Prioritize User Experience
The IT Strategist’s Guide to Transforming ECM
Design thinking is a highly effective, user-centric approach to solving problems. When applied to software development, design thinking shifts the focus from adding features to identifying and fixing issues from the user’s perspective. The result is a more valuable application with a more meaningful user experience (UX).
Design Thinking Puts Users First
An effective design thinking strategy begins with users and ends with an innovative solution to their needs. In between, multifunctional teams define the user problem, brainstorm solutions, and then test and refine prototypes. Users—employees, customers, citizens, or partners—are engaged throughout the process to provide ideas, insights, and feedback. It’s very iterative and collaborative.
Design Thinking Pays Off
When you put users at the center of the design process, you can:
Traditional ECM projects haven’t lived up to expectations. The limitations of legacy systems and insufficient focus on user experience have both contributed to low success rates.
When you take a design thinking approach to content management, the exercise isn’t about getting users to adopt an ECM system. Instead, it’s to empower people with a simple, seamless digital user experience that solves a specific content-related problem.
This means you need to understand the challenges users have as they work with content to accomplish their business goals, whether that’s to make a sale, launch a marketing campaign, or on-board a new employee. What frustrates them? Where do they waste time and energy? What do they really want to do, but can’t? What would work better? By answering these questions, you’ll uncover opportunities to maximize the value of content and create meaningful change for users and the business.
Q: Many companies go through a long requirements gathering process, but the project falls short when delivered. How can design thinking help avoid this?
Design thinking changes the mindset from “we build apps that meet functional requirements” to “we build intuitive user experiences that solve a problem.” Engaging users early and often is key. Once you truly understand the nature of the problem, you often have 80 to 90 percent of the solution defined.
Q: What tools or techniques can enterprise architects use to engage users?
The most powerful technique is observation—simply watching users in their own environment. You’ll get an accurate picture of the entire user experience. Interviews are good for getting to the root cause of a problem. Workshops are great for generating and refining ideas about how to solve that problem.
Q: What advice can you give IT organizations that want to improve user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) with design thinking?
Here are my recommended best practices for improving user & customer experience with design thinking:
Categorize and prioritize your users: Know who you’re developing for. Understand users’ expectations, concerns, and work demands. Consider novice and expert, frequent and infrequent users. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s important to identify your primary user persona.
Assemble a cross-functional team: Take advantage of different perspectives and keep biases in check by bringing multiple disciplines to the table. At a minimum, teams should include IT (architects, developers), UX design, the line of business / functional group (diverse users, the application owner), internal users or customers for external-facing applications. Remember to start with the problem. Thinking of the desired outcome, identify as many of the problems and needs of each persona as you can. Then validate these with those users and see what else you discover.
Get good at asking questions: Use open-ended questions to learn about your users and what the solution needs to do for them. The Five Whys is an excellent technique for uncovering underlying pain points and opportunities. (But don’t stop at five if you need to know more; keep asking Why? until you get to a root cause!) When building out a solution flow, I also like to ask: What if? What else? and What next?
Create rough, rapid prototypes: Breakthrough solutions come from quick “design-test-repeat” cycles. For initial prototyping use sketches, wireframes, or sticky notes on a whiteboard. Polished prototypes are less likely to elicit helpful user feedback because they look too “baked.”
Know when to pivot: Don’t be afraid to course correct if users say you’re on the wrong path. You may need to go back and pick a new solution—possibly even a new problem to solve. But you avoid investing a lot of time, money, and effort on a failed software deployment.
Q: What’s a common misconception about design thinking?
That it takes too much time. When I hear that, I ask, “But do you have enough time to build the wrong solution?” The upfront work can be done quite quickly. You can capture a lot of user insights to identify the problems to solve in just a few days to weeks, and can rapidly iterate on and refine designs in very tight user feedback cycles.
Q: What’s a good way to get started with design thinking?
Try on the process with a small problem. Also, try recording user observation and feedback sessions (with the users’ permission) so the whole team can experience what the user is experiencing, in their own words and actions. Don’t forget to evaluate what you are learning and decide whether you should progress…or pivot.
Design thinking has opened the door to innovative solutions at McDermott International, Inc., an engineering and construction company focused on the energy and power industries. This Alfresco customer is undertaking a digital transformation to increase operational efficiency and customer value.
“Design thinking has been very effective in generating momentum around our transformation efforts,” says Akash Khurana, McDermott’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) & Chief Digital Officer (CDO). “It gives users clear direction on what solution will be developed, even before a single line of code is written.”
McDermott follows a well-defined, cross-functional design process that includes stakeholders from engineering, supply chain, fabrication yards, and vessel/marine operations. Design sessions are focused on a specific challenge and take one to two weeks.
The process begins with a discovery phase which delves deeply into the challenge or “gap.” The team brainstorms alternative solutions in the ideation phase. The process ends with rapid prototyping. Participants storyboard or sketch their solution, which is then converted from a low fidelity to a high fidelity wireframe through several rounds of review and iteration.
“At the end of the day, users walk away with something in hand that they can socialize with a broader stakeholder group to seek their buy-in” says Khurana.
The design sessions focus on process not technology. It’s only after the team has rallied around a solution that the Digital team evaluates the winning idea. Criteria include:
Says Khurana: “The overall process is a very cost effective and time effective way to test and validate these potential solutions before a significant investment is made.”
When it comes to delivering a great user or customer experience, technology matters. Here are seven considerations for selecting a content services platform that enables a compelling, productive user experience at scale.
|Questions to Consider||Look for|
|How quickly can IT develop and evolve tailor-made user experiences / customer experiences?||
- Open source
- Reusable content service components
- Modern development framework
|How easily does the system integrate with the applications people use every day?||
- Open APIs
- Open standards
- Pre-built connectors
|To what degree can content management happen “behind the scenes”?||
- Automated workflows
- Integrated process services
- Integrated governance services
|Can users quickly find the content they need when they need it?||
- Robust metadata support
- Advanced search
|Does the system support modern ways of working?||
- Secure external collaboration
- Mobile content services
- Modern UX/UI
|Will the system perform under a heavy load so users aren’t slowed down?||
- Cloud native
- Enterprise-grade scalability
- High availability architecture
|Can users easily adapt to new business requirements without involving IT?||
- Self-service tooling
- Rich analytics