Im one of the few people you could meet who says, I really love intranets; and actually thats not completely true, as I love intranet projects.
I always tell my team that intranet projects can be both the best and worst projects to work on. Worst, because of organisational complexity, often accompanied by heavy politics. Best, because done correctly, they allow the user experience practitioner to deploy their full armoury of skills and techniques.
In over 15 years of working on intranet projects for large corporate organisations, I think Ive genuinely seen the best and worst. And the category a project falls into depends almost entirely on the organisations willingness (or ability) to subscribe to just a few key principles.
Ive had the pleasure of working with, and leading, some incredibly talented UX professionals. Our joint experiences led to the articulation of key principles we call the 5 dimensions of a great intranet.
The slideshow (below) walks you through the 5 dimensions and includes some of the big recent trends seen in intranets. I hope you find it useful, and remember, Im always happy to talk about intranets!
But take a look at our recent SharePoint work to see the results of all this.
Intranets are big things; too big to just plan, launch and maintain as if its just another web project. Stakeholder management can be a nightmare as, in order to grow a successful intranet, the platform has to be everything to all people, and everyone has their opinion and needs.
While everyone has a stake in the success of the intranet, not everyone is equal in their influence. I suggest that stakeholders need to be identified and differentiated in a structured manner. This will provide clarity when it comes to decision making, tactics, and strategy – the very foundation of intranet governance.
While I propose the use of groups and committees to govern and steer the direction of the intranet, you might prefer a more informal approach. How ever you structure the stakeholders, I think it’s useful to think in ARCI terms.
A is for accountable
This is a very serious word. To be accountable for something means being prepared to take the blame. Accountability means having the authority to make decisions.
If you can’t make decisions and implement change then it may be that you are not accountable.
The litmus test is this – you are not accountable for something unless failure would damage your position. You are accountable if you literally have a stake in the success.
In practice, the core intranet team may be accountable for the intranet, but perhaps this is not ideal. Surely the intranet team needs senior guidance?
This is where the Intranet Steering Committee comes in. The 6 to 9 committee members, who come from all levels and areas of the organisation, weigh up the guidance from the Intranet Team, the IT department, and their own stakeholders and colleagues, and ratify the intranet strategy.
Being accountable, they share the blame for stalls, delays, and intranet cul-de-sacs, because no single team can be accountable for success or failure. It has to be shared across the organisation.
R is for responsible
The core Intranet Team is responsible for the intranet, and works hard to layout the intranet strategy, and once approved by the Steering Committee, implement it on a daily basis.
The Intranet Team is responsible for how the intranet achieves the objectives that the organisation sets (via the Steering Committee). This includes daily tactical decision making. The Intranet Team maintains and develops the intranet as per the expertise that responsibility implies.
The Intranet Team often has to listen to complaints and receive departmental requests that may be wildly outside the intranet strategy. Saying ‘no’ can be really hard, and so the beauty of having a Steering Committee is that the intranet manager can say ‘thank you, I’ll pass this on to the Committee’. It’s now up to the Intranet Team to guide the Steering Committee, and the Steering Committee to say yay or nay to the request. Naturally, the Intranet Team (or Intranet Manager) takes responsibility for the daily, business as usual, requests.
Having a robust process for feedback and requests is vital if the Intranet Team is to make strategic progress, and not be seen as a ‘blocker’ by others.
C is for consult
The few members of the Steering Committee can’t truly represent the whole organisation. Further advisory groups are needed. Your intranet team might run ‘intranet champion breakfasts’ or ‘site owner engagement sessions’. You might simply have a section on the intranet where you share your intranet improvement plans and seek feedback. Whether you have one formal ‘Advisory Group’ or several groups and channels for feedback, the idea is to be transparent and engaging.
Consulting, or encouraging contributions from, people across the organisation should hopefully provide you with a practical understanding of where the intranet is stronger and weaker in serving the needs of your people.
Maintaining an advisory group or groups also means you have ready access to people who should be willing to take part in intranet improvement exercises (like usability testing, card sorting, branding feedback etc.).
Ideas from the advisory group(s) can be fed to the Steering Committee, providing evidence to support the guidance from the Intranet Team.
I is for inform
Never, ever, redesign the home page as a surprise. Your ‘new look’ is not a gift for every employee – it’s a change they have to deal with.
While it’s possible to add things to the main navigation and the home page without too much fuss, it’s much harder to take things away without disrupting people’s ways of working.
Always keep everyone informed. Remember that communication does not happen just because you’ve published a news article. A proper communications plan is necessary, so that people are kept informed about the proposed changes and what the improvements will mean to them.
Although everyone seems apathetic, even hostile, towards change, by engaging people and providing plenty of screenshots and key points, people will be more accepting. ‘Change communications’ is too big a topic for this article, but always keep in mind the importance of every staff member; the intranet is to serve their needs.
Setting the governance is part of our four-step approach to intranet launch and managegement. Read how we like to see governance embedded, and the roles needed.
Photo credit: David Jones