More on Workshops (I.T. and the Users): My Thoughts on Structure Design, Part 3

In my last post I mentioned how members of the I.T department should be included in requirements gathering workshops. Often dedicated business analysts are involved but members of the I.T technical team are not. The rationale being, that I.T. are concerned only with the back end infrastructure. Not so, I argue. I have seen the benefits of including a wide representation of departments including I.T and representatives of the senior management team, in both consultancy engagements and also while teaching on-site courses for Learning Tree.

Is it a course or a workshop?

On-Site courses are where we come to your location, set up our equipment and present a course. Often these courses are customised or tailored to a specific organisation’s requirements. Content from multiple courses can be incorporated. In order to make the most of this, organisations I have been involved with have sent members of many departments to such training. In a number of cases while presenting various SharePoint courses the technical aspects of SharePoint have had to be put to one side whilst the discussion during the class has turned to information structure. These discussions can include sites, site collections, applications and server farms. Interestingly the views of the more technical I.T people vary quite considerably from those of the end users. Often everyone gets along well and at other times the differences can be expressed in strongly vocal terms. In such cases instructors need to be diplomatic in addition to being technically knowledgeable.

Flexibility is key

In a course situation a good instructor will, instead of sticking rigidly to the syllabus, encourage such discussion–in effect, he or she will be running a mini-workshop. The value of this can be immense. The same applies to a great course facilitator. You need to be both direct and go with the flow.

Although it’s unlikely and unreasonable to expect an outsider to appreciate the requirements of a business on short notice they may prove their worth and encourage the group to consider alternative options based on their prior experience. The role is that of facilitator encouraging the group attendees to generate the ideas and develop solutions. Such a person should be confident in directing and involving a room full of people to share and disseminate information. In my totally unbiased way Learning Tree instructors immediately spring to mind as the ideal candidates for such rolesJ

Define the Purpose

Regardless of when the workshop happens the goal is to design a structure that encompasses both technical and non-technical requirements. Defining goals on a flipchart or whiteboard can keep them in focus during the workshop. For example (admittedly a very simple example) I.T are happy with the size and number of site collections that allow for fast backup and restore of their databases, end user champions are happy with an easy to use navigation structure. A key part to achieving this is to get each side to see the others point of view. Talking through scenarios is one technique I have found to be helpful. Seeing that everyone just wants to do their job can take away the emotional side of any disagreements. Doing this on the fly as part of the course can help but more time will usually be needed. Workshops can be carried out as mentioned in previous posts. Documenting discussions and ideas is crucial – dialog mapping, mind mapping, One Note, etc.

The other point of view

Some comments I have heard as a result of such inclusive workshops include the following:

  1. I didn’t realise how important those automated emails were.
  2. How many people rely on this? !
  3. Now I understand why you need to access this site.
  4. I never heard of that department before.
  5. So that’s what they do.
  6. Of course I am sure that library is backed up during the day but will check.

    And many more !

Sound familiar? Can you tell whether the comments came from (I.T, management or end user departments)?

To summarise, the following should be considered in an I.T. workshop:

  • Involve technical and non-technical departments in the requirements gathering and planning process
  • Consider using an experienced facilitator to run the workshop
  • Document the results and store them centrally (SharePoint site?)

Dave Severn

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