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One of the many challenges of managing enterprise search is finding ways to get the best out of the application. Another challenge is proving to senior managers that not only is search making an impact, but with more investment in the search team the impact could be greater and more immediate.

The solution to both challenges is the same: focus training and evaluation at the individual team level.

Opportunity 1: The Project Startup

I once worked for an engineering consultancy where there was general apathy about the enterprise search application's value. The consultancy business typically runs around projects or client engagements, and consultants are often working on more than one project at a time. Projects customarily have a formal starting point, based around a Project Initiation Document (PID) which sets out its scope and operational aspects. In this case, the search manager and I modified the PID to require a team meeting with the search manager to work through the information requirements and resources the project team might need.

The introduction of this team meeting to the startup process produced a number of immediate benefits. First, the team met the search manager and were surprised by both their knowledge of the application and of the consultancy's business. Second, it allowed a very useful discussion around potential search terms to happen. Working with the application up on a panel display, the search manager discussed synonyms and term expansion with the project team. For example, there are at least 12 different types of concrete so just using [concrete] as a search query was likely not a good place to start. Common acronyms and abbreviations (RC20/25 is a type of reinforced concrete) were also raised, as more experienced engineers will probably just use the abbreviation.

Having this meeting in the agenda also gave the search manager a chance to train team members in any recently added features or repositories in the application. 

By the end of the 30-minute session, the general agreement was it was time well spent. Within a few days the benefits could be seen in increased conversions and the search manager started to get a steady stream of emails from other teams asking for a similar session.

Related Article: Diagnosing Enterprise Search Failures

Opportunity 2: Assessing Search Satisfaction

Another way to take advantage of team working is to get a monthly "search review" scheduled in the agenda of project meetings. Ask team members to make a note of any problems or successes they had with the search application in advance of the meeting. Use this feedback as a basis of discussion during the meeting so team members and the search team alike can learn.  

The search review also serves to elevate the usually invisible search team's profile and can uncover success stories to publish on the intranet or the search team blog. Project teams also respect the fact that the search team is open for business and is prepared to accept constructive criticism.

Related Article: How Satisfied Are Your Employees With Search?

Opportunity 3: Measuring Corporate Search Impact

The team meetings are also a good time to circulate a short survey form or web survey asking team members to rate their search experience over the last few months, and whether the search application made a difference in the quality of the team’s work. Don’t make the survey too complicated — a 1 to 5 rating for each is fine. Aggregating these and reviewing the trends over time is a great way of showing senior managers that search is a highly regarded enterprise application. Reporting on a monthly basis also provides a gentle nudge that search is performing and is well-managed.

Related Article: Why Is Enterprise Search So Difficult?

Opportunity 4: Knowledge Transfer

A side benefit of search team members attending a range of monthly project meetings is they can act in a knowledge transfer role, bringing attention to expertise in other teams. A review of search logs can support this effort For example, when RC20/25 appears in the search logs, is this in support of just the single team or are there other projects involving the use of reinforced concrete, perhaps in another country or work area?

Opportunity 5: Project Closedown

Well-managed team environments also build in a project close-down process. The engineering consultancy made it mandatory to include a note about the overall contribution the search application made to the project and what lessons could be learned from the team’s experiences.