We’ve consistently found that those intranet teams that stay close to users during an intranet project and after its launch produce the most successful intranets.
What do we mean by ‘staying close’? We mean teams who listen to feedback from users, involving them in decision-making, take time to understand pain points, and ultimately build relationships with their users.
This helps to result in intranets hat help employees in their daily work, keep users informed, deliver value for their organisations, improve specific processes and enjoy decent levels of adoption.
The value of staying close
The link between staying close to users and intranet success isn’t hard to fathom. Staying close allows intranet teams to:
- Carry out user research, gaining insights to deliver an intranet that meets needs
- Test and validate design and development, getting feedback on what is being built to ensure it’s right
- Help with change management, building up support and advocacy among the people who are going to be using the intranet the most
Let’s look at each of these three scenarios in more detail.
Carrying out user research
One of the biggest mistakes teams make when implementing an intranet is to assume that they know what it should look like, what features it should include and how it should work. Basing the design and build on assumptions is a dangerous game. Intranets must be based on a thorough understanding of how employees work, how they interact with technology, the everyday problems that need to be solved and wider information needs.
Extensive user research is the answer: There are different methods to carry out research, including:
- Workshops, either with a cross section of different employees or different sets of employees. This helps explore concepts, issues and get feedback. Often the interaction and discussion helps to tease out valuable insights.
- Structed one on one interviews, which go deeper into how individuals work, but where you can also start to identify trends, if interviews are structured consistently with a similar set of questions.
- Surveys, which give answers to a set of questions from a wider group of employees and then can be used to find comparable data after you’ve joined.
- Desk research, analysing existing site metrics and other related analytics such as levels of email usage.
- Getting quick opinions either by using online polls or even canvassing opinion in popular parts of the workplace, such as the canteen.
- Personas are realistic characterisations of typical members of your key audience such as a frontline worker, or a manager, which provide information on what they do, their information needs and so on. Personas are more of an output from user research, but provide a highly valuable consistent reference point of audience needs when designing and building the intranet.
At Content Formula we always carry out user research as part of the project using some of the above techniques, depending on the scope and nature of the project. We also carry out research with senior stakeholders too as their perspective is critical too.
Carrying out research builds up trust with your users which continues after the intranet is launched and gives credibility to your intranet design and features.
Testing and validation
During any intranet project the intranet design and development will go through any number of iterations. Involving users is the secret to ensuring each iteration is better than the last. The type of involvement and testing can be in several different ways:
- General user feedback on your intranet design and build-in progress is critical. This can happen at various stages but teams often ask for feedback when they have something new to show – for example at a wireframe, prototype and initial build stage. In an agile development, user feedback may be focused on the specific features which have been developed within a sprint.
- Usability testing involves carrying out testing to ensure your users can actually use your intranet. Users may be asked to complete certain tasks to see what works and it improvements need to be made.
- Card-sorting and tree-testing: Most intranet projects will involve designing an information architecture which makes sense for uses. Card -sorting and tree-testing are types of testing which can help you define and then refine a user-centred navigation for your intranet.
- Formal user acceptance testing. Finally, consider involving some of your users in a formal round of testing, using test scripts and so on.
Helping with change management
The use of intranets and related tools is usually not mandatory. It takes an ongoing change management effort to drive adoption, embed new ways of working and introduce new features.
Staying close to your users can make a massive contribution to any change initiative.
We always advocate using a network of champions to help launch an intranet. These champions are usually involved on a voluntary basis, are energetic and enthusiastic and act as local champions and experts. They present the intranet to peers in the context of how it can be used for different locations, departments and roles. Peer recommendation and local context really helps drive adoption.
Often champions are the very same users who’ve been involved in the research, design and testing phases of your intranet project. They not only help with the intranet launch but can also continue to provide feedback.
Increasingly intranets are being launched as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP approach not only gets your intranet up and running quicker but subsequent changes and enhancements are based on real usage and the subsequent feedback from employees. This means your intranet can continuously improve.
Often the relationships and communication channels you’ve built up with your champions and other users continue from the end of the formal project into the business as usual phase. Your core audience continues to influence your direction.
It pays to stay close to your users from the first day of your project to the day you launch. You need to stay close going forward too! Not only will this deliver an intranet which is based on needs and will work effectively, it will also allow you to build advocacy, trust and engagement with your users. And that’s the best possible start for any intranet!