Category: Business Operations


Our New Space!

 Learn More:

Systemscope Claims Old Shopify Digs – Ottawa Business Journal profile
Our New Space: Designed For Collaboration to Help Our Clients Transform by Denis Barbeau, Systemscope Partner
Introducing the Systemscope Lounge – Our Creative Commons by Denise Eisner, Senior Consultant

Five Things We Learned about Getting Rid of ROT

By Denise Eisner

When we first blogged about removing Redundant, Outdated and Trivial (ROT) content in January 2011, we suggested that barring any other major drains on the team’s time, running a ROT exercise involving 5,000 web pages should take approximately two months to complete.

What a difference a year makes!

Having led and supported several ROT initiatives in various federal departments including scientific and regulatory agencies, it’s clear that a reset is needed on the potential risks and constraints for this exercise.

Based on growing experience, here are five key lessons we’ve learned to date:

  1. Communication is key:communicate often and well to the people performing content assessments. Keep in mind that they were likely just were handed another big task on top of all the other tasks piling up on their desks.Communications activities for a successful ROT exercise could include:
    • Holding targeted training sessions for similar content owner groups to explain how to assess and evaluate content for ROT
    • Holding information sessions during the process to cover various issues that come up
    • Creating an online content owner/publisher intranet section where reviewers can share tips, issues, etc.Be aware of vacation times and training periods to align deadlines according to the availability of stakeholders and team members.
  2. Calling all content owners! Anyone? Anyone? – Identifying a current caretaker who takes active ownership of the content is required for a successful ROT exercise; however, content created ten years ago is unlikely to be managed today by its creator. If there is no successful assignment of content to its rightful business owner, content that isn’t mandated or legislated should be removed from the live site.
  3. Broken links are guaranteed – Making content decisions might be the easiest part of the exercise. As one department discovered, finding and removing all the links to the deleted content in the absence of a CMS is a nightmare. Account for this step in the project plan.
  4. You are not alone – There is a lot of support available to departments on how to properly conduct a ROT exercise. There are tools on the Treasury Board and GCPedia websites, as well as a community of experienced ROTites who use social networks under hashtags such as #goc.
  5. Update or draft a department-wide content lifecycle policy – The policy implications for removal of web content dips into several domains, including information management, ATIP and legal. Having a solid policy in place ensures that web content is current, reliable and well-managed.

So could a ROT exercise for 5,000 web pages take only two months to complete?

It’s possible, with the following pieces in place:

  1. A well-written strategy that includes communications activities
  2. A project plan with clear deadlines for making it happen
  3. Dedicated resources to complete review and evaluation tasks, as well as project management and oversight tasks

The success of a department’s ROT endeavour relies on going in with eyes wide open and a willingness to accept and deal with roadblocks.

Do you have tips to share on your ROT experience? We’d love to hear from you.

Efficiency Gains in the Public Sector – What is behind all this talk anyway?

So your workplace has been asked to identify savings through efficiency gains. I believe that if I were to ask ten different people for their interpretation, I would probably get ten different responses. So let’s start back at the beginning with a general definition.

What is efficiency?: Efficiency describes the extent to which time or effort is well used for the intended task or purpose.  Source: Wikipedia

So if we accept this description, it’s safe to assume that in order to improve efficiency, one must make even better use of their time or effort for the intended task or purpose.

But does the public sector in general terms measure time and effort (i.e. work hours)?  And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks?  Not that I’ve seen.

So let’s look at a private sector approach.  When faced with improving efficiencies, organizations primarily focus on waste. In order to make better use of time, they eliminate the recurring problems that cause ‘lost’ time. Once removed, more time can be well spent on the intended task or purpose.

Conservatively speaking, it is estimated that approximately 20% of all work time is ‘lost’ for a variety of reasons.  Imagine the amount of time you (and your team) spend waiting for call backs, looking for information, waiting for approvals, seeking clarification, clarifying expectations, and reworking deliverables.  We all know that not every hour is created equal.

But again, does the public sector in general terms measure their time ‘lost’ due to issues or problems?  And if they do, do they measure it against intended tasks?  Again, I think not.

I recognize that these answers may not be very exciting, or sophisticated in their approach. But what is wrong with that? I get the feeling that people are looking for complex solutions to basic challenges.

If the public sector wants to gain efficiencies, here’s what I feel they need to do:

1. Subscribe to the premise that what isn’t measured, isn’t managed

  • Start measuring efficiency – this means integrating ‘time and effort’ (work hours) into their dashboards and reporting systems
  • Start documenting issues/problems – this means integrating problem logs or sheets into their daily work
  • Embrace data and documentation by holding open and transparent discussions about results at all relevant meetings and bilats

2. Leverage the untapped power of setting tangible targets and measureable plans

  • Integrate targets and plans into the daily world of work and have those expectations clearly indicated on dashboards and reporting systems – this means that all departments need to know with absolute uncertainty when a performance falls within expectations, or short of expectations (good day/bad day principle)

3. Put accountability back in the workplace and into the hands of the Manager

  • Did you know that some estimates state that Managers control as much as 90% of an organization’s assets!
  • Redefine the role of the Manager as responsible for their processes and people – this means giving them the authority to make decisions and hold them responsible for results

4. Walk the talk about client service

  • Review the work of the department and reduce the amount of work that is not directly impacting the client – this means reprioritizing work around strategic outcomes instead of administrative tasks

In short, we need to get our hands on better data, set more targets, better engage our Managers, and refocus our efforts on the client.

So in an increasingly complex world, why not remember those lessons from the past. It might do us all well to dust off those basic management principles forged over time yet somehow forgotten in this exciting age of technological advancements.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part Five

Part Five: the Intranet Dream Team

In the final instalment of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner shows how the dream team can be realized, even in times of austerity.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s list of best Intranets of 2012 suggests that proper resourcing for an organization’s internal web site needs to approach a ratio of one resource for every 1,000 employees. That figure takes into account some allowances for temporary outside help for particular functions, but on the whole, the ratio seems right.

But can smaller government departments today manage Intranets with one, two, or three individuals? The answer is a qualified yes, depending whether:

  • The individual/team member has the requisite communications, marketing, analytics and business skills to multi-task effectively;
  • The web content lifecycle has been defined and informs what happens to web content from inception to removal;
  • Governance is in place to make strategic decisions;
  • Tactical decisions are made within the Intranet team;
  • The design, structure, functionality and performance measurement components of site management are managed centrally; and
  • Content contributors are relied upon as local editors providing story ideas and web content, not as web experts.

How could these activities be realized when budgets are tight, and likely to get tighter? Consider the future state of a departmental Intranet if nothing changes:

  • Employees waste 90 cents per minute looking for content on a poorly structure site;
  • New content costing upwards of $800-1000 per page (after writing, approvals and publishing) keeps getting adding to the site with no strategy or lifecycle guidance governing its existence; and
  • There is a risk of limited understanding among employees of the department’s top priorities since they are not effectively messaged using the channels that employees want and need.

Given these direct and indirect costs to the organization, maintaining a status quo for the Intranet will cost more, and the performance records should bear that out. A well-conceived resourcing solution plus efforts to shore up governance and strategy offers senior management a more cost-efficient and sustainable approach to managing the Intranet channel.

View the rest of this series:

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 4

Part Four: Get Serious about Intranet Search

In the fourth of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner asks if search is so important, why are there no resources allocated to it?

Ask a government communications executive what they see as the problem with their Intranet site and invariably the answer is “our search engine doesn’t work.” Colourful variants on that response aside, it’s clear that management understands that search is an important function that users need to find content easily.

Then we ask the web teams and their IT colleagues how many resources they have devoted to search. Answer? None.

That disconnect between acknowledgement of the single most important function on a website and the reality of no resourcing to support it defies logic. So why does this happen?

First of all, search is partly technical. It involves an IT tool. IT largely sees their role with respect to search as infrastructure provider, with little to no maintenance required. Meantime, Communications is not comfortable with new technology that is outside their area of expertise.

Second, search requires understanding of how information should be classified so it can be retrieved. This would be the rightful domain of IM, but sadly not too many departments see it that way. The result is that the metadata is poor or nonexistent and therefore the search results have little meaning.

Third and lastly, search needs constant testing to make sure it is performing as expected. I have yet to see a usability or public opinion research plan that incorporates testing for Intranet search.

So management sees the problem, but no one appears to have the solution? Not quite. Some departments have taken up the cause with vengeance, and rather than wait for the solution to be bestowed upon them, have gone out and procured a decent tool (Google Search Appliance for example), configured it to meet their needs, tested it and then monitored it for performance. Voila: search now works with some degree of predictability. For one department that meant a quasi-full-time resource embedded on the web team, who brought the requisite skills to make it happen. It also meant the full support of management.

Search on an Intranet site can be improved, as long as it’s accepted that resources are required to manage it.

In the fifth and final part of this series, we nominate the contenders for the Intranet dream team.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 3

Part Three: Build Intranets for Tasks, Not Branches

In the third of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.

For departmental Intranets, there’s a pervasive site structure model that says each branch should get an equal portion of the real estate in the site navigation, regardless of how many or how few tasks are performed online in that section of the site. This model says that equal standing is the best structure for representing the entire organization.

There’s another common model that says that the more corporate messaging you place on the home page, the more likely that employees will be knowledgeable about departmental priorities and strategic plans.

Industry research and government’s own usability data indicates that neither of these models improve task completion, and instead end up costing the organization in lost productivity. Having employees search for content to complete a task costs government organizations an average rate of 90 cents per minute, making obstacles like two-year-old newsletter articles, untagged PowerPoint presentations and multiple copies of the same HR policies some very expensive roadblocks to completing basic tasks.

What are those basic tasks? For a start, anything that answers the basic questions about pay and vacation would meet the requirements of every employee. Beyond that, well-architected Intranets address such varied tasks as:

  • How do I book a boardroom?
  • What are the requirements for booking my first business trip?
  • Find financial codes
  • Understand the process for hiring
  • Find information about health plans for dependents

A task inventory helps establish known tasks against existing web content assets. Within this spreadsheet (or database or CMS), site managers can weight tasks according to web path analysis from analytics data, user surveys, and card sorting to determine which tasks should dominate the site architecture.

Collaborative tools also fit within this framework but their inclusion must suit the culture of the organization. The gamut of tasks involving collaborative tools includes:

  • Sharing best practices or project updates among practitioners on a wiki
  • Using personal employee profiles to publish skills sets, past projects and contact information
  • Document sharing platforms for special projects
  • Texting tools to cut down on email

At some point it will be obvious to the web team that some branches within the department have relatively less Intranet content than others that correlates to what employees want to do online. Publishing short branch descriptions that link to key documents on a document management system can address these lower-demand areas. (If no such system exists, one possible solution is to provide an email address for document requests for that branch.) Not placing this lower-demand content online frees up the site for content that fulfills employee task requirements.

In Part Four of this series, we break down the benefits of having an Intranet search engine that actually works.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast, Part 2

Part Two: Intranets Are All about Vacation and Money

In the second of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner highlights two of the top things employees care most about when it comes to Intranets.

The essence of the employer/employee relationship is this: employees are paid for work performed and they get days off from work with pay. Understanding how pay and vacation is given in an organization is often described on departmental Intranets via policies, agreements, guidelines and forms that support how and when employees collect salary or overtime, and when they can take time off.

Unfortunately, surveys of users and heuristic (usability) reviews of Intranets reveal that many of these sites don’t provide the means to do any tasks related to pay or benefits easily or efficiently. The most common issues with Intranets include:

  • Sites that use practitioner jargon, not plain language – Employees describe compensation as pay and leave as vacation. Yet a majority of sites yield to human resources terms because those groups author the content and determine navigation labels.
  • Corporate content is outdated and/or duplicated – The new vacation request form has been posted but the old one is still available. Sound familiar?
  • Few if any of these key tasks are available via the home page – Employees might find pay and vacation content two, three or four clicks in from the home page, which is frequently the default page when the browser opens. Rather than get right to their chosen task, they have to fight the information architecture. This loss of productivity can cost the organization 90 cents a minute per employee.
  • FAQs are not – The use of the frequently asked question has devolved into a convenient format for web content but it rarely reflects what users actually want to know. By not having informative FAQs, HR advisors end up responding to the same questions over and over.
  • Bad forms – Form design is a special practice that takes into account logic models, taxonomy, visual design and functional requirements. The result of bad form design is bad data, delayed processing and a good amount of frustration for all.

Fixing the Vacation and Pay Design Problem

Identifying the key tasks related to vacation and pay and positioning those tasks within easy reach of users will go a long way toward improving Intranet usability. Task analysis, card sorting, and paper prototyping are helpful activities that can uncover most of the common issues with navigation and site structure with respect to these tasks.

However, fixing vacation and pay tasks online is not just an information architecture problem. Supporting these tasks also means analyzing how the task gets completed beyond the Intranet site. If for example a request form gets automatically sent to an email account that is monitored by one employee, what happens when that employee is away? Or, if a vacation form submitted online requires another employee to rekey that information into a legacy system, what processes are in place to prevent errors? Could there be some automation to prevent rekeying in the first place? Web teams are not typically tasked with these considerations, but given the impacts on user satisfaction and productivity, this situation calls for collaborative business process solutions to identify weaknesses, determine roles and responsibilities, design potential solutions and test them before releasing them to employees.

In Part Three of this series, Denise Eisner shows how putting tasks ahead of employee newsletters is smart Intranet management.

Special Series: Taming the Intranet Beast

Part One: the Intranet is an Expensive Help Desk

In the first of a five-part series on Taming the Intranet Beast, senior consultant Denise Eisner explains why not fixing a broken departmental Intranet wastes millions of dollars each year to lost productivity.

Several times each day, an employee goes looking for information that by all accounts should be found on a departmental Intranet. Sidestepping the dubious search engine, the hunt-and-click quest begins, pitting employee against byzantine information architectures, rogue sites, duplicated content and countless out-of-date newsletters. Ten minutes into the task and no resolution in sight, the frustrated employee consults an office mate, who now joins the task for another five minutes. In the end, they both give up, and the unfortunate employee is now left staring at the phone and plotting the next move.

The sad reality is that the answer was likely somewhere on the site but irretrievable due to confusing navigation, absent site governance, poor writing, lack of search engine optimization (or a decent search engine), etc.

This scenario is common among government employees, stemming from a series of poor decisions and inaction about the department’s Intranet. This inaction bears real consequences, not the least of which is that the employee didn’t get to do something other than the Intranet task for a portion of those 15 minutes.

To look at this dilemma in more stark terms, assume an average loaded rate for a government employee at $94,000.00 (C.D. Howe report, page 5). Allowing for work days equal to 46.6 weeks (including three weeks for vacation and 12 stat holidays), multiply 46.6 by days (233), hours (1,747.5) and minutes (104,850), and you arrive at a per-minute employee cost of $0.90. Multiply that cost by 20 (employee #1’s 15 minutes and employee #2’s 5 minutes to help) and you have spent $18.00 to not find information that should be readily available on the Intranet.

Extrapolating this one example to a department makes the Intranet beast even more deadly. If just half of the employees in a 4,000 FTE department only had one information retrieval task a day that did not succeed (and that’s being generous), then the total cost for one day’s worth of fruitless searches is $36,000.00. The yearly tab? Your management should be astounded to learn that lost annual productivity for a department of that size at these rates to find basic information online hovers around 8.4 million dollars.

After this reality sinks in, can you afford not to fix your Intranet?

In Part Two of this series, the Intranet is distilled into the two things that employees care most about and should be fixed first.