The Key for Delivering Useful and Effective Solutions

The key for delivering useful and effective user centric solutions is simple. It is better to answer the “why” question and not the “what” question. Often I have found myself involved in projects that were already started only to discover that it was started by answering the “what” question. For example, an executive group may have made the choice to implement a mobile app, or they want to re-do the intranet, or re-design the website, or perhaps they want to be better connected in the social media arena.

Answering the “what” question is fine if you are trying to define requirements or goals but it is not an effective pillar on which to build the strategy for better User Experiences. The “what” tells us what to do with what exists or at least what is believed should exist within the constraints of our own perspectives. It however does not directly address what the needs of the user are and why those needs should be met. How would that translate into a better User Experience overall?

I remember a project that I worked on at Maxim. I was recruited right before they transferred 200+ servers, tens of thousands of users, and hundreds of thousands of files and documents. It was projected to take 3 months and about 12 resources (Developers, Server Administrators, Database Administrators, SharePoint 2010 Developers, etc.) working 8 – 10 hours a day. At the first meeting the complexity of this overwhelming task was discussed. When it was my turn I asked several simple questions: “Why do we have to move everything?”; “Is everything indispensable?”; “Has anyone checked the value and integrity of the folders, files, and user?”.

To my amazement, the project owner’s request to move everything was never questioned. This means they were answering the “what” question first (All files and folders for all users from all servers need to be move and replicated on a SharePoint environment.) instead of answering the “why” (Why is it so important to move everything?). This is especially bad when it is not known if the action that is about to be taken makes sense in the first place.

After working closely with the project manages, server administrators, and local IT administrator it was determined that what actually needed to be moved was only 20% of the files and folders and not 100% as originally thought. One reason was because some employees were no longer with the company. Another reason was because some folders and files had not been accessed in several years. Still another reason was that there were lots of duplicates floating around.

To remedy this, I created a 4 Step Strategy for the IT and server administrators for each office


Step 1: Back up everything

Step 2: Clean everything (If an employee had away from the company for more than 1 year, archive folders but do not transfer. Anything not accessed in 2 years or longer would be archived but not transferred. Utilize software that finds and compares duplicate files at the hex level and archive older duplicates but transfer the new ones).

Step 3: Develop a new site structure and create document, knowledge, archive, and template libraries to house commonly used documents.

Step 4: Identify user group types and create sub-master page templates tailored specifically to their needs.

By answering the “why” not the “what” the team transferred the files in 1/6 the projected time, using 1/3 of the originally planned resources, thereby saving the company a lot of money on man hours and equipment while delivering a much better user experience. So remember it is all about answering the “why” not the “what”.

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