When it comes to enterprise collaboration, how can you build a portal that your employees will adopt? The answer isn’t exactly a secret; it’s all about user research. Understanding exactly how your workers like to solve problems, find information, and accomplish their goals is the foundation for creating successful enterprise portals and a positive work culture – and a profit. User research is also key to user adoption. No business wants to build an expensive intranet or extranet that never gets used.

How can user research make such a difference? Consider this: You likely know very little about how your workforce actually engages with digital technologies.

  • What are their predominant technology preferences and workflows? What devices do they use, and at what point in their day?
  • How do they like to solve problems, and what tools do they need in order to do so?
  • What major obstacles do they face in getting their work done – like inefficient document management systems, poorly designed search functions, obscure information architectures, etc.?
  • What are their driving goals and motivations, versus the tasks assigned in their job descriptions?
  • Where are they in terms of their employee experience journeys – either in their career, or with your company?
  • What are the informal collaboration networks that cut across the official hierarchy of the organizational chart?
  • What message does your internal technology send about the kind of company you are – not to mention, your capacity to survive in a competitive, disruptive environment?

User research identifies all of your employees’ key behavior patterns, analyzes how the patterns group across your workforce, and helps prioritize where you should focus your resources. The ultimate goal is to create collaboration. User research helps build successful portals that streamline workflows and distribute valuable information and content throughout your enterprise. A strong portal also helps you better circulate knowledge, experience, and wisdom – protecting human capital, and generating the financial kind.

How can you hit this sweet spot? DEG’s Enterprise Collaboration team offers user research services in the form of a Discovery process. Usually a discovery takes place at the beginning of a project or build, but we can also perform an audit or validation process at any time.


The Case for User Reseach

How a discovery works

To carry out user research, we gather qualitative data through both interviews and direct observation. However, we also incorporate quantitative analysis such as surveys and analytics, if any of those are available. For interviews, we send in a research team to talk with both users and project stakeholders about how they like to use technology to accomplish their goals. Our team usually consists of both an interviewer and a note taker. These teams all have training in user experience. Their backgrounds combine human research and interviewing skills, as found in disciplines from journalism to cultural anthropology, as well as a depth of technical knowledge.

Obviously, a good user sample should focus on the users. The number of interviews ultimately depends on the number of user roles that you have in your system, but in a perfect world we would be able to get at least three user interviews per user role. For a discovery discussions overall, we like to keep the user/ stakeholder balance at about 80/20. Ideally, we also talk to a mix of stakeholders, meaning those on the front lines as well as in management. (Caution: A discovery process is not a substitute for your own internal stakeholder process, where you get key decision-makers on board with your project, although the two processes do often intertwine.)

The scope and timeline for a discovery can be tailored to your project and budget. The average discovery usually runs about six to eight weeks, with two weeks focused on the user interviews. However, if you have a smaller project or have carried out another research project recently (and you understandably don’t want to burn out your staff on doing yet more interviews), we can modify the research plan to use surveys and validation interviews instead, all carried out over a shorter time period.


What you get from a discovery

The core deliverable of a discovery is usually a business requirements document containing a basic set of personas and context scenarios. A persona is a composite behavioral model that captures how various segments of your users approach tools and tasks online. By the way, don’t let the word “model” scare you – our elements for an enterprise-based persona include a short narrative plus basic demographic information, major attributes, goals, pain points, technology preferences, informational needs and tasks, etc.

Once we have established your personas, the next step is to develop context scenarios – to describe how a key persona might behave in certain situations, and what tools they need either to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities. A context scenario – such as a Day in the Life sequence – essentially provides a short script to help you understand what a certain persona requires for the portal design. An alternative scenario is the Employee Experience Journey, which takes into account where a certain persona is in their overall career, as well as in their tenure with your company. Yet another is a Collaboration Scenario, where we help you understand the ways your different employee personas work together through technology.


Why our discovery approach works

User research is a wonderful methodology, and we absolutely did not come up with any of this on our own. Here at DEG Enterprise Collaboration, we adhere to industry best practices as established by renowned designer Alan Cooper (About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design) and further elaborated by his colleague Kim Goodwin (Designing for the Digital Age).

We also work in partnership with Tandem Seven as a pilot user of their UX360 persona modeling software. Above all, we have DEG’s user experience, user interface, and analytics teams backing us up, and we all work closely together to carry the user research results past the discovery phase, to shape the design, development, and implementation phases.


How a discovery process pays off

Why should you invest in user research, and then apply the results to accommodate your key users? Because this investment pays off.  An IBM review estimated that, as a rule of thumb, “every dollar invested in ease of use returns $10 to $100.”

Beyond the tangible ROI numbers, improving your user experience has implications for overall enterprise affinity as well. I won’t go into the neurobiology here, but trust me: You want your overall work culture and digital infrastructure to trigger the happy brain chemicals, not the stressful ones. Think about it – how likely would you be to adopt a portal that complicated your workflow or made it difficult to find key information? Even worse, would you adopt any technology that put communication and collaboration barriers between you and your coworkers, rather than helped break them down?

User research is the secret to building a successful portal – one that your employees will actually use – and providing you with the highest possible return on your investment.

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