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This is part two of this blog post, part one can be found here. Most organizations start SharePoint portal projects with ambitious visions of increased employee engagement, productivity, and innovation. Strategy is the link between visions and reality…the plan for turning corporate goals into real behavior changes.
By now, you should be getting closer to answering the big question of, "How do I bring my organization's strategy to life through the design of our new portal?" You've got a list of corporate objectives that you need to contribute to. You've got a list of things portals are good at doing. But there's still something missing. And it's the most important ingredient in this whole thing: your employees and how they work.
The organization's objectives and corporate strategic intent will ultimately trickle down to everyone's jobs and will inform what people do on a daily basis. This is where big-S Strategy's rubber hits the road, brought to life in the actions of employees across the company.
You have two choices to address the relationship between what your portal needs to do and how your employees work. You can start with portal features and go looking for employee problems to solve with those features. Or you can start with employee needs and ask yourself, "How can our portal meet those needs? How can we best design content and enable features for our employees that derive the most benefit and create organizational value?" We recommend the latter – start with employee need.
The key to understanding where your portal fits in your organization's strategic context is to think less about the technology, and more about the work. Your portal users have jobs they need to get done. Their jobs are not to browse the portal, use a social network, or even share a file. Real employee jobs are more like this:
When you find a fit between what portals are good at doing and people's jobs to be done, your portal strategy will create real value.
Your portal's fit—the spot where your portal creates the most value for your organization—occurs where your features and content overlap with your co-workers' jobs to be done. If your strategy only consists of new features and content but not on the things people need to do on a day-to-day basis, you're missing a big opportunity, spending money that will never demonstrate a return.
It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to research and understand the jobs to be done inside of an organization is to actually talk to employees. Get away from your desk (and possibly your comfort zone) and find out how work really happens.
Of course, you may not have an opportunity to interview your co-workers before a strategy has been explicitly articulated for the new portal, but if given a choice, do it. That way your portal strategy is grounded in the practical, real-world needs of your co-workers.
Who are your portal users? Employees, managers, leaders—anyone you can get your hands on! The most reliable method for researching needs is through live interviews, either in-person or on the phone. Don't worry about the quantitative concept of sample size, typically associated with surveying. Interviewing is a qualitative method, performed to gain insights and new knowledge about your current situation. You want insights and ideas for what the portal is and might become, not statistical inference or validation of ideas across the organization.
Your interviews will uncover dozens of pains that employees face on a daily basis. You'll get detailed descriptions of tasks you never knew existed. You'll hear about things the portal can help with, and some things it can't.
Now it's time to sift through those notes and play detective, uncovering facts, and returning to the question, "How can the portal help my co-workers succeed?" It means considering both the big statements of strategic intent, as well as the tactics used by employees in their day-to-day jobs.
At this point, you might start feeling a bit of vertigo in your research activities as you zoom from a leader's high-level statements about their mission to create sustainable financial growth, down to a clerk's detailed description of their business processes involving three Excel spreadsheets, a complicated piece of enterprise accounting software, and several Post-it notes stuck to the side of his monitor. Dizzy yet?
This body of data tends to yield three important insights about employee needs and jobs to be done if you stare at it long enough:
As a (who) I would like to (what) so that I can (why) .
Turn this into a small 3-part statement that captures the idea:
A highly practical activity, and one that you may have already performed prior to selecting a portal, is capturing those needs and codifying them as "requirements" of the portal software. The three-part user story format includes not only the "who" and the "what", but, most importantly, the "why".
At some point you'll need a detailed description of what you want your future portal to do. Your interviews are a great starting point to gather those things, link them to the corporate strategy, and understand the needs of your employees all at the same time. You'll start to hear the local "why"—the way strategy shows up in the everyday. Your job is to keep track of how those things map back to the global "why", and demonstrate how the concrete example of posting inventory numbers to the portal can help the abstract and global strategy of creating sustainable financial growth or improving employee productivity.
Business objectives = Things portals are good at doing + Employee jobs-to-be-done.
It's time to shift focus from what the portal needs to look like and how employees will use it, and start to think about how you're going to pull this strategy off. It's one thing to talk about increasing collaboration in the organization through the use of the portal. It's another to bring that promise to life.
Your portal's strategy (what it can do for the organization) is different than your strategy for the portal project (how you are going to design, build, launch, and operate it). In order to realize the strategic possibilities of the portal (all of those great things you want it to do and benefits you want it to derive), you're going to need to address questions. Here are five questions, loosely based on a Harvard Business Review article called, "Bringing Science to the Art of Strategy," by Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley that outline the process of going from the big ideas you've gathered to planning the next steps.
You should have a firm grasp of the answer to question #1 at this point, through interviews, desk research, and meetings that seek to understand the strategic intent and objectives for the portal, the jobs that need to be done, and your organization's broader goals. You should be able to rattle off these items in elevator pitch fashion.
The rest of the questions take your aspirational statements of strategic intent and bring them back to the practical matters you'll face ahead, asking the questions: "What's going to derail my strategy? And what am I going to do about it? What tasks do I need to perform to mitigate the risks my portal is going to face?"
We believe the most useful tasks you can start on now are the answers to those questions. Managing risk effectively is how good projects survive and thrive.
Hopefully the fog is lifting and you have a better sense than when you started as to how you're going to tackle the question of the portal. Not only do you have a sense of the solution, you also know what problems you're solving. As you start to gain traction and momentum in your portal project, you'll continue to encounter some common portal issues that will shape and influence your journey:
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