How to Survive Complex Projects: Search, Intranet and Beyond (a Multi-Part Series)

27 Feb

complexBy Andrea Alliston, Partner, Knowledge Management and Nicola Shaver, Director of Knowledge Management, Stikeman Elliott LLP

So, you are ready to tackle the big one – enterprise search, an intranet, an experience database, a client portal, a collaboration tool – or, in other words, a highly visible, costly project where the pressure on you to get it done right is daunting. In this series, we look at surviving and successfully implementing a complex technology project in a law firm.  We have leveraged our experience with our own enterprise search (STELLA KM), but the discussion throughout the series is both project and technology agnostic.  We have also strived to share some lessons learned that apply across a range of projects and technology implementations.  In this first post, we look at the critical decision making stage.

Part 1:
How Do You Know If You Need It?

KM practitioners have a gut instinct about what tools and resources would work well in their organization. This is based on a deep understanding of what they have today, their users’ needs and their firm’s culture.   Unfortunately, most of us would have a difficult time selling management on a significant investment in people, processes and technology based solely on our “gut.”  So, you need to do the work – researching, analyzing and developing a business case.  The question we faced was whether we needed to upgrade or change our existing platform.

Researching User Behavior

To start, you need to understand what your users are currently doing, whether they are using your platform and, if so, how they are using it. In our case, we also wanted to understand if they were using work-arounds or other means to find information. Three research methods were used.

  • Analytics: While the analytics were rudimentary, they enabled us to gather information on overall usage, top users and behavior following a search.
  • Surveys: These allowed us to gather information from users on a range of questions, including what they would change if they could.
  • Interviews: These provided a deeper understanding of how people were actually using search. We reviewed the search logs at night to find unsuspecting subjects for interviews the next day about their use of STELLA KM.

Using all three techniques gave us a nuanced view of our current users and what they were doing (and not doing) and how they really wanted search to work.

Creating a Picture from the Analysis

What does your research tell you? Reviewing the information with an internal group or data expert or someone from outside your firm can provide insights that you may not otherwise see.  We did the latter, engaging a KM consultant to provide the objective critical view that we needed.

The key to analysis is distilling your research into core themes or messages that will enable you to make a decision about the direction you want to take. They should be framed in a way that will resonate with your users if you decide to push forward.

In our case, the result was two-fold: users reinforced the importance of search, many of them citing it as an integral part of their practice; at the same time, there were aspects of search that they wanted improved.  These improvements included the ability to find content more easily based on practice area and separation of precedents, research, CLE and marketing content. Other feedback highlighted a need to simplify.

Crafting a Compelling Business Case

The final stage is preparing and presenting the business case.   We would like to point you to the perfect template but (confession) ours vary depending on the project and circumstances.  Generally they include background information, the objective or rational for the project, use cases, the impact on lawyers and other stakeholders, the technology approach and an estimated timeline and budget.  In situations where we are considering a new initiative or technology we do not currently have, a competitive analysis is also critical to answer questions like, “who else is using it?” and “what are our competitors doing?”

For the search upgrade, we presented the results of our user feedback at the opening of the business case as it was the most compelling reason for the project. We also highlighted the project’s benefits and the technology risks of not proceeding.

Lessons Learned

Keep an open mind: As noted above, many KM practitioners will have a good idea about what their organization needs from a KM tools perspective.  However, it is critical that you put that aside and have an unbiased look at the results of the research to guide your next steps.  Our research made us realize that the upgrade and improvements were more critical than we had anticipated.

Leverage your data:  No matter how poor you think your data is, it is data and you can use it.  Even a rudimentary statistic like how many searches are run can be turned into a statement such as, “this means that each associate runs approximately X searches a day.”

Tell powerful stories: As important as statistics are, storytelling and personalization are even more powerful.  We used quotes gathered from the survey questions to populate the business case.  We also made the information personal to decision makers by using stories and anecdotes from their colleagues and peers.

Coming up in Part 2: Now that you have the green light, what comes next? In the second post in this series, we look at the design and requirements phase.

 

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One Response to “How to Survive Complex Projects: Search, Intranet and Beyond (a Multi-Part Series)”

  1. ecommerce website solutions March 3, 2017 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you for a good article about business, it was very interesting and informative.

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