Conference Notes

Notes on "Case Study on Assessing the Needs of Portal and Intranet Users", Aug 24

Julian Carver from Seradigm provided a Case Study on Assessing the Needs of Portal and Intranet Users. Key themes are fast, flexible and fun as way for assessing portal requirements for intranet users.

Assessing user needs for an intranet project requires covering off some key things … vision, goals for the project, prioritization of information types, and understanding how the project process will work. Options for doing this include interviewing people and writing up a document, but it takes time and experience. Another alternative is the Intranet Roadmap from Step Two Design in Australia. Two that Julian uses are “The World Cafe” and “Dotmocracy” are for doing an Intranet strategy in a day-long workshop.

The World Cafe helps with quickly defining vision and objectives for the session. There are a number of people at different tables, and someone is nominated as the note taker. Each table is asked to address one of the ideas. People are asked to brainstorm for 5 minutes. Everyone but the note-taker stands up and moves to another table. Dotmocracy is used for setting priorities on items. People are given 3-5 little colored dots, and people are asked to vote on the ideas that came up during the World Cafe brainstorm. The whole process can be done in 30 minutes.

The next step is to do clustering of ideas, user groups or consumers of information. This works by asking a directed question … eg, “what are the types of people who might create content for the Intranet” … and everyone has to write one idea per post-it note. People are then asked to stick the ideas on a large area on the wall, and to put like-with-like. Hexagonal post-it notes stick to the wall easier and sit side-by-side easier. One person is asked to draw lines around clusters of information.

A couple of other things to note:

  • What are the kinds of functions or tasks that people want to do through the Intranet? Can be done via World Cafe.
  • What’s the scope of the Intranet? Can be done via post-it notes.
  • What are the risks in the project process? Could take them through the Intranet Roadmap process. What parts can they do internally vs. outsource?

Primarily about personas and scenarios. Julian asked everyone to spend 30 seconds telling their neighbour about the worst experience they’ve had with an Intranet project. Julian did this as an example of how narrative and storytelling is natural to who we are as humans.

Personas gives a narrative way of designing stuff (known as “use cases” in software development). For the Lincoln University project, we developed a list of internal and external personas, and clustered them in terms of relevance. A persona would look like (with a photo):

Karina is a first year undergraduate student from Timaru, studying Tourism at Lincoln. She flats with three other Lincoln students in Riccarton. She wants to find information easily.

A scenario takes the persona and tells a story, eg, how the persona goes about meeting their goals. Doing it this way, rather than a list of requirements, gives the context of why doing stuff is important.

How do personas and scenarios get developed? There are professionals who do this for a living. To do it well requires quite a lot of training. Within a New Zealand context, Miriam Walker is one such person. Alan Cox from LeftClick is another. You can do this inhouse, but Julian strongly recommends bringing in experts.

In Julian’s paper, he argues that we may be able to do the persona and scenario development work using Dave Snowdon‘s work. People in this method are reflected as cartoons to fully illustrate what they’re like and their work environment.

Julian asked another question … “what’s the best experience you’ve ever had with a technology RFP?” One of the things you can do with personas and scenarios is use it as part of the RFP. Have used it as Lincoln University.

There must be a better way of expressing functional requirements than a horrible table!

The vendors don’t take it seriously. People on the project get exhausted and tired of it. What’s the alternative? Sending out the personas and scenarios helps to cull vendors that can’t get it, and asking them to tailor their presentation to show how the system addresses the needs of the various personas and scenarios easily. Selection process can be done with post-it notes too … ranking the companies on Web Design Ability and Information Architecture Ability. The architecture group ranks according to architecture fit, and then another group shifts the post-it notes up based on web design ability. This helped make clear who was in the running. Other decision criteria can be ranked on a spider diagram.

How did it go?
The project came in on budget (not on time). They’ve started using some of these processes in other projects because it is easy to use and makes it go faster.

More resources are NZ Knowledge Management Network, Kiwi Intranets (at, and (obviously!) Julian’s site at Seradigm.

P.S. see Cognitive Edge for non-square Post-It notes!

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