How should a “Perfect” Search project be run?
It was Friday evening, and Charlie was meeting his friends for a drink. They all worked in IT and had, between them, years of experience, especially in the area of enterprises and enterprise search, and liked to get together to catch up with what each was doing.
After a few pints and small talk, Charlie said “Guys, what do you all reckon would be the best way to construct a large-scale enterprise search project?”
Martin, who had had quite a lot of experience in this area, looked up and said “The main thing is that you shouldn’t underestimate what is required to get the best from a search investment.”
Charlie nodded in agreement. “But how can we help the client understand what sort of a commitment is needed?”
Ken suggested using an Agile/Scrum approach for the analysis of what the client needed as well as the development of the search UI.
“Hear hear” called out the others. Otis took the chance to follow that up with “you need someone who really understands what search is all about”. Martin glanced at him, and nodded. Otis carried on. “Someone who cares about search metrics, and knows what changes need to be made to improve them.”
Jan chimed in “I agree with you on some points. You‘ve got to make sure that you include all the stakeholders, and also educate the customer. Get everyone in the same room, and start with a big picture, narrowing it down to what is actually required. And, yes, create demo’s of the search system using “real data”. It helps the customer understand the solution better.” “However,” he continued. “I’m still careful about forcing a Scrum approach on a customer that might be unfamiliar with it.”
Stephanus put down his glass. “I’ve just finished a Phase I implementation at a client. The critical thing is to make sure you is that you set the client’s expectations and get buy-in from their technical people. Especially in security and surfacing. And I agree with Jan. There are still a lot of companies that don’t use Agile, or Scrum, at the moment.”
Sitting next to Stephanus was Helge. He began to speak. “There are a few important things. Make sure you’ve got Ambassadors – people who really care, and promote, the project. And ask the important question – ‘How can the search solution support the business so that they can become more competitive?’ It might be necessary to tackle this department by department. Get the business users and content owners together, but as Stephanus just said, don’t forget IT. And also make sure that the governance of the system is considered.
Stephanus smiled. “Yes – the workshop idea is a definite must.”
Gaston, who was sitting next to Charlie, said “An Agile approach has worked for me in the past. Creating prototypes is important. Most clients don’t know what they want until they see something tangible.” “Ok” said Charlie, “how has that worked?”
Gaston continued “Build a small team consisting of a UI designer, a developer, a search engineer, someone from the IA team, and no more than two of the business users. Having someone there from QA is also handy. Start with a couple of couple of day long workshops to go over project objectives, scoping and requirements gathering. Use one week sprints, and then aim to produce workable prototypes. At the end of the week, schedule a time where the prototype can be demo’d. The point is to get feedback about what is working, and what the goal for the next sprint should be.
Mike, the last one in the group, looked around at everyone, and then back at Charlie, and said. “Charlie – there’s a lot of great advice here. One important thing to remember is that you have to work with the client to ensure that the search solution is part of the strategy. As the others have already mentioned, work with the client and educate them. Getting all the stakeholders together for some common education, collaboration and planning can really go a long ways towards getting the necessary buy-in and commitment needed for a successful project. It also is great for setting expectations and making sure everyone is on the same page.”
Charlie was impressed. He had some pretty smart friends. “Thanks guys. You’ve all had some excellent points. Let me buy you all another round”.
The above “conversation” was all based on a discussion in LinkedIn. (Click here to read it).
Many thanks to the contributors in that discussion who graciously allowed me to write this post: