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I have been asked the question today

Will releasing a new intranet to IT staff before all other users be detrimental to future user groups?

This is an enterprise intranet and it has been estimated that there will be around 10 processes that will take place. It will have transaction points that will include the following:

  • Business process management
    For instance document approval or inventory tracking — which can be set up to pull together processes, people, services, information and systems into a single application that helps drive business. Then, what's been built can be used like building blocks to assemble new applications
  • Integration with SharePoint file management
  • Search configuration
  • Knowledge base
  • Records management
  • CMS integration
  • Line of business (LOB) integration

To your knowledge, are you aware of any issues that could occur in releasing the intranet to IT staff before any other user group? UX design processes and usability testing will have/be taking place on prototypes for the other user groups.

Please share your experiences and outcomes.

Addition
Okay, pleased to hear that it sounds like there was some miscommunication here, even after I relayed the question back to the team for clarification. We have just plotted the project out in high-level along a gantt chart and in actual fact, the first people that the new intranet will be released to will be the IT staff for feedback. However, the design and usability testing of wireframes/prototype will still have been done prior to, or in conjunction with this release to the IT staff.

I have rephrased the question above.

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Did I understand the business-speak correctly: "is it OK to pilot test UX changes on the IT department?"? –  dnbrv Jan 27 '12 at 14:31
    
Testing on any users is better than no users. As long as you're considering and evaluating the design for non-IT users I don't see why letting them test it would be a problem. –  Ben Brocka Jan 27 '12 at 16:12
    
Previously worded question: Will completing an end-to-end UX process for IT staff on the proposed intranet as an initial pilot cause any detriment to future user-centred design on the system? –  DigiKev Jan 27 '12 at 16:52
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2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

A development process focused solely on one set of users, when other users are known, does not tend to be a useful pilot because it is not representative.

It sounds to me as if the question they're asking you is really "Can we knowingly ignore a large portion of users and still get the UX right for everyone, or at least not have to go back and re-think lots of things when we consider other user types?" Well, no -- in my experience that doesn't work.

However, if the power user demographic is actually a large number, and the question is really "Can we knowingly ignore some outliers just to get this done, and go back and refactor where we have to, later?" then in my experience you're in a much better situation than the first one (although I'd still try to avoid it).

The key is knowingly -- presumably some basic personas have been created, or something is known about the users who are not IT staff (who are users too!), such that there's a reasonable knowledge about just what it is you're ignoring. You can certainly do an iterative process wherein the processes are put in front of power users first, but to go end-to-end with one group only while knowing there are more? In my experience when I've had to do this (by being overruled by the client, etc), it caused misery for all involved.

Addendum: My response was to your original question. Your new question, "Will releasing a new intranet to IT staff before all other users be detrimental to future user groups?" is, to my mind, a totally different one, as it takes it out of the realm of UX planning, developing, and testing, and into one of post-release maintenance (or redevelopment). My answer to this question is "It depends on what the plan is for development based on feedback, because if you're still only addressing the needs of one group, that's still not going to be the best outcome for all groups."

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The only issue I can see arising from such a pilot test is that IT staff have a higher tolerance for sub-par UX, which means they'll complain only about overly convoluted elements. Other than that, IT is still part of the company and has the same goals and administrative tasks to accomplish. Therefore, if the IT department finds the intranet easy-to-use the rest of the company shouldn't have troubles with it, too, granted it is designed with the rest of the company in mind.

Smashing Magazine published a good article about the assumption that user needs vary based on user's technological savvy. The main point there is that no matter how proficient with technology a user is, their goal is still to get to the next step as quickly and as painlessly as possible. The difference is only in the approach: a power user doesn't want to think about the flow (i.e. design should be consistent with other tools) and a timid user wants to be guided through the process.

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The only issue I can see arising from such a pilot test is that IT staff have a higher tolerance for sub-par UX, which means they'll complain only about overly convoluted elements. Can you back this up with evidence that this is true? –  DigiKev Jan 27 '12 at 17:16
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