Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Some thoughts on the process so far

A number of things have been interesting throughout this process.

  • Words have been very important.
  • Words have been very difficult to find.
  • The process has been non-verbal and subjective.
  • Testing with the same people throughout has been very valuable.

A lot of the progress we made has been felt rather than described. It has been distinctly non-verbal. Things just feel right.

And that’s what the focus group people show in testing too. You can see when something ‘feels right’ to a person, when they’ve understood the sense behind the information categories (even if the right words haven’t been found to describe the categories yet) because they find things consistently and start suggesting names for the sections.

Not only has it been difficult to find the right words, it has also been difficult to see when the name of a category or item is causing a problem. Sometimes it was very obvious that the words were wrong but normally the wrong words just ended up in a very confused person who couldn’t think where to look for an item.

There has been great value in testing with the same people in the focus groups. Now that the sense of the categories is becoming clear people get excited when they can find things and when the structure makes sense. They have seen us progress through different versions of the hierarchy and can help to clarify things when you’ve become clouded from being too close to the material.

Having a broad range of opinions helped to clarify the philosophy of the sections we created. As this is a very subjective exercise:

  • Each of the items in the content list will be viewed differently by a number of people.
  • People in different departments may see a different function for the same item.

We needed to find a structure that the majority could understand the logic of and having a wide range of angles to approach the information from has been essential in helping us to do this.

Status so far: approaching the end of Information Architecture

Since this has been a long project I think it's going to help to summarise things that have happened so far.

After deciding to replace the current Intranet by building a new one from scratch we

  • Did research.
  • Wrote a project plan covering the 3 phases: Information Architecture, Design and Layout and build.
  • Started the Information Architecture phase by randomly choosing a staff member from each department to create a focus group representing a cross-section of the company.
  • Interviewed the focus group members.
  • Interviewed the senior managers.
  • We asked the focus group to do an open card sort on the content from the current Intranet and all the things we thought should be on there but weren’t.
  • Analysed the results to form a hierarchy.
  • Tested the hierarchy using the card based classification evaluation technique described on the Boxes and Arrows website.

Then we were interrupted for a number of reasons for about 3 months.

When we came back to look at the hierarchy it just didn’t look right at all.

During the course of the project all the contents of the Staff Handbook had been added to the Intranet (previously the Handbook was paper-based but certain policies had been available from the Intranet).

We hadn’t incorporated the entire staff handbook in our initial card sort as it was being reviewed. Now it was all there and there was a large overlap between the Handbook and the Intranet contents.

Also the hierarchy was looking distinctly departmental – something we had tried to avoid.

So we threw it away and started again.

We printed a list of the contents and between us (not involving the focus group) we sorted the content according to function and after a couple of rounds of hierarchy testing, re-naming and re-arranging we now have a structure which feels logical and stable.

This is the philosophy behind the main sections:

  1. What the company provides for you, how the company does things.
  2. Things you need to interact with the company and the company with its employees – things required to manage your working life.
  3. Tools, equipment or resources needed to do your job.
  4. Information which is directly related to work, business documents, project documents etc.

The testing results have been good: people find most things on their 1st attempt and if not then very quickly on their 2nd attempt. Even if someone didn’t find something at all they felt comfortable with its location once they were told where it was or had the philosophy of the section explained.

We know that the names of the sections are not correct yet and that some of the sub-levels of the sections need to be re-named too but it will be possible to work out the names as we continue the development into the Design and Layout stage as user-testing is planned throughout the project.