The power of discovery: how research is critical for your intranet project

If youve worked on a new intranet or digital workplace project, youll know just how important undertaking user and stakeholder research is for getting a great end result. You need that fundamental understanding of user needs and stakeholder views to build an intranet that will be successful and sustainable.

Because its so important weve made research and discovery an early phase in many of our projects. In this article were going to explore why it is important and how we go about our discovery phase.

Nine reasons why user and stakeholder research is so important

1. Building a user-centred intranet or digital workplace

Every successful intranet or digital workplace must be centred round users. An intranet that is not user-centric will simply not get used to its full potential or will miss opportunities to drive productivity, efficiency and engagement.

User research is absolutely critical in order to understand users and their pain points, preferences, habits, beliefs and more. Only from this understanding can you then design an effective digital workplace. You also cannot rely on your assumptions about what your users want or need its a road to digital workplace failure.

2. Getting the support of stakeholders so it is relevant and credible

One of the reasons we also interview stakeholders to get their views is that any successful intranet or digital workplace needs to reflect the strategic priorities of functions like IT, Communications and HR, as well as align to wider organisational objectives. Getting stakeholder input therefore gives an important strategic framing for your project. Involving stakeholders in research also drives their buy-in which often proves critical and also helps give your research and project credibility.

3. Establishing priorities

Sometimes Its hard to know where to start with a digital workplace project. User research often gives you more clarity over the prioritisation of your efforts as you can identify the biggest areas of pain, the low hanging fruit that will impact most users, the more niche cases that can perhaps wait further down your roadmap and so on.

4. Designing for personalization and relevancy

Workforces are diverse and complex, with a wide variety of different roles, needs and preferences. Intranets and digital workplaces need to be relevant and personalised; one size does absolutely not fit all. Undertaking user research helps you to understand the differences in how groups work and the relative nuances you need to make in terms of development, design, content and even change management interventions.

5. Getting the fine-tuning right

Often you need a detail of understanding to finesse an approach, workflow, user interface design and other requirements. Returning to the detail of user research can help you get the fine-tuning right.

6. Suggesting the backlog

As every seasoned intranet and digital workplace professional will tell you, a platform is never finished. There are always improvements to make. In-depth user research will often suggest a backlog of changes, features and new capabilities that will keep your developers busy through Phase 2, Phase 3 and probably way beyond that.

7. Making the business case

If youre trying to make a business case, you need credible data that has emerged from proper user research. Not only does this support a good business case but it can also influence hearts as well as minds. Weve often found presenting a direct quote from a user that expresses the pain of using an existing solution or retelling a success story from an early adopter of another technology is a powerful way to make the case. These usually emerge from user research.

8. Getting buy-in and starting change management

Change management is critical for any digital workplace or intranet project to drive adoption and usage. But change management isnt just about post-launch support and perhaps a teaser campaign; there are real opportunities to start your change management from day one through your user research.  If users know they are being listened to, they are far more likely to take an interest in the end product. Sometimes those involved in user research may also end up becoming champions and advocates, ending up playing a critical part of your wider change efforts.

9. Setting up iteration, testing and improvement

User research often reveals those individuals and groups who may be willing to contribute further with feedback. There is often a continuity between groups involved in initial user research who then give ongoing feedback to be able to iterate and test an intranet or application before launch, and then even improve it afterwards.

Our approach

Because of the importance of user research, weve made it central to our approach to intranet and digital workplace projects. For the great majority of our engagements we will carry out a discovery phase based on user research. The scale of this will vary depending on the nature of the project and whether a client has already undertaken some research, but this generally consists of:

  • A number of workshops with users representing different sections of the workforce
  • A number of individual interviews, again representing a cross-representation of users
  • A workshop and interviews with key stakeholders, to understand their views too
  • Sometimes we may undertake a wider survey asking additional questions

Interviews and workshops and cover a consistent set of questions and topics, covering elements such as:

  • User frustrations
  • Information needs
  • How they use current applications
  • What a typical day looks like
  • Ideas and preferences

From our workshop and interview notes, well then carry out our analysis, identifying themes, finding patterns and making recommendations. These are then summarised and collated in a Discovery Report.

Whats in a typical Discovery Report?

Of course, no two Discovery Reports are the same! However, typically we cover the following areas usually in a presentation to key stakeholders and team members:

  • Overview of the discovery process
  • User frustrations and pain points, often illustrated by real quotes
  • Other insights from interviews and workshops
  • Feedback and ideas from employees and stakeholders
  • Overall emergent themes
  • Recommendations suggested by the research for intranets, digital workplace, governance and more
  • Any other detail associated with the recommendations such as a suggestion for an information architecture for the intranet.

Examples of our work

Most of our work involves a discovery phase involving detailed user and stakeholder research.

Legal & General

Legal and General engaged Content Formula to carry our detailed user research to develop a strategy and roadmap to transform the digital employee experience; we undertook numerous workshops and interviews, as well as involving senior stakeholders. The research and related discovery output that also built on previous information helped form the basis for an ambitious roadmap that is still being followed today.

SharePoint Modern case study

When TTEC engaged us to deliver a new Office 365 intranet for a workforce with complex needs, we needed to completely understand the nuances of how employees worked as well as stakeholder priorities. The on-site workshops we held at TTECs campus HQ in the USA as well as the remote interviews we carried out proved essential for the successful roll-out of a strong Office 365 intranet that meets TTECs unique needs.

Find out more

We know the difference solid research and discovery makes to an intranet and digital workplace project. We also know the danger of not carrying out research, and designing a digital workplace based on hunches and assumptions. Thats why we invest time in our discovery process and why clients keep on telling us they value our Discovery Report and the insights it delivers. If youd like to discuss our approach to user research then get in touch.

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