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Why You Need to Listen (Harder) to End Users

Posted on  22 August 12  by 

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Business partner engagement is a long standing priority for CIOs. But “business partner” almost always means business leader. With IT consumerization and the growing diversity of end users, however, it is becoming more important than ever to build IT’s relationship directly with the end user.

Today, end users have ever growing choice when it comes to the technologies they use. If IT doesn’t reshape the way end user needs and preferences are captured, adoption of corporate-provided technologies will decline, which could lead to serious losses to the organization.

Making end users feel that their comments have been incorporated into the business case and functionality requirements for a new system is the activity with the single highest impact on system adoption. Pulling forward end-user input to the earliest stages of system design, especially for highly affected users, can increase their likelihood to use a new system by up to 55%.

Do Business Leaders Really Speak for the End User?

When we ask CIOs, “who in IT is responsible for engaging with end users and understanding their needs?” we often get a confused silence, followed by statements such as “we have a group of IT relationship managers who work with the business”.

The problem is that relationship managers usually only work with senior business leaders. Working with business leaders is fine if you are deciding whether to deploy ERP or upgrade CRM where everyone is expected to follow the same business process. But business leaders are less reliable proxies for end users when it comes to understanding needs in areas such as collaboration, mobility, and insight. Here, each end user may have different needs, and their expectations, shaped by their experience with consumer technologies, may vary widely.

Incorporating End Users Throughout System and Capability Design

Here are three ways a few progressive companies are capturing end user behaviors, needs, and preferences before, during, and after the design process.

  1. Observe and Ask Assumption Free Questions – While end-user surveys follow a predetermined trajectory with little room for maneuvering, open-ended interviews follow a conversational model that allows for immediate feedback. Anthropological observation and interviewing techniques can be used to surface unarticulated and context-dependent end user needs.
  2. Replace Prototypes with Paper Mock-Ups – Leading IT organizations use iterative, low-cost storyboards to gather end-user input on functionality, navigation, layout and presentation during system design. They replace prototypes with paper-based presentations to save time and money, and can easily show end users that they are incorporating user input into the design of the system or new capability.
  3. Capture and Address Concerns Early – Progressive IT organizations create “sounding boards” to capture and address end user concerns and questions during and after a new system or capability rollout. They then use that end user feedback loop to modify communications and sustain end-user support.

We will continue to explore how IT’s relationship with end users is shifting in our ongoing Future of Work initiative. If you would like to participate in this research, please contact us.

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