SharePoint Information Architecture

Improving usability through creating a consistent information architecture

The Task

While working at the United States Army, I was tasked with improving the overall user experience of my organization’s Microsoft SharePoint server. The SharePoint server was used for subordinate organizations to collaborate in a secure environment. But there were some pretty noticeable issues that I had to solve in order for the organization to get the most out of the platform.

The Problem

Users were unable to find contact information and calendar events for subordinate or sister organizations without unnecessary frustration, my job was to remove that frustration.

The Hypothesis

My hypothesis comprised of two parts:

  1. Users were unable to discover patterns in the system due to inconsistent page layouts
  2. Users were unable to discover patterns in the system due to inconsistent navigation systems

The Method

  1. Conduct Stakeholder Interview
  2. Content Audit
  3. Conduct User Interviews
  4. Create Experience Maps
  5. Establish Standards in Information Architecture
  6. Communicate and Enforce IA Standards to Subordinate Organizations
  7. Monitor & Measure Organization Compliance

Conduct Stakeholder Interview

I was called upon by my unit commander to review the content and structure of the Microsoft SharePoint and take note of inconsistencies that were found. I asked my commander for a project deadline, and asked what the key performance indicators (KPIs) of the project would be. I was informed that he wanted the changes to be made within 3 months and that success would be measured through a consistent experience through the child organization pages.

I also asked my department manager what she thought be the KPI of the project and she said it would be a reduction in trouble tickets related to users being unable to find information throughout the SharePoint.

Content Audit

I performed a content audit and discovered that although the site structure for each subordinate organization were very similar, the location of the navigation systems and the order of the items in the navigation system varied greatly.

Conduct User Interviews

I conducted an in person interview with three Soldiers and a remote interview with another Soldier, an Officer, and a government contractor. Through the interview process I was able to discover that my hypothesis was true. Users were very confused with the SharePoint information architecture due to in consistencies in page layout and navigation.

When users would traverse from page to page, the location of the navigation system and the order of the navigation system would change. This would prevent users from being able to learn the system and build usability patterns. Another issue I discovered that was not part of my initial hypothesis was that users would become frustrated with outdated information and wanted to know the last time a page’s content was updated.

Create Experience Maps

I was able to better visualize the usability of the SharePoint site by creating experience maps. These experience maps helped me not only visualize my own findings, but communicate them to my team and stakeholders.

Establish Standards in Information Architecture

In order to reduce stress and frustration due to the inconsistent IA, a new standard was created for where the navigation system was on the page, the order of the navigation items, and the overall look and feel of the navigation. Additionally it was now required for organizations to put the date the page was last edited on at the bottom of each page.

Communicate and Enforce IA Standards to Subordinate Organizations

Once these standards where set, they were then reviewed and approved by stakeholders. Once approved, the standards where then communicated to subordinate organization via email as well as the consequences for non-compliance.

Monitor & Measure Organization Compliance

I wanted to also ensure that subordination organizations were compliant with the new standards before users were reporting the non-compliance due to a poor experience. I had setup weekly reports in SharePoint designer to audit the location of the navigation system so that I would be updated with not only current non-compliance but also automatically be informed if non-compliant changes were made to the information architecture in the future. I was also able to use these reports to present and visualize compliance to stakeholders.

The Outcome

Users were able to more easily find the content they were looking for in different sub-organizations due to a consistent experience. Helpdesk trouble ticket submissions related to being unable to find wanted information were significantly reduced. This yielded a better user experience for end-users and better use of time for the helpdesk.