Maximizing Portal ROI – Education, Production Capacity and Stewardship Delegation

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”
-Chinese proverb

If you have never read Seven Habits of Highly Effective people you are missing out – especially when it comes to making the most out of an investment in portal. Specifically, I am referring to the concepts of stewardship delegation and production capacity, both of which can be developed through an educational curriculum and guidelines aimed at empowering business users. Simply put, in order to gain the most value from a portal deployment the business needs to understand how to fish.

Stewardship delegation places the responsibility for project results onto the business participants. This ability to participate is gained through platform education and agreed upon guidelines for contribution, thus increasing their production capacity, commonly known as effectiveness. This will maximize the return on the technology investment.

Although at first intimidating it is possible to grow production capacity within the user base via a formalized gating process users. In order to have business needs met through the portal the business must actively participate in some educational offering and obtain rudimentary levels of knowledge with the toolset, before being allowed to complete the deployment of their project. This process should be mandated by way of portal governance. With this being said it is understood and accepted that a less mature portal deployment might not have a robust governance framework yet in place and we may need to begin the process of education with more pragmatic measures.

Common Roadblocks to Building Production Capacity
Beyond executive sponsorship the primary roadblock to building production capacity generally sits with the fallacy that the portal team “cannot afford to take time” to educate their user base how to self-serve. Remember that we need to focus on effectiveness, not efficiency. It will always be more efficient to have the portal team do the work directly, but it will not scale. We need to build effectiveness.

This is somewhat akin to owning a race car, but never taking time to learn how to drive the car properly – you have made the investment, but will never unlock the full potential of the investment. This is why investing in an organization’s production capacity makes so much sense. The portal team can still continue to produce results for the business, but some of their time needs to be spent building the production capacity of business teams themselves.

It may seem obvious, but this approach goes a long way towards
• Allowing the portal solution to scale throughout the business
• Providing faster response times to business needs
• Allowing the portal team and development staff to focus on more strategic initiatives and less day-to-day management of the platform

The beauty of this model is that after experiencing success with it the business is unlikely to want to wait on the portal team to laboriously build out solutions that they can configure themselves. Just imagine a solution development system where a portal team spends more time developing reusable or strategic components and evolving the governance model!

Getting Started with Stewardship Delegation
In the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People the concept of stewardship delegation is introduced and is alarmingly similar to portal “Governance”. This style of delegation takes time and patience on the part of the educator, but the end result is a rewarding relationship where the student (the business) walks away able to effectively contribute to solutions. You may ask why this is different that any other form of education. Good question!

Per the Seven Habits, Stewardship Delegation requires an up-front mutual understanding of and commitment to expectations in five areas. The following areas are taken from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and updated to directly relate to portal initiatives.

1. Desired Results – Have the person see, describe, make a quality statement of what the results will look like and by when they will be accomplished with their project. This should be achieved through a formal request stating the mission of the initiative, that is vetted before a portal steering committee or project approval board.

2. Guidelines – Identify the parameters within which the project group should operate. Keep the responsibility for results with the project team that has been empowered. This should include the responsibility for participating in a portal education session. The project team should not be able to commence work until they have completed the education session and had their project request approved.

3. Resources – Identify the resources available to accomplish the required results and who will maintain the solution once it has been created. Although seemingly simple, long term ownership can be very challenging. When solutions are built without clearly defined long term ownership they detract from the end user experience, cluttering it with out-of-date or irrelevant content.

4. Accountability – Set standards of performance to be used in evaluating the results and specific times when evaluation will take place. This represents a layer of governance present in more mature portal deployments that should be placed around any project that is undertaken within the portal.

5. Consequences – Specify what will happen as a result of the evaluation, including rewards and penalties. In the above example this might relate to the community being discontinued if traffic levels fall below a certain level. These metrics need to be agreed on by the parties ahead of time and will be used to ensure that the project outputs (perhaps a community) stay on track well after completion.

Governance is complex and the above illustration of the five areas only scratches the surface for what is needed to successfully run and manage a portal deployment. It is clear, however, that the common thread is the participant’s commitment to agreed-upon desired results.

My hope is that the above elements can jump start a more formalized approach to deployment success within an organization. The participants realize that they need to be place genuine commitment behind their initiatives, but also understand that they will be rewarded with the ability to have a generous degree of autonomy and control over their projects if they commit to the five areas above.

Going Fish – Making it Happen in the Real World
It is obviously easy to write about the merits of the above model when we seemingly find ourselves constantly bailing the water out of our canoe so we do not sink. Just as when we are working diligently at jobs there is never a “good” time to take vacation – but we just need to do it to protect our production capacity.

Once an organization has made an investment in the portal platform it would be doing itself a disservice not to start engaging in stewardship delegation to enable its user base to increase its production capacity through education and adherence to agreed upon guidelines. The following items represent some practical steps and guidelines to help begin the journey of increased production capacity

• Design a community request form that addresses each of the five areas highlighted in the “Getting Started with Stewardship Delegation” section above

• Find a request suitable for a pilot project that the portal team can mentor the business team to develop themselves

• Make it mandatory for anyone who requests a community to actively participate in a portal 101 class and demonstrate a fundamental understanding of the toolset

• Hold lunch and learn workshops to enable business users to get a better sense of what business value can be provided by the platform and where it has been successful in the organization

• Develop a community that contains a wide range of sample portlets so people can get a sense of what platform tools exist to meet business needs

Implementing the above concepts through stewardship delegation will go a long way to ensure that an educated, empowered business team has an optimal production capacity and can make the most out of the portal investment. This will allow the portal team to then focus on developing the vision and strategy necessary to continue to support new solutions for the business in a timely, effective manner, making the most efficient use of portal.

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