Recently, more and more of our customers are facing the SharePoint Modern dilemma: Should they adopt SharePoint Online’s new modern user interface and sacrifice control over the branding? Is Modern a mature enough product to roll out to thousands of employees across the globe? To help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, we created this infographic.
Requires support from the product vendor or consultancy
Improving SharePoints content editing interfaces is not easy and comes at a cost regardless if you take the custom or prebuilt route.
Therefore, it is important to identify and prioritise the areas where you want to give a lot of control to content editors. Typically more options for ways and styles of publishing = greater cost.
By limiting the control given to content owners and making things as template driven as possible, you can keep costs more reasonable.
A positive side effect of a template driven approach is often a cleaner, more simplified experience for your intranets end users.
More recently, a significant way to improve the user and editor experience for SharePoint is to move to SharePoint Online as part of Office 365. SharePoint Online has a completely refreshed interface which makes things a lot easier for editors.
Watch John Scott, one of our SharePoint and intranet experts, delivering his keynote at the Intranet Now conference, or read through the narrative. The slides are shared at the bottom.
There are two rules when conducting user research:
Rule number one: Listen to your users
Rule number two: Dont listen to your users
Let me explainâ€¦
Its 1898 and we are in New York City. The Empire State Building doesnt exist there are skyscrapers, but they are only about nine stories high. The Brooklyn bridge has already been open for 15 years and there are around 1.5 million inhabitants. But there are also a lot of something else: Horses! About 150,000 of them, in fact – practically filling the streets, ferrying people from A to B, transporting various goods up and down.
But not everyones happy with the way things are, and complaints have been coming from a few quarters. So the town planner starts doing some research.
He begins by asking a local businessman who owns a transport company.
Whats the problem? he asks
I want faster horses, says the business man
Right, right – faster horses
Next he speaks to a milkman.
I want bigger horses, to pull more milk, says the milkman
Ok, bigger horsesâ€¦
Then he asks a road cleaner.
I want horses that dont shit, says the road cleaner
Hmmm, noâ€¦ defecationâ€¦ ok
Next the planner speaks to a shopkeeper
I want cows
Cows? Ok, well we have cows available, but horses are kindaâ€¦ better? â€¦ well ok, cows
Finally, he had to wait a couple of months for an appointment, but he visits the Mayors office
I want higher taxes on horses, exclaims the mayor
Great suggestion, My Mayor!
So, the planner went away and prepared his recommendations. And this is what he came up with…
So, what did the planner learn from this research exercise:
Everyone wants something different
Everyone focuses on what they have already
Some people make nonsensical suggestions
The boss focuses on the bottom line
Im going to have to do this again.
And the next time the planner remembered not to ask people what they want but to ask them about what what they do and the issues they face and then understand these things in detail!
Get to know them
What we really want to do during user research is get to know them. Of course, I dont mean their dogs name and their favourite colour, but what they do and how they do it.
There are a lot of ways to conduct user research. Each have their own merits and are more or less useful in different scenarios. But, Im going to focus on the ones that we really must do and do well. These are the three techniques you should pick that will get you the most useful info for your average corporate intranet project. By average I mean the kind of intranet that covers a broad range of content and functionality. If you are looking at more specific scenarios, like a just-in-time buying portal for manufacturers, then other research techniques may be more important.
Interviews are good because they are efficient. You get an opportunity to really interrogate someone for around an hour and get all sorts of useful info. But its important to follow the correct line of enquiry, otherwise you end up with insights like I want horses that dont shit.
Whats the point?
The point of interviews is to understand how different people in the business work. What are their common tasks, who do they interact with and how, what are the barriers that they come across? One of the things that you get from interviews is visibility of tasks or processes that are imperfect, and could be improved by an intranet. Another thing is a gradual build up of knowledge about the way the company works behind the scenes a general sense/awareness that is almost subconscious. Thirdly, a by-product of doing interviews is that you can make people feel involved and consulted this can have a powerful effect on adoption. Especially if you can bring the interviewees back in on the project at a later point.
Who should we interview?
Its tempting to select people who you know are interested or already heavily engaged with the intranet or other digital tools. You can select one or two or these people, but the main priority should be to:
Get a good cross section of staff.
Make sure youve got: Some who are junior, some who are middle management, some who are senior; Administrators, line of business workers; office based, field based, shop floor based; UK, France; Region role, country role etc. But that might still only be 10-20 users.
Interview people who are cynical about digital workplace tools or intranets (especially ones who are known to have influence).
You wont prove them wrong on the interview, but you can do it in the longer term by really listening to their problems and finding a way to fix them. Its a win win to interview these detractors. At worst you wont fix their problems, but will at least make them feel consulted. At best, you will turn them in to a believer
What to do and what to avoid
When interviewing people, here are some things you should do, and things you should avoid:
Give them some context. Start off by explaining what you are working on and how this interview fits in to the general scheme of work. Make it clear that its really vital to the process and be thankful for their contribution
Have a list of topics / questions. Just reading the questions out like a survey should be avoided its important to naturally explore parts of the conversation more deeply and occasionally go off piste. You should ask open questions. However, its important to cover the same angles of inquiry with each of the users, so a list of topics will help
Try to hone in on frequent tasks they complete, or interactions that they have. Really interrogate them about the detail be persistent because some people wont see the detail as important. Get a sense for how long things take and how often they occur
Before you thank them for their time and hang up always ask whether they would be happy to help further along the road as part of usability testing, for example.
Dont ask them what they want. Its not their job to invent solutions to the problems that exist. BUT if they do suggest something, do note it down. Sometimes it is a well thought out solution
Get trapped into talking about politics. Some context is good, but change the subject before going into too much detail
Ask leading questions deliberately ask open questions. Do you agree that the intranet is an effective communications tool? is a bad question. Its vague and its a leading question
And, just to emphasise, the most important part of all of this:
Identify the tasks they complete frequently, or interactions that they have regularly.
And ask them to quantify these actions. How many times a day, how long does it take. And what value does it represent to the business?
In the interviews, we asked people about regular tasks and interactions. Task analysis is about going into the detail of those tasks. Mapping them out and hopefully identifying parts that can be made more efficient or easier.
To begin, we need to make a list of the tasks and interactions that came up across all of the interviews.
Then prioritise them based on which ones have a high frequency but also take a long time and what level of impact it has on the business. Theres no formula that I have for this. Just a general judgement on where it would have the biggest impact if the process was improved. You can also get a better sense of this by talking to managers and department heads Well talk about that more later.
Once you have that list, you can contact the interviewees again and set up a session with them to go through the tasks in more detail.
Ideally, you should organize a time when you can actually sit with the person as they perform the task essentially shadowing them. Just as if you were being trained to do the same job.
As you are doing this, make notes about what they do and the decisions they are making as they do it. Ask them to think out loud as much as possible. You want to understand the process, but also what they are thinking. You dont want to end up just documenting what the existing system does.
Heres an example process this is real, but the company name isnt:
Pipe Dreams is an engineering company that dig up roads and fix gas and water pipes all over the country
At each site, a number of forms need to be filled out by the head engineer
A guy in a van drives round the country collecting these forms from each site
The van man drops off the completed forms to central office
Central office scan the forms and upload them to a document management system
The document management system outputs an inventory sheet
The inventory sheet is printed, circulated and signed by various supervisors
The signed inventory sheet is re-scanned and stored
After youve gathered this info, turn your notes into a flow diagram. Like this diagram, below.
Sometimes a task or interaction wont happen within one continuous time frame. The user might start the task on one day and complete the next step a week later say, after input from another party if this is the case then just arrange to attend each step in the process, including the ones that involve someone else. If you cant be there physically then just jump on a call and use screen share software.
What you will end up with is a series of flow diagrams that show the process users go through to complete tasks or interactions. You also have an idea of how long each task and sub tasks take and the business impact of inefficiencies.
From this you can accurately identify problems that the user faces, or inefficiencies in the process. This is the basis for being able to come up with solutions that actually address real business issues.
What weve focused on so far is individual users and their tasks. But, we also want to get the bigger picture the view from the management level and above. This is important for a few reasons:
Getting managers and senior people, like department heads, involved makes them feel invested in the project. Theyll be more likely to make their staff available for other research like interviews and task analysis and later testing and content work. If a department head is disengaged, then this can derail things.
Managers can provide you with the helicopter view. They constantly get feedback from their staff about processes, systems, culture. They can relay this information to you in aggregated, high-level form. This is an efficient way for you to become informed on these matters.
Managers will have their own tasks and processes that they will identify as part of the sessions. But, also, they may help you to understand the business importance of other tasks and interactions that users talk to you about.
However, with these groups its not just about conducting user research. This is an opportunity to give them visibility of what other organisations do, what best practice looks like and the kind of things that are possible. Doing this will also help with their buy-in something that will be important throughout your research as well as the implementation phases.
A good structure for a stakeholder workshop is:
Ask the magic wand question. Ask them what they would fix in the business if they had a magic wand. Dont constrain this to the intranet. Invite them to talk about frustrations that are seemingly unconnected to the digital workplace, such as the lack of parking spaces at head office. Make a big list.
Show them some case studies / examples from other intranets (there are plenty of case studies online and in reports like the Nielsen Intranet report). With each of these first highlight the problems that were identified in the research, then show how the intranet design addressed those problems.
Come back to the list of things to fix that the group came up with. Ask them if they think an intranet could help fix the problems and if so, how?
Next, go back over the list and, as a group, condense the problems into themes. For example, collaboration between different offices is a theme that could cover a number of the issues that were raised.
Depending on the size and make up of the business, and the scope of the intranet, it might be necessary to run several stakeholder workshop sessions. For example, one might be with heads of department, another might be with sales managers etc. Ideally you want to get good coverage across your research methods in terms of the functions, seniority, location etc of the roles.
Its never too late take action tomorrow
Theres a problem with a lot of organisations in the way they approach intranets. The big bang cycle of intranet projects and launches. Do some research, build an intranet, wait 5 years, do it again.
The ideal way to break this cycle is to do user research continually. This is always the first step, so just make a start and get things moving. As an intranet manager, you are the person best equipped to start the ball rolling. There are always new people to talk to and changes to process or legislation to understand and optimize for The organisation will continue to evolve.
Continually having outputs and recommendations from user research is like a giant cattle prod for continuous development and evolution of intranets.
Its true that time or budget constraints may limit what can be done. However, a small amount of the right research is better than none. And also, think of it this way, investing in research leads to improvements being made in areas that actually matter where most can be gained. So, it really is a wise investment of an intranet teams time and budget.
But its easy to fall into the trap of simply evaluating the current intranet. Thats worthwhile too, but dont just ask people how they feel about the existing intranet. Pretend it doesnt exist and ask them about what they do.
Gain support from the HiPPOs
Before you can start giving users what they need, you have to convince other people to back you. This is especially true of the HiPPO.
The HiPPO is The Highest Paid Persons Opinion.
The HiPPO can derail you if you let it.
There can be very strong views about what the intranet should and shouldnt do, and worse HOW it should do it (like, down to the level of what the buttons should look like). But, as clever as they may be, you have done the research and, on this subject at least, you know more! You are in a better position to advise on which decisions should be made and why. I dont suggest that you point that out, but I do suggest that you emit this message in the way that you present your ideas.
Getting the HiPPO onboard with your recommendations as well as other key stakeholders – is absolutely vital. The intranet will rely on their support for funding, but also promotion and culture shift.
When its time to approach the senior stakeholders, cap in hand, you should insist on a face to face meeting / presentation.
If you really cant get face time and have to submit a report, consider doing it as a set of presentation slides. Not a rambling word doc. Include the lengthy notes and analysis as appendices only.
The key thing is to present the findings from the user research in a way that tells a story take them on a journey through the research, but give them the highlights only.
If you can have a prep session with stakeholders individually and sound them out on some of the information you will present. This will allow you to prepare for any challenges. Just one stakeholder challenging you on one small part of your report, and having no response, can change everyone elses perspective on your credibility.
And, remember the Mayor of New York City? He was focused on the bottom line. So make an effort to include projections on money saved or earned. This can be difficult. However, it doesnt have to be a water tight forecast. For example, you can highlight some common processes uncovered during the research. Identify how long they take on average, and how many people do them. Assign a cost to that. Then give an estimate for how long the process will take with the improvements you are recommending. Viola a monetary figure that may convince them. And, also, a KPI measure how long it does take people as part of the testing and you know if you are achieving the target.
Things to remember
Listen to your users
Listen to what they do, how they do it and what their frustrations are. Listen to as many people as possible
Dont listen to your users
Dont listen to what people say they want they often dont really know
Just do it
Pick 2-3 techniques and get going, start the ball rolling dont wait for the next big bang
Put your case forward in a succinct and convincing way that leaves no room for whimsical decisions
Building a usable intranet on SharePoint is easier than ever before owing to Office 365 in the cloud. Microsofts cloud subscription model has made the power of SharePoint available to organisations that previously would not have had the IT support necessary to deploy such enterprise level software.
But organisations of every size have to consider the user experience that out-of-the box SharePoint offers, and theres a problem: people cant get home.
How do you feel about the hamburger icon that you might notice when using a mobile site? When I first started seeing this web furniture I was happy to touch it to explore, and not unexpectedly, there was a menu. These days, Im happy to see the hamburger menu, and ignore it, until I want to explore the site. Do you feel the same?
But if youre keeping up with design trends and user research, you might know that the hamburger menu does not appear inviting to everyone. Many people do not notice the icon, cannot interpret the three horizontal lines, and do not ever touch it.
User research shows hiding menu items means they dont get used
Ive been conducting rough and ready user testing in recent weeks, looking into how people think and feel about their Office 365 intranet. One striking finding that I cant ignore is how difficult people find returning to the home page is.
Many people, it seems from my research, like to start a fresh task from the home page; but getting back to the home page from wherever they are within the Microsoft cloud is a challenge.
Microsofts cloud SharePoint offering expects everyone to think in an app way OneDrive is an app; Delve is an app; Word is now an app all accessible from the main waffle icon.
A 7-point framework for employee engagement in the digital workplace
Modern organisations are using a number of clever techniques to accelerate internal change and make it stick. This free e-book puts forward a simple and effective 7-point framework to use to deliver change campaigns and programmes.
How many homes are there?
Think about how people access the home page of the intranet. From log-in, a person might land on your intranet home page or, depending how they logged in, the Office Home page.
From here, they have to click on SharePoint. This brings up SharePoint home. This is perfect if you want to dive into your teams collaboration site, but it isnt the intranet home page that comms people might expect.
(SharePoint was named Sites up until June 2016.)
To reach the true intranet home page, the person has to click on a link or the tile / card called Intranet (highlighted above). Now they get to experience the company home page (but in a new tab)
Once deep within the intranet, people can click the company logo to get to the home page (if they know this trick) but what if they are in an app?
Imagine youve just performed a people search and have found Vikrams phone number and maybe office location. Now, you may well be inside Delve now looking at Vikrams Delve profile. Its likely that all the intranet-specific menu items are not shown, as this is just Delve. How do you return to the home page? The back button on your browser should work (unless you’re in a new tab), but do you really want to click that 12 times, each time checking to see where you are?
How do you quickly get from Delve to your intranets home page? Theres no logo to click.
Theres left-hand menu item that just says Home but this is Delves home. Take a look at some research results, below.
Half of my research was conducted during usability testing with me sat right there with the person, but the above heatmap shows online testing where the person worked alone.
You can see that, when a person is in Delve and they need to return to the home page of the intranet, only 39% first think of clicking the waffle icon. The majority of people click the Home link and why not? It has a house icon and everything! But this is Delve home.
The answer is supposed to be the waffle icon click the waffle and the paddle menu offers you SharePoint. Youre supposed to know what this word meansâ€¦
While every day users of the Office 365 environment may well become confident in getting around, those people new to the platform, or just those who only use the intranet every so often, do not find the basic navigation intuitive.
The waffle icon offers a paddle menu of coloured square icons (the ‘app launcher’) including something called SharePoint, which takes you to to master index page that lists out all the intranet and project sites you personally have subscribed to or have access to. This is not an intuitive page (although its very useful); most people expect the real intranet to guide them around.
Next to the waffle icon is a big menu item that just says Office 365. If you click this, you land on a page that offers you the exact same coloured square icons that the waffle icon offers. Because this is the Office 365 home, not your intranet home.
Click on SharePoint and you land on an index page, offering you all the sites you have access to. From here, youre supposed to know to click on Intranet or whatever your company has called the intranet. Only now do you reach the home page.
So from doing a people search (a very common task) it takes three clicks to get to the home page, rather than one. The hardest click is the first one; very few people Ive worked with ever explore the waffle icon. It does not indicate that its a button or that its hiding a menu.
This seems awkward, and the people Ive been working with felt that they were not experienced enough to understand the intranet. They graciously excused the intranet and said they needed more training. This is horrible, when the intranet has failed them, and made them feel lost and frustrated.
So you could add an icon for the home page of your intranet, reducing confusion and the number of clicks needed to get home when a person finds themselves in Delve or some other app.
But, and its a big but, your new icon only shows up on the My apps page (where a person lands if they click View all my apps in the paddle menu) until each individual chooses to add it to the paddle menu by hand. In other words, every employee needs to visit the My apps page and select the new Intranet icon and use the Pin to app launcher function. Is this something everyone will do? No.
The take aways
Dont expect people know whats in the waffle icon, or even realise it is clickable.
Understand that home can mean different things to different people; Search has a home; Delve has a home; Office 365 has a home; SharePoint has a home.
Tell people that things often open in new tabs – help people be aware of what their browser does.
Introduce the waffle icon to people as part of your adoption and engagement activities. Highlight it in training. Explain how to reach the home page of the intranet, and how to reach other SharePoint sites.
Consider beatifying your intranet with a brand design that suits your company, and that adds rich navigation features (like better, more obvious menus). Such brand designs do not affect the SharePoint code and are easy to install.
Its this last item that needs careful consideration. While many smaller organisations are happy with the vanilla look of out-of-the-box SharePoint, medium and large companies almost always talk to us about a suitable design for their brand. Some people have concerns about customising SharePoint, but adding an attractive design isnt customisation, its merely design.
Joe explains how easy it is to brand SharePoint, even in the cloud take a look. A good brand design doesnt just make your intranet look more pleasing, it can help with the usability and UX adding much needed navigation aids and helping people do what the most want to do go home!
There are some successful intranets out there that are not particularly attractive, but they work, they do the job, they are fit for purpose. There are other intranets which are very pretty, but they’re not successful, they don’t achieve their objectives.
So does this mean that graphic design isn’t important on intranets? Actually we really think it is important, and sometimes it can even be a deciding factor.
Why is graphic design an important part of an intranet? There are four reasons:
1) Corporate identity – Even though the intranet is internal facing it should still feel part of the brand to employees. The company should be emitting its corporate values both internally and externally, otherwise the employees won’t identify with them.
2) Trust – When employees use the intranet, and the first thing they see is good design, then they are more likely to assume that other aspects of the intranet will meet the same standards. If however they see poor design, then they are more than likely to assume that the content, the functionality, and the usability of the intranet will be equally poor.
3) Clarity of message – Decorative but purposeless design can distract people from the message that’s being communicated. Instead there should be an emphasis on design that aids the communication of the core message. Design can be used to promote the importance of certain content but also to downplay others.
4) Usability – Just as unnecessary design can add noise to the communication, it can also adversely affect the usability of an intranet. As an example, using large scale graphics can dramatically increase page load times, this is a massive factor for usability on mobile devices. Often the quest for making things unique or different can also cause us to break usability conventions.
The graphic design is always a factor, even on the most functional of intranets. However, depending on the audience and the objectives of an intranet, it can be a decisive factor in its success.
John talks about the importance of getting end users involved with the design process in our fifth video of our series. A working prototype helps stakeholders and employees guide the final design. Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more.
Many intranets fail because they are designed and launched without ever being tested on real users.
It’s important to involve users in the design through workshops and interviews, but it’s even more important they help you test the site early on.
Fortunately, you don’t even have to wait until the site is built. We use wire framing software that allows us to create clickable, interactive prototypes. We can use these to simulate content, information architecture, page layouts, and even the functionality of a real intranet.
These interactive wire frames are useful for getting feedback from business stakeholders, however you can also put them in front of employees and ask them to complete a set of typical tasks, such as completing an expense claim or finding an internal vacancy in another country.
We invite around twenty employees to take part in our wireframe testing sessions, it’s best if theyre from different departments, countries, and levels of seniority. One by one we ask them to complete a set of around fifteen tasks using our interactive prototypes. We ask people to think out loud and tell us what they’re thinking as they make decisions and click through the pages.
It’s really interesting to run these sessions because it can be surprising what people struggle with. It gives us an opportunity to revise our wireframes and make sure we fix problems before we move into the build phase. This all saves precious time and money, and helps us to deliver an intranet which is already validated by employees.
At Content Formula, we advocate a user centred design approach; we involve users in the very early stages of the intranet project, because it’s vitally important to get people involved in the design of your new intranet, in fact we involve them in just the second step of the project.
We carry out a number of interviews, or sometimes we call them depth interviews. We do this by coordinating ten to twenty different people across the organisation that represent a good cross section of levels of seniority, different departments, regions or countries. It’s not a scripted interview per-se, but there are certain topics and themes that we want to cover and discuss with employees.
Our aim really is to discover more about their role, the information they need access to, and who they talk to and in what way.
We’re not asking them to design the intranet for us, in fact what we’re getting is insight so that we can make better decisions about what the right intranet looks like.
The personas we develop are fictional but they do provide us with a realistic representation of typical users across the business; they’re something we can always refer back to throughout the project so that we can make better decisions about how we design the intranet and make sure all users’ needs are catered for.
Pfizer wanted an intranet site to enable marketing managers to share information, best practices, and digital marketing assets. As the new hub was to be for marketing professionals, the visual design as very important as a way to show the functionality and improve the ease of use.
Our design was to replace two previous SharePoint sites, neither of which were very well used. We knew first impressions mattered with the stakeholders and end-users, but we also had to come to an understanding of marketers needs in such a large organisation.
While you can see the home page design (below), please note the project section and the help section.
Notice how simple it is to start a new project (and how controlled), and how useful it is to be encouraged to ask questions. We introduced an element of gamification to reward those who asked and answered queries.
Excuse the dummy text in the draft designs we actually worked with existing content so as to properly understand Pfizers needs, hence the Ask us categories that match peoples working areas and real-world concerns.
None of this would have been possible without the user research and agile sprints we developed the end result in collaboration with stakeholders, ensuring that everyone was on-board with the vision, and the implementation.
Of course, while the visual design is distinct (and pleased the marketing people using it), it’s in keeping with Pfizers overall brand guidelines.
This isnt all about visual design, but rather, a focus on the functionality of SharePoint along with the usability and user experience. So before you consider an out of the box SharePoint solution on top of your SharePoint installation, talk to us about what can be done with SharePoint in the cloud or on-premises we think we can help you achieve your goals, beautifully.
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!
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