1.3. Communicate as Much as Possible

When it comes to your users, you can never communicate too much. Be aware that small system changes you might think are practically unnoticeable could very well completely confuse the administrative assistant in Human Resources.
The method by which you communicate with your users can vary according to your organization. Some organizations use email; others, an internal website. Still others may rely on Usenet news or IRC. A sheet of paper tacked to a bulletin board in the breakroom may even suffice at some places. In any case, use whatever method(s) that work well at your organization.
In general, it is best to follow this paraphrased approach used in writing newspaper stories:
  1. Tell your users what you are going to do
  2. Tell your users what you are doing
  3. Tell your users what you have done
The following sections look at these steps in more depth.

1.3.1. Tell Your Users What You Are Going to Do

Make sure you give your users sufficient warning before you do anything. The actual amount of warning necessary varies according to the type of change (upgrading an operating system demands more lead time than changing the default color of the system login screen), as well as the nature of your user community (more technically adept users may be able to handle changes more readily than users with minimal technical skills.)
At a minimum, you should describe:
  • The nature of the change
  • When it will take place
  • Why it is happening
  • Approximately how long it should take
  • The impact (if any) that the users can expect due to the change
  • Contact information should they have any questions or concerns
Here is a hypothetical situation. The Finance department has been experiencing problems with their database server being very slow at times. You are going to bring the server down, upgrade the CPU module to a faster model, and reboot. Once this is done, you will move the database itself to faster, RAID-based storage. Here is one possible announcement for this situation:

System Downtime Scheduled for Friday Night

Starting this Friday at 6pm (midnight for our associates in Berlin), all financial applications will be unavailable for a period of approximately four hours.
During this time, changes to both the hardware and software on the Finance database server will be performed. These changes should greatly reduce the time required to run the Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable applications, and the weekly Balance Sheet report.
Other than the change in runtime, most people should notice no other change. However, those of you that have written your own SQL queries should be aware that the layout of some indices will change. This is documented on the company intranet website, on the Finance page.
Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please contact System Administration at extension 4321.
A few points are worth noting:
  • Effectively communicate the start and duration of any downtime that might be involved in the change.
  • Make sure you give the time of the change in such a way that it is useful to all users, no matter where they may be located.
  • Use terms that your users understand. The people impacted by this work do not care that the new CPU module is a 2GHz unit with twice as much L2 cache, or that the database is being placed on a RAID 5 logical volume.