sharepoint, community persona, intranet, design, Toby Elwin, blog

Community persona for SharePoint intranet design

Community persona, SharePoint, intranet, design, Toby Elwin, blog
If this is your design persona, no wonder why your SharePoint sites are boring

People caring about a common or shared goal is a critical key to social media’s success. Communities across the web come together to share and exchange around what they value. The key to sharing is what you share meets the need of who you shared with.

An intranet or SharePoint site design that leaves out understanding user need offers little more than propaganda for what you hope sells. Hope for a community to buy-in is not much of a strategy.

Conversely, community commitment happens when people return to seek value, exchange value, and contribute value with, and for, each other.

Can you build that? Yes, particularly when you start with a community persona strategy to identify end-user motivations and the transparency to contribute to their need.

An objective towards communication transparency is to move away from your intention to sell and closer to what you need to provide. If it was easy to create a community experience many web sites would. The effort to understand what the community values is an important step. Enter this, the 6th post within the Community Persona Design for Organizations series.

My goal, with this series:

Expand design principles into Organization Development (OD), Human Resources (HR), and Strategic Planning professions to deliver better business results.

The series has reviewed Community Persona frames from software, hardware, product and social media fields to improve any OD design in mind, from:

  • Training
  • Change Management,
  • Change Communication,
  • Facilitation,
  • Strategy Design,
  • Organization Design,
  • Employee Engagement,
  • Coaching,
  • Business Process Improvement,
  • Team Building, and
  • People/Project Management

The Community Persona introduction, so far, offers transferable goal-oriented design principles from software, hardware, and product models to the talent management profession. With this insight we increase our professional engagement as well as our business relevance. Whether software, product, and social media or organization development, human resources, and strategic planning people adoption is the success criteria.

I know these design principles work in our field and have used them for more than 5 years. These design principles have also increased my marketing skills to craft better communication, for end-user identification.

So much of what we do in business relies on Information Technology (IT). Sometimes IT speaks an alien language; as if OD or HR has never been accused of speaking an alien dialect ourselves. An additional benefit to read the Community Persona series is learning new lingo to allow us to speak geek to the IT designers. You can now hang in there when the IT crowd starts waxing on as if they are the lagniappe for your work.

The downside: IT won’t like to be held accountable when we say, “that is your implementation model, it has very little value to their mental model of how their work gets done … “.

You may wonder if this post is relevant if you do not design an intranet site, but the lessons here easily transfer to other design needs.

Also, if you read on, you may also find an intranet design a perfect alternative for your next change management and organization development need and this post will also lend insight into an intranet portal design.

Intranet Intentions

So, you have an intranet? Or, perhaps, did you know you had an intranet? Maybe you do have an intranet and do not even yet know, so, what can you do with it? Read on, you will.

How do you build an intranet, what is an intranet, and what, on earth, is SharePoint? Whether you do know, or not yet know, read on, you will.

In this blog, I introduce two opportunities to Design for Organizations:

  1. The growing organization investment into intranets and portals; and
  2. Interaction design models that Organization Development professionals can adopt to build effective engagement

In this blog Microsoft SharePoint application, as an Enterprise Application, is the tool I focus, but the design principles throughout work across any design application.

An intranet is a network of internal (social community) sites that people access through a web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. There are a number of ways intranets allow people to share and to highlight user-generated collaboration and employers build intranets to improve communication, leverage knowledge exchange, and increase organization effectiveness through portals that support:

  • Project and work team sites;
  • Communities and networks to answer questions and socialize content;
  • Organization development efforts;
  • Change management portfolios;
  • Blogging;
  • Business or division news portals;
  • Functional-area, policy, tool kits and libraries;
  • User-generated discussion boards; and
  • Formal or ad-hoc communities of practice

For any of the above to succeed an understanding of what motivates your target’s need highlights proves the difference between a design that is of little value and design that your target community finds is of value. You, as the content producer, meet your target, content consumer, need when you understand that the goal of the former have little to do with the motivation of the later.

An intranet is a community designed for involvement. Why design? In 4 design tools to meet persona context I mention:

In business we constantly design. By design I mean more than just products, goods, or services like cars and software, by design I include that we design meetings, we design strategy, we design communication, we design training, and we design projects and programs as a few items. Effective design can borrow quality tools from other professions and, with context, design for impact.

But a design, build, and host of any intranet portal needs to clarify the cost/benefit focus and the proper motivation from those who want to get it done to those who you got it done for: the portal end-user.

Sharing is Caring

SharePoint sample images

What is SharePoint? Your information technology department may or may not have introduced you to SharePoint, but SharePoint is a Microsoft Enterprise solution integrated within Microsoft Office [Word, Excel, Outlook email, PowerPoint] as well as your operating system’s file/folder/library structure.

SharePoint, as the name implies, is about sharing, and as a Microsoft enterprise application, SharePoint enables 2 things at the enterprise level:

  1. Publish and
  2. Collaborate

SharePoint threads through the entire suite of applications to allow you to save, share, tag, and publish content as well as aggregate the content on an intranet portal, like either of the 2 examples.

Still a bit esoteric for your world? OK, here’s another view of what SharePoint offers around how you may currently work:

  • Super-sized shared folders to include:  version control, workflow, and email alert features;
  • Files history you can review by version, by author, by date and recover any of those with a mouse click
  • File and folder audit trail for all manner of documents and media you can store; and
  • Project collaboration, team management, or community portal

The enterprise objective to invest in an intranet is to share the collected enterprise content. The sum of individual content is far greater than the parts. Knowledge exchange and collaboration provides competitive enterprise value.

If a picture paints 1,000 words, a YouTube video might explain it far better than 1,000 more words within this blog:

SharePoint Design Goal — Ready, Fire, Aim

Toby Elwin, community persona, portal, SharePoint, user interface, design, LinkedIn
LinkedIn to connections and content, in context

Similar to the dashboard in your car that aggregates and renders multiple sources of information at a glance, better portal design brings quantitative and qualitative information from diverse sources to represent an ease of assimilation.

LinkedIn, ESPN, and Amazon rely on design to present a dashboard of information relevant to the user-community experience they want to encourage and combine user-generated content with official source material.

Impressive portals rely on the design integration of the user-interface, navigation, and action-orientation. The design provides the layout to meet the most frequent need of the community.

SharePoint allows users 2 things:

  1. Publish and
  2. Collaborate

The objective is to provide a place where community is valued: for the community and by the community. Though all portals, each example below seeks an identity with their own community:

Toby Elwin, SharePoint, community persona, design, user interface, Amazon
Amazons to connect content in your context

In design, or interface, the value of the experience is ultimately decided by the end-user or community perspective.

The trouble: a lot of users means a lot of user opinions and user needs to meet. The danger, without a community persona design, is to be all things to no one.

Is there one example of good design? No, however, there are familiar approaches to good design.

3 Models Who Should Never Meet … But May

So how do you design with multiple opinions of effective as well as multiple levels of need?

1st, focus on Personas.

Personas are derived from patterns observed during interviews with and observations of users and potential users (and customers) of a product. The key to investigate a persona:

  1. Focus on what their needs to meet their goals,
  2. Focus on what their needs are to execute tasks, and
  3. Focus the design to answer their questions

2nd, focus on the models people use to make sense of their world. We in Organization Development (OD) may be familiar with mental models, but the software, hardware, and product design professions work with models to meet their context in a slightly different way for their profession? Only a failure of imagination would stop a curious professional from taking a look at their use of models.

A bit more mental-model perspective outside the design field:

Mental models provide a unified account of deductive [versus inductive], probabilistic, and modal reasoning. People deduce that a conclusion is necessary – it must be true — if it holds in all of their models of the premises; they infer that it is probable — it is likely to be true — if it holds in most of their models of the premises, and they infer that it is possible — it may be true — if it holds in at least one of their models of the premises.

A mental model represents one possibility, capturing what is common to all the different ways in which the possibility may occur. Mental models represent explicitly what is true, but not what is false. These characteristics lead naive reasoners into systematic errors.

The greater the number of models that a task elicits, and the greater the complexity of individual models, the poorer performance is. Reasoners focus on a subset of the possible models of multiple-model problems – often just a single model – and are led to erroneous conclusions and irrational decisions. source: mentalmodelsblog [emphasis added]

Now we may keep in mind, or need to be reminded, that people construct mental models to make sense of beliefs, process facts, justification, or possibility for change; all within their reason. And we know that mental models help process new or existing information. For example: what you think, what you articulate, and what someone interprets are all based on their mental models.

Mental models relate to the design world and for Alan Cooper’s view there are 3 models software, hardware, and product designers should understand in their effort to improve design; from Cooper e al’s book About Face 3: Essentials of Interaction Design:

  1. Implementation model — the representation of how a machine or a program actually works, an implementation model describes the details of the way a program is implemented in code, in draft, in the initial pilot design;
  2. Represented model — The way designers choose to represent the working of the program to the user … unlike the other two models, is an aspect of software over which designers have great control. One of the most important goals of the designer should be to make the represented model match the mental model of users as closely as possible. It is therefore critical that designers understand in detail the way their target users think about the work they do with the software; and
  3. User Mental models — the way users perceive the jobs they need to do and how the program helps them do it is their mental model of interaction with the software. It is based on their own ideas of how they do their jobs and how computers might work.*

Mental Model example:

A user’s mental model doesn’t necessarily have to be true or accurate, but it should enable him to work effectively. For example, most nontechnical computer users imagine that their video screen is the heart of their computer. This is only natural because the screen is what they stare at all the time and is the place where they see what the computer is doing. If you point out to a user that the computer is actually a little chip of silicon in that black box sitting under his desk, he will probably shrug and ignore this pointless (to him) bit of information. The fact that the CPU isn’t the same thing as the video display doesn’t help him think about how he interacts with his computer even though it is a more technically accurate concept.

Understanding how software actually works always helps someone to use it, but this understanding usually comes at a significant cost. One of the most significant ways in which computers can assist human beings is by putting a simple face on complex processes and situations. As a result, user interfaces that are consistent with users’ mental models are vastly superior to those that are merely reflections of the implementation model.

If the … software [solution, communication, training design] closely follows users’ mental models, it eliminates needless complexity from the user interface by providing a cognitive framework that makes it evident to the user how his goals and needs can be met.*[emphasis added]

The benefit of goal-oriented design is evident for your design thoughts to structure your page layout and SharePoint usability. Interaction design (IxD) optimizes page layout and usability around user experience (UX). Jakob Nielsen offers usability guiding principles:

The ease with which users learn to use a web site, how efficient they are when using it, how easy it is for them to remember how to use it and how satisfied they are when they use it

The most effective starting point is to design a portal with a user experience in mind. Presenting an effective, SharePoint portal, interface is subjective to how you present information, data, and communication to multiple stakeholders or an overarching community persona archetype.

‘Effective’ relates the design to the multiple persona end goals within the community persona overall.

‘Effective’ relies on understanding and what effective means to the community of user stakeholders, the community of user stakeholder motivations, and the community of user stakeholder tasks. Wasting resources is not effective. Imagine the resources wasted on poorly-designed SharePoint intranet portals:

  1. The design team,
  2. The implementation team,
  3. The communication team, and
  4. The target audience

There are 2 recommended ways to get to a community’s persona goal.

  1. Ask them and
  2. Define/refine an archetype of them

Start goal-oriented design with a community persona strategy articulated for what your end-user need is meet using the following:

  • What needs do the community personas have to answer?
  • What needs do the community personas have to accomplish?
  • What needs do do the community personas have to achieve?

How would you get these answers … ask them to articulate and find out. As in find out what their frustrations are with current solutions:

  • Find out their process steps;
  • Find out what they need to do their current jobs;
  • Find out their current tasks; and
  • Find out the current steps involved to get things done

Follow up those questions with a sketch of the community persona involved. Use this template as a guide, at a high-level review. Fill in 1 for each unique persona that builds the community identity:

Toby Elwin, community persona, template, design
select to open Word .docx Community Persona template

Goal-oriented design, as espoused by Alan Cooper and picked up by others, mitigates the gap between the implementation model of how you could build something with to the end-users’ mental model of what works for them.

Successful design reduces the gap and delivers to the need of the end-user. Unsuccessful design despite great coding, great material, or great effort, is useless if the design target does not adopt or utilize your design.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

No One Wants To Feel Stupid

Keep yourself in sight when you design. Is it ever the best approach for receptive learning when someone has embarrassed you or made you feel stupid? How well you know the tool to design does not provide always assure the design provides people with the confidence to learn.

Valuing individuals and interactions means project team members having lots of opportunity to verbally communicate and collaborate throughout the project life cycle. Yet design is often carried out in isolation away from the project team, which drastically reduces interaction and collaboration. Why do designers prefer to work in their private space?**

As you design remind yourself that you know this subject, the goal is not a dissertation on what you know, but what you want to convey for others to know. Their confidence to learn equals their competence to contribute.

Design without content and development is little more than an abstract concept with no value until it is brought to life and used by someone.**

Design principles provide a rich resource to any endeavor that seeks connection with others to impact their need. For initial designs form over function keeps the user mental model above design, then constantly look to iterate towards form equals function as an ongoing principle.

SharePoint Community Persona

With the above design principles discussions with IT for their help to build a SharePoint intranet portal will move faster to meet more organization and enterprise objectives. And SharePoint has some out-of-the-box capability to mix and match designs without IT involvement, to create intranet portals as easily as you create PowerPoint presentations or email newsletters.

Motivating others to care relies on their motivation to care. When you understand what they care about, you more likely provide things they care about. With user mental models at the fore, you create sites and communities that are both adopted, because they are relevant, and utilized, because they are valued, at a higher rate.

I invite others to learn and adopt more from these fields as the focus on the target needs of the end-user community and to increase buy-in, adoption, change management, and utility.

Community Persona Intranet Design Sources:

*About Face 3: Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin

**Agile Experience Design: A Digital Designer’s Guide to Agile, Lean, and Continuous (Voices That Matter) by Lindsay Ratcliffe and Marc McNeill

Community Persona Design for Organizations

  1. Buyer persona for organization strategy and development
  2. Community persona for organization development
  3. 4 design tools to meet persona context
  4. Community persona resource and influence timeline
  5. Communication with goal-oriented design and community persona strategy
  6. Community persona for SharePoint intranet design
  7. Community persona reaction for functional design
  8. Community persona for change management
  9. Community persona for project management
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Comments 4

  1. Very thorough analysis.. Highlights the importance of creating an environment /sites that will meet the needs of the users… the more you know about how they will use it, their pain points, and where they are starting from, the better solution you can create and higher the changes of getting actual adoption…. which is what really matters.

    1. Post

      If end-user adoption was not a goal it stretches the imagination why a business would invest a penny.

      Obviously, there was a business case rolling out enterprise applications, software, hardware, training, or any host of people-related programs without an user-requirement understanding you are left with an incredible opportunity to waste resources.

      What is the starting point you’ve found successful in client/sponsor discussion?

  2. A good starting point is a clear, shared definition of success. Starting projects with a clear view of the current state and desired future state with a project plan that leads from where you are to where you are going is important. Begin with the end in mind!

    1. Post

      I agree more with desired future state, current state autopsy can open up turf wars and political nightmares. Focus on future state can shape what can be over what currently is.

      How do you move stakeholders from resistance to engagement in your experiences with current state as clear views are rarely shared views?

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