Lessons in going live…

A few days ago we launched our redesigned intranet and new collaboration platform, IBM Connections, to our workforce of over 60,000 employees and contractors. It’s almost a surreal feeling to have passed this milestone after months and months of effort…or maybe I’m still recovering from the lack of sleep on launch day.

Our intranet is a critical component for our operations, housing information used by critical work groups and acting as a launching point for applications used by our Frontline employees. Ensuring that it would be available as the operational day kicked in and that it was fully functional was the main objective of going live. To fully test it over night meant when we “flipped the switch” anyone accessing the intranet would immediately get the new site…while we were still testing and validating.

Here are a few lessons learned from this recent implementation.

Feedback Season is Open

We got some not-so-great comments right off the bat. That was tough but understandable. The folks logging into the site in the middle of the night weren’t waiting breathlessly in anticipation of the reveal of our redesign. They were trying to get their work done. The switch probably came as a shock to them. We tried to let everyone know about the upcoming change of course, but you never can get to everyone.

The negative comments didn’t stop after the initial cutover either. We continued to get comments on our announcement blog post steadily throughout the first day. While at first, the majority of negative comments were about issues with performance — that were very real — those quickly subsided once the site stabilized. A few of the early commenters even came back later to comment on how performance was much better!

The thing is, you have to expect a fair amount of negative reaction. It’s change. Some people don’t like change. The people that don’t like change, like to tell everyone how much they don’t like change.

The good news was we got a good share of positive comments as well! In fact, while the negative comments are often LOUDER (why do ‘perfectly sane’ people that are trying to convince others that they are being ‘absolutely rational’ tend to write in all caps?) than others, they tend to gravitate to the smallest set of issues or perceived problems.

The best part of getting feedback was the constructive comments that actually were rational.

You are Going to get Surprises

Surprise! There is no way to possibly anticipate every scenario and every need. There is no way to anticipate how every user is going to ‘use’ your site. Be ready for surprises and have a method in place to deal with the ones that are urgent enough to require immediate attention. During any large project, a few things are bound to slip through the cracks. Don’t worry; they are the things that pop up the soonest after go-live!

A few surprises:

  • People actually DO use that feature that everyone decided to kill early on
  • They use that other one you killed too
  • Users won’t understand how to navigate if you make one change to the navigation steps
  • Some people will be very taken aback if you use their photo as an indicator of their profile
  • Users having issues won’t necessarily tell anyone they are having issues
  • They definitely won’t report widespread issues that are otherwise imperceptible through official channels

Since you can’t anticipate the surprises, you have to just sit back and wait for them to jump out at you.

Finding the Silver Lining in every Problem

There are going to be problems. It’s inevitable. What you have to do, however, is look deep and find the good that can come about as a result. For each of the problems we faced during and after our implementation, we are working on building a better solution. Each issue will get resolved, and the resulting product will be better for having discovered the initial hardship. Our site will be faster. Navigation will be streamlined. Widely used features will be highlighted. Ease of use will be improved.

If you aren’t getting problems surfaced up, you probably aren’t getting good use of your site. If you aren’t getting good use of your site, you aren’t going to get feedback. And, if you aren’t getting feedback, it’s going to be hard to meet your users’ needs.

Look for the problems; then find the solutions.

Just Grin and Bear It

Sometimes you have to just grin and bear it. Earlier tonight, I was privy to some feedback a user provided to one of our help desk staff regarding frustrations of not being able to find a form.

First, the user complained that the form was nowhere to be found on the redesigned website. The only way this user found it was by searching for it. (It was the first result!) Then, upon clicking on the form title, the user was taken to the actual page where the form lives. (Our old site surfaced the page without actually taking you to the page, so you had no way to know where you were on the site!) The main menu at the top visually changed, indicating which section of the site the user was in, and just above the title of the page — which was the form title — there was a breadcrumb trail that outlined exactly how to navigate to the page manually. (None of that was possible on our old site!)

It’s situations like that that make me smile (okay…grimace) and be thankful that I received the feedback so that I could be surprised at how well the site worked to solve the problem that the user had without the user even realizing the problem had been solved.

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