BPC: Building Solutions That Users Get

How do you know which SharePoint solution is going to best serve your users? How do you know which approach you should take? Jennifer Mason offers simple, effective tips to addressing these and other questions in Building Solutions That Users Get.

The ultimate goal of any solution is to be successful—to be accepted, understood and embraced by your users. So how do you define what is considered a success? According to Mason, follow three guidelines:

  • Clearly defined goals
  • Roadmap
  • Measurement tools

Define your goals, figure out the roadmap so that you can get to those goals, and then measure or quantify the goal.

What makes a good goal? Mason notes that a good goal is achievable, practical, easily summarized in a few words, and incites a positive reaction from your users. "This one is important," Mason says, because you don't want to stress out your users. If they don't like or understand your solution, they won't use it; they'll find a workaround.

When you present your solution to your users, make sure you're speaking their language. "Most users don't know the difference between a list and a library—and they probably don't care that they don't know," Mason points out.

She outlines five common roadblocks to solution-deployment success:

1) Confusion: If your users don't understand why they need to use the solution or how it will help them, they'll just work around it.
Possible solution: Roll out your strategy in increments. Tell users why the solution is important before you try to teach them how to use it. Make them understand the value in the solution. And make sure you choose the right person to deliver the message.

2) Navigation: Once users access the site, they get lost and don't know how to find their way around.
Possible solution: Develop internal standards such as the three-click rule. Conduct user testing before the release. You don't want to make users mad at you or increase visits to the help desk. Users expect consistency; they want simplicity. "Once they're confused, that's very hard to undo," Mason states.

3) Automation: Things just happen, and users have no idea what is going on.
Possible solution: Plan for automation to match the user base and the skill level. Take baby steps to transition users to where you want them to be.

4) Requirements: Users didn't request that the solution do this, but they really needed it to do that.
Possible solution: Develop prototypes for requirements review and/or use cases. Involve business analysts to cover possible scenarios. Avoid using SharePoint terms; "tell me what you want in business terms," Mason says, then translate the request into SharePoint terms.

5) Training: Users have no idea how to use the solution.
Possible solution: Incorporate training into every solution you deploy—and cater that training to your audience. You know your audience better than anyone, Mason stresses, so you know what approach to take. Make them see the value and impact of the solution on the business.

Select the right tools for your solution, whether it's Visual Studio, lists, libraries or out-of-the-box SharePoint. Remember to consider two groups: solution designers, who have to make SharePoint do something, and solution users, who actually use SharePoint.

Look at what your solution designers know and what they have time to learn. If they don't know workflows, don't make the first project a complex workflow, Mason cautions. Instead of focusing on one six-month project, try breaking it down into six one-month projects.

Ask what your solution users are using today. What do they like about what they're currently using? What do they want to see improved? How well can they adapt to change? What risks are present if they don't adapt to the new system? "SharePoint is not going to change your organization," Mason states. "It's going to change how your organization works." So don't take away what your users already like.

When choosing your solution, understand the tradeoffs. Think about what you are giving up and what you're gaining. What do you need to consider?

Know the best practices, Mason says. Work with the team to understand the limitations on performance, supportability, backup and recovery. If you don't know, ask. If you don't know who to ask, try:

  • Local user groups
  • Blogs
  • MVPs
  • Forums, especially Microsoft's MSDN forums
  • Consultants
  • Training

Once you know what you're doing, choose the solution that works best for you and your organization, Mason suggests. Recognize that there could be situations that are out of your control, such as company mergers or legal/audit requirements.

Finally, "make the most out of it," Mason says. Identify what could have been done differently under different circumstances. Learn from the experience so you can do it differently next time. Document lessons learned, and learn as you go.

"Each new project is a new chance to implement something that you learned from the last one," she states.

For more information about the Best Practices Conference, check out the agenda or follow along on Twitter. For more information about Jennifer Mason, read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Check out our full coverage of the Best Practices Conference 2010:

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