Perhaps the single greatest pleasure of the work that we do is the opportunity to conduct “needs analysis” that involves getting out into the front-line environment of organisations. Following an “ethnographic” approach, we’re able to spend time with the staff who do the actual work, building an understanding of their real needs and issues.
While we use a range of techniques (such as one-on-one interviews, workplace observation, contextual inquiry), the basic approach is incredibly simple. At its heart, it just involves going out with eyes and ears open, asking naive questions, and getting amazing answers.
Front-line environments are endlessly fascinating, and conducting this needs analysis without preconceptions always generates some surprising findings and recommendations. And every organisation is different, meaning that there is always more to be learnt.
For example, we’ve spent a lot of time now in call centres, whether in the public or private sectors. We’ve seen everything from the reliance on paper to the use of post-it notes stuck to every flat surface, through to advanced uses of instant messaging.
We’ve spent time with nurses in wards, early childcare nurses in the field, as well as doctors and other medical professionals. We’ve talked with consultants in a major consulting firm, researchers in a leading research body, train drivers and station staff. We’ve explored the needs of town planners, engineers, front-desk staff, sales teams and parking inspectors.
We’ve spent time on major building sites, in oil refineries, as well in offices talking with HR staff, admins, accountants and many more. We’ve discussed strategy with senior management, internal communications staff and information managers.
Regardless of whether the project is about intranets, information management, ECM or cultural change, the same basic approach holds true. I love doing this work, and I’m glad that we get an opportunity to connect so directly with the real staff who make their organisations run.
(For more on this topic, see our earlier article Conducting intranet needs analysis.)