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User-Centered Design in Procured Software Implementations

Jen Hocko

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, February 2011, pp. 60 - 74

Article Contents


Case Study: The Microsoft SharePoint Implementation

The following sections discuss how usability got involved in the project, some of the challenges and realizations we faced while defining and iterating on a UCD-infused migration process, and the final push toward a distributed implementation model.

Setting the Stage for Usability Involvement

In early 2008, the author’s company decided to purchase Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) to replace a custom-built application that enabled staff to share and collaborate with each other on project-related artifacts, such as Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. The organization was also planning on replacing department and team intranet pages with SharePoint pages, because they would be more easily maintainable by end-users. Because it was a forgone conclusion that SharePoint would be purchased, the implementation project team’s initial objective was to discover the benefits and limitations of the technology and decide how best to proceed with a company-wide migration.

To start, the implementation team focused on running a pilot rollout. Test cases intended to exercise and get feedback on specific SharePoint features were documented and distributed to two teams in the Development department. Although the test cases were not explicitly written as use cases with end-user goals, they were based on some tasks users were expected to do with SharePoint in the future (see Figure 1 for an example).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Example SharePoint test case

After several weeks there was little response from the teams. The author offered to help the SharePoint implementation team collect feedback by

In total seven participants were observed for 60-90 minutes each. The participants were from a variety of functional roles (engineering, quality engineering, documentation, technical marketing, etc.) and had no prior SharePoint experience.

Usability specialists’ observations of the participants helped the SharePoint implementation team discover which features were most and least valuable to participants and which would require the most change to participants’ current workflow. We also uncovered several aspects of SharePoint that caused participants frustration or confusion—most were primarily due to basic usability issues and users incorrect assumptions about the product’s conceptual model.

Usability specialists’ discoveries existed at a level far deeper than what demos could elicit. In fact, most demos of SharePoint garnered positive reactions, while observations of actual use led to questions like, “Are you really going to make me use this?” and negative feedback such as “an overwhelming and unintuitive interface.”

As a result of the pilot rollout feedback, the SharePoint implementation team (which now included a usability specialist) adopted the following strategy:

The SharePoint implementation team also talked about the best ways to help departments migrate their content into SharePoint. The team created the concept of a SharePoint Liaison—a person who would help department-specific project teams

The SharePoint Liaisons in our organization were most often usability specialists, for several reasons:

Like any user-centered design project, having an early “seat at the table” helped usability specialists get up to speed more quickly with the technology’s opportunities and constraints, and helped influence the overall migration process so that it kept the focus on users and their goals.

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