The biggest risks threatening your intranet project (and how to mitigate them)
Risk is a fact of any project.
Even the best-planned and executed software implementations aren’t immune to risk: no matter how diligent we are, there will be external factors that threaten the success or even the launch of our projects. Uncertainty, fear, challenges and the unexpected are part and parcel of the process because ultimately, no-one can predict the future – not even project managers.
Software development and implementation in particular often require complex technologies and specialist skills or knowledge to get right, creating additional risk factors. Even if you’re opting for an out-the-box solution that requires, at least on paper, minimal input or configuration from your business, risk management should still form a central part of your project plan.
Failure to prepare, as they say is preparing to fail. Protect your intranet software project by understanding, anticipating, and preparing for possible risks ahead of time, and help prevent those crippling disasters from happening.
What is ‘risk’?
If you’ve undertaken any sort of project before – software or otherwise – the chances are, you’ve come across risk before. However, it’s worth stepping back and reminding ourselves what actually falls under the definition of ‘project risk’.
Risk factors are possible events or conditions that, should they happen, could cause a direct impact on at least one project objective or a deviation from what has been forecast.
Risks are also called ‘threats’, as they threaten a business’s success – and in extreme circumstances, even its survival.
17 percent of IT projects go so badly, they threaten the existence of the company. (Source: McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the University of Oxford.)
While an intranet project may not appear to pose a danger to your business, their value and position as a business-wide tool can expose vulnerabilities. Simply put, if something goes wrong with your intranet project, there is potential for a domino effect across your organization.
When delivering an intranet project, there are commonly two distinct types of risk:
- Implementation risk: the risk that a proposed investment may deviate from the original or expected requirements, resulting in higher costs than anticipated
- Outcome risk: refers to the risk that the business or technology needs of the organization may not be met by the investment, resulting in lower overall total benefits
Risk factors will differ from one business to the next, taking into consideration your company size, sector, structure and priorities. What may be considered a huge threat for one business may only be an inconvenience for another, so making it’s worth taking the time to evaluate your unique position and any potential challenges to your intranet project.
The list below, therefore, isn’t exhaustive: but with our years of experience supporting and delivering intranet projects across a diverse range of organizations, we’ve been able to pick out the most common ‘hiccups’ that tend to arise, and how to mitigate them.
1. Project overrun, delays, or over budget
According to collated research between McKinsey & Company and the Oxford University, large IT projects on average run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted. Software projects in particular run a high risk of cost and schedule overruns.
Source: McKinsey, “Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value”
An intranet project represents a significant investment, not only in terms of financial cost, but also resource requirements – people, time, changed processes or business priorities. Each of these represents a potential threat or vulnerability for your project. One potential way to reduce that is through the construction of an intranet proof of concept as an early stage, but even that comes with its own risks.
The simplest way to mitigate these risks, or at least minimize them, is with a comprehensive and clear project plan. You need to set out the scope of your project, and gain an understanding of how long – and how many people – it will take to build your intranet. Clearly defining expectations and resource requirements, while ensuring those involved in the plan are fully briefed on deliverables and timescales, is essential. Briefs for design or project tasks should be clear and documented, and agreed by all major project stakeholders to avoid objections or changes arising later in the project. The theme and brand of your intranet, and the design of homepages, are particular areas of potential risk for an intranet project – where the input of multiple stakeholders can result in disagreement or conflicting ideas. Get these agreed clearly early on.
Take the time to also determine and define the sign-off or decision-making process. Who has the final say or sign-off on key decisions? Who should be consulted? Are there any steps or red tape that can be reduced or removed, to ease delivery and avoid delays?
Support from a specialist intranet project manager who can work in partnership with your business to manage elements of the project can help reduce risk by giving a dedicated touchpoint and owner of the project, who will be focused on delivery.
2. Lack of stakeholder buy-in
Three-quarters of projects fail because senior management doesn’t get involved (Source: Capterra).
Even if you’re the one responsible for owning and implementing your intranet project, getting those at the top-table involved will help roll out the necessary cultural changes, safe-guard against low adoption risk, and secure those all-important champions who can motivate, excite, and engage your users.
Getting stakeholder buy-in can be challenging, particularly if you don’t have access to major influencers in your business. However, some simple steps will help you obtain the necessary sponsors you need.
- Take the time to map out your stakeholders – anyone who has a ‘stake’ in your intranet project, from those with budget control down to the end users. Consider their level of interest in the project and their power to influence it, to help you figure out where to focus your attention.
- Identify their painpoints or objectives, and how your intranet project will support these. By personalizing the value and return of an intranet to their particular priorities, you’ll be more likely to secure support for your project – and the advantages that brings.
(Mapping out the different priorities for particular departments and stakeholders will help you tailor your messaging when appealing for sponsors).
- Keep the lines of communication open throughout the project – even (or especially!) when things go awry. Don’t bury your head in the sand or fail to flag issues for fear of jeopardizing the relationship. Transparency and regular updates are key.
Looking for more support in securing stakeholder buy-in for your intranet project? Our FREE eBook, ‘How to get the boss to say YES: An 8-step plan to secure stakeholder buy-in for your project’ offers practical tips and support to get your project signed off, and off the ground.
3. Resource, role, and requirement risks
A typical intranet project will require input from multiple individuals or departments, both during implementation and after your intranet goes live. Resource may come from inside your organization, or externally.
If your resource is internal, you face the challenge of employees juggling their project responsibilities alongside their day-to-day roles. They may have conflicting priorities, or be called away to alternative projects within the organization.
Ensure that intranet team roles and responsibilities are agreed, documented and clarified upfront: individuals should know exactly what is expected of them, both during the project and in the long-term. If roles or responsibilities change, the handover needs to be documented and agreed by all major stakeholders.
If there is a risk that you won’t be able to obtain the necessary resource for delivery of the project to the agreed timescales, set out contingency plans for additional budget for external support. We find that the build stage can often call for additional pairs of hands, and without effective planning, many projects underestimate the time content migration can take.
Want to get a realistic estimate of how long it will take to build your intranet? Our free content build calculator looks at the 3 key stages of content migration, and provides a realistic estimate of both the time and resource it will take to complete.
Requirements are also a red flag for project risk. If requirements change during the project, it can quickly lead to lengthy delays and escalating costs. Ensure you’ve identified opportunity in your business, your unique needs and created clear objectives that can be used to define your requirements upfront. Our free Business Case Toolkit is designed to support you with this process.
4. Complexity of technology stack
Technology is now at the heart of most organizations. We use a growing list of different tools and technologies to get work done, to manage employees, to communicate with customers and vendors, to develop our goods or services, and much more.
An intranet project involves adding to the growing complexity of your organization’s technology stack. This presents the risk of competing systems with duplicated information, a breakdown in system processes, or silos of knowledge and information occurring, all of could ultimately undermine the success of your project. If you’re a large organization with a high number of employees, you also face the burden of user provisioning and de-provisioning.
What’s more, take a wrong turn with the application of your intranet platform or it’s place in your system architecture, and you face a host of potential issues that could impact upon your IT systems. If, like many of our customers, your project is being championed by Communications, HR, or Marketing, these considerations may be unfamiliar territory.
Mitigate this risk by bringing IT or specialist support onboard early on in the process. An intranet partner offering technical consultancy and support from qualified system architects and engineers can lower the risk further, ensuring your intranet is designed to complement your digital workplace – not disrupt it.
Consider integration functionality as part of your intranet specification or requirement list; Interact, for example, integrates with a number of directories such as Active Directory, Azure Directory or by using Interact’s Profile Sync API, enabling the seamless and automatic synchronization of users from a number of sources. However, we also recommend a status review as early as possible in the project, to perform a ‘spring clean’ prior to the sync taking place, and avoid redundant, incomplete, or non-existent user accounts being moved across.
In addition, integration with cloud storage providers, Office 365, or third-party platforms enables your systems and applications to work together, simplifying your digital workplace and avoiding information silos.
5. Stability, performance, and data security
Following on from the consideration of where your intranet will fit in your organization’s technology stack, there are specific risks relating to your intranet software itself.
We’ve all experienced the frustration of poorly designed or executed websites and software that perhaps won’t load, display consistent errors, go down when we most need them or are simply difficult to use. Issues such as critical system downtime, poor user experience and performance issues are a significant threat to the adoption and success of your intranet.
With the pace of innovation and development in the technology marketplace, tools and applications must be consistently and proactively evolving. If your intranet platform remains static in terms of features and functionality, or fails to adapt to trends occurring elsewhere in the business software market, it will quickly become redundant.
In addition, data security or risk to internal systems and information rank high on the risk of management concerns with any cloud-based system. If you operate in a heavily compliant environment, the threat to your information may been seen as a major barrier to getting your project even signed off, or place significant limitations upon the functionality or features you are able to adopt during implementation.
The key to addressing these risks lies in choosing the right intranet software partner. As part of your tendering process, we recommend adopting a system that meets ISO 27001 standards as a minimum. It’s also advisable to ask vendors for their documentation on:
- Penetration testing
- Vulnerability scanning and intrusion detection
- Data encryption
- Safe Harbour
- Mobile Device Management (MDM)
If these fall outside your comfort zone, ensure you enlist the support of IT or someone with the knowledge set to vet your options and ensure your chosen solution meets with any internal requirements.
Look also to the stability, reputation and experience of your chosen intranet partner. Can they demonstrate growth and financial stability? Have they experience working with customers in a similar sector, size or with similar requirements? How often do they release updates to their product? Can they offer support or a service desk, in case of any issues or concerns?
Selecting a partner who is new to the marketplace, doesn’t demonstrate innovation or adaptability, or lacks supporting professional services to back up their product, all poses risk – both during the implementation of your intranet project, and in the long-term.
6. Poor content management
Organizations have HUGE knowledge assets. An intranet should be structured and designed in a logical, intuitive and easy way, ensuring your employees are confident in finding what they’re looking for.
Poor content management on an intranet will result in it becoming a dumping ground for information. Without checks in place, content becomes redundant, out-of-date, and carries the risk of duplication of effort, wasted time spent searching, or even non-compliance as users access or act upon incorrect or old information. If your employees can’t depend on the information or content they’re accessing being correct, usage will fall away. Your intranet becomes an information graveyard.
“Employees spend 1.8 hours every day—9.3 hours per week, on average—searching and gathering information.” (Source: McKinsey)
This risk is particularly prevalent in projects where organizations simply want to migrate all their existing information onto a new platform: to ‘drag and drop’ from the old to the new. This approach may reduce time-to-launch for your project, but it is also one of the biggest risks of project failure.
Make information architecture and governance a central part of your planning process, or partner with an intranet provider who can provide specialist support and professional services to guide you in this process. Creating personas from user types and understanding common tasks or users journeys will help you to map out content requirements and the correct structure. Perform an audit of your existing content and identify any information gaps, sticking to these three key principles:
Assign ownership of content, with governance around how often content should be reviewed and updated, alongside any processes for approval and version control requirements. From this, you should be able to craft your site hierarchy and determine where content should go, how to group it, who owns it, and how to give it a context that your users will understand – ultimately reducing risk of redundancy.
7. Low engagement, usage, or failure to deliver on ROI
Ultimately, the measure of success for any new tool or piece of software is how much your employees actually use it.
Resistance to change and low adoption rates are common risks for any new piece of technology. Within any given organization, you’ll face the challenge of users with differing levels of technical ability or skill, and a diverse range of needs or priorities. Failure to meet their expectations, engage them in the project or deliver value to the roles poses a threat to overall success.
Low engagement can be minimized by addressing many of the risks we’ve already highlighted – by getting your stakeholders onboard, factoring in user experience, and creating a solid content plan. However, one of the simplest steps to defining success is to set out clearly what it is you want to achieve in the first place: setting objectives and benchmarking where you are now, in order to gauge what impact your intranet has had in your business.
Consider also how you are going to launch your intranet: creative and engaging launch events will get your users excited and motivated by their new technology. This great blog from David Newell of Canterbury City Council explores how they used a variety of tools including a naming competition, a visually appealing brand, a ‘guess who?’ competition, and branded materials to shout about their new intranet, iCan.
Invest in training for users, content authors and administrators. Consider a staggered launch of features and functionality, depending on your culture and needs, to give your employees time to learn the new technology and become comfortable. Enlist the support of change agents and advocates, ideally from across different departments or areas of your business, who can lead by example and support users on the journey to adoption.
Finally, invest time into the design of your intranet homepage, and keep your intranet dynamic. Usage tends to fall off when there isn’t something new for users when they log in:
Risk management, or risk adverse?
Risk management can be a balancing act. While the process of identifying and taking practical steps to mitigate risk is recommended for the smooth delivery of an intranet project, operating under the ‘fear factor’ and being overly risk adverse can be counterintuitive.
Risk management procedure should be effective and add value to the project. Any that are not, will actually slow down the project – ironically increasing the risk of project overrun, escalating costs, resource challenges, and more.