less organised state. Rather than have me waste your time trying to explain it in prose, let’s listen to the show in question. (Don’t skip the video – this is important!)

Now what does this has to do with SharePoint fatigue? Gordon Whyte saw what I am getting at with his post on entropy within organisations, especially in relation to change management.

For example, when we build a car we take raw materials such as metal, leather, plastic and glass and arrange them in a highly organised way to make a car. But if we then leave that car for long enough the metal will rust, the glass will become brittle and break and the leather will dry out and turn to dust. If the car is left for a very long time it will eventually disappear altogether. This thought left me wondering about the nature of organisations. If a progression from order to chaos is the natural order of the universe, then is this same pressure present in organisations and, perhaps more importantly, what is the optimum position for an organisation between the extremes of rigid inflexibility (low entropy) and complete chaos (high entropy)? This question is not as crazy as it might at first appear”

Gordon has nailed the issue in his post. Any SharePoint solution that has a low entropic nature requires more energy and effort to maintain that order and control. Complex SharePoint solutions often have complex governance wrapped around them. Governance that is process and structure centric by definition, has low entropy and accordingly, needs higher effort to maintain over time. In fact, if you do not maintain that effort and energy, then any SharePoint solution will usually disintegrate back into the sort of information management chaos that gave rise to SharePoint in the first place!  Rather like the sandcastle in the video.

By the way, I feel that email and file shares are high entropy solutions – all failed SharePoint projects lead back to these tools because they require less structure to maintain (in the short term).

In short, if SharePoint is implemented with low entropy, more energy is needed to maintain it. Remove the energy and very quickly, things become chaotic again. Governance approaches that are not cognisant of this will never stand the test of time. The question then becomes whether people feel that the end in mind is worth the perceived extra effort that is being asked of them.

6. Social complexity

Social complexity is also somewhat of a result of the first five symptoms. Most organisations have a blame culture. If they didn’t, then people wouldn’t spend so much time trying to position themselves for blame avoidance. Social complexity is the result of turf wars, ideological smackdowns and all of the other sort of things that result in the cliché of “the silos” where people are not talking to each-other in organisations. SharePoint exacerbates social complexity for two main reasons.

Firstly, because it is a collaboration tool, it actually requires some collaboration to put it in! This is often easier said than done. Secondly, because it is a pervasive and disruptive technology, it almost always clashes with an established tool, process or practice where proponents aren’t willing to change. In fact, they may not even recognise that there is a problem to solve – especially when SharePoint has been thrust upon them. (In an old post, I wrote about the notion of memeplexes and the ideological immune mechanisms that they create and why it is so hard to get shared understanding across departmental boundaries in organisations. Memetic smackdowns are the result).

The long and the short of social complexity is that there is only so much stress people can take. We all seem to have a pathological need to seek order and safety, rather then remain in a stressful situation. Once social complexity bites, the merry-go-round of staff attrition really starts to bite…

7. Meaning over motivation…

Now if I haven’t completely depressed you, let me offer you a perverse glimmer of light. For those of us who understand the preceding 6 fatigue symptoms, recognise them for what they are and take steps to mitigating them, there is one other symptom that contributes to SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome. This is the trickiest of all – and I am a somewhat willing victim of it.

I have spent a lot of time learning techniques to help address the symptoms I outlined here and as it turns out, these skills are universally applicable, whether in SharePoint, IT or beyond IT. For years now, I have metaphorically had one foot out of the SharePoint world door and the other foot into the world of construction, health and management sectors. Hell…I have written what I think is the first business book ever by a SharePoint person that is a non SharePoint and non IT. I also have clients with SharePoint deployments who do not know me as a SharePoint person at all, but only as a sensemaker (and for that I am grateful.)

The point is this: While the investment in these skills enables me to counter the effects of SharePoint fatigue syndrome, it is also inexorably pulling me away from SharePoint work. It seems that once you crack this nut a little, your skills are in demand across the entire problem solving spectrum. Right now this is my coping mechanism for SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome – I get to step away from SharePoint for periods and work on something else. Eventually…inevitably…I will also be one of those attrition statistics.

Conclusion:

The problem is that SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome is a negatively reinforcing cycle. As evidenced by the SharePoint attrition rate, money isn’t that great a motivator. If it was, then the void of skilled resources would have been filled by now. Paying more money might give you a short term gain, but in the long term is not going to address my seven causes of SharePoint Fatigue Syndrome.

I will leave this admittedly negative sounding post with the key to breaking this cycle. While you can attend my SharePoint Governance and Information Architecture class or Issue Mapping Class to learn many ways, the video below says it all. I encourage you to watch and reflect on it, because it’s the same key point to understanding how to do effective user engagement.

 

Thanks for reading

 

Paul Culmsee

 Digg  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Technorati  Deli.cio.us  Slashdot  Twitter  Sphinn  Mixx  Google  DZone 

No Tags

Send to Kindle