Intranet Best Practice Check List

The Challenge

Earlier this year Interact held two very popular intranet seminars that focused on best practice tips for launching an intranet. At Interact we like to make such sessions not only informative but also interactive, so we asked attendees to judge what activities they would do, or had done, when implementing an intranet and what order they would look to do them in.

The 12 key activities they were presented with were:

  1. Engage usersIntranet Best Practice Check List
  2. Define SMART objectives for the intranet
  3. Promote the intranet
  4. Involve users in planning
  5. Get an Intranet Sponsor
  6. Name or brand the intranet
  7. Determine user expectations
  8. Focus on look and feel
  9. Have a roadmap
  10. Test the structure
  11. Compile a content inventory
  12. Observe end users

These 12 activities are a selection of a chain of activities and decisions that are done or made during the implementation of an intranet. It is not an exhaustive list. In fact it deliberately excluded a key task (which I’ll reveal later) it was presented to give an idea of the things that should be done. The task was to put these into a broadly sequential order and have some rationale for their thinking. What emerged was that it was not as easy as you might think!

As you may expect there was no exact match between the 40 or so answer variants. In fact it would be hard to get a universally agreed order as some activities will be conducted over time and therefore there will be an overlap with other activities. However, what can be agreed is that certain activities will need to be done before others in order for maximum benefit and efficiency, while some are conducted simultaneously and alongside others.

The working model

If you try to order these 12 activities then the sequential order would be:

1. Get an intranet sponsor

Their involvement can be crucial in helping you get things done or decisions made. They can act as your ally in giving clear and decisive intranet leadership. The intranet sponsor may also have a dual role and also be a key stakeholder.

2. Define SMART objectives for the intranet

Ask and answer the questions – “Why is the intranet there?” and “How will we know if the intranet is a success?” This can be done in discussion with the sponsor and in conjunction with the stakeholders, but it shouldn’t be a once and for all activity. There is benefit in revisiting and refining the objectives, particularly after concluding the activities undertaken in step 3 and 4.

3. Observe end users

In the belief that an essential intranet is a key working tool it has to be of use and benefit to end users. To that end you need to be aware of how people across the organisation work. What are their daily tasks, what information do they need to help them make decisions and how do they source it. While surveys can help this, it is only through heuristic observation that you get a clear picture.

4. Determine user expectations

While getting this information you will offer no guarantee of everything being delivered but it will help you uncover the “must have” elements as well as the “would like to have” ones. It can help you make decisions on what features and content should be prioritised for the intranet launch, and what can follow on as part of the intranet evolution (see step 12)

5. Compile content inventory

Having observed and interviewed users as the information and task expectations you can list the content you currently have and assess what content needs to be on the new intranet. Is current content fit for purpose, is it accurate, relevant and valued? As a rough guide it is not uncommon to cull 25% of existing.

6. Promote the intranet

In fact this is something that has already began, as during steps 3 and 4; observation and interviews you will have mentioned the new intranet and hopefully begun to enthuse people that something better is coming. As well as word of mouth and informal promotion it can also be the first marketing activity. A teaser campaign to build anticipation for the new intranet could be one of the first obvious marketing activities for the new intranet. It could be focused around a naming competition (see step 10.)

7. Involve users in planning

Having the dual role of also being an “engagement” activity (step 8 ) involving users in the decisions of how to structure content is key in building an intranet structure that is intuitive and one that provides context for content that is uncovered through search. A classic example of such an activity is a card sort, where users are asked to group content. This can help inform decisions of how content should be organised and presented.

8. Engage users

Again this has already happened, most recently in step 7. However you should strive to ensure that you engage across the organisation. You should look to engage with both ‘intranetphobes’ as well as ‘intranetphiles’. If someone doesn’t like or use the current intranet you need to know why, so you can set about delivering something that is of use and interest to them. Engagement is an activity that continues throughout the launch phase and there should be regular opportunities where feedback is sought and progress reported on. An intranet steering group could be the platform for this.

9. Test the structure

Step 7 was conducted to uncover the “mental maps” of how users would organise content and reveal how they think. The data and evidence gathered is then reflected on and a first iteration of a navigation structure and taxonomy be developed. To check that the conclusions drawn and decision made prove correct, testing should be performed. Users should be presented with the structure and asked to locate content and give their thoughts.

10. Name or brand the intranet

Naming competitions can be an effective way to promote interest in the intranet, as can voting on “preferred” options. However it is important that the right balance is achieved between this activity and others. An intranet name might be desirable, but an intuitive structure with relevant and accurate content is a greater priority.

11. Focus on look and feel

Your reaction to this being step 11 depends on your stance in the “form follows function” debate. In the context of designing an intranets a “form follows function” is often taken to mean that the designer should first gather the website’s requirements and then determine the aesthetics of the website based on the functional requirements. While a “pretty” intranet won’t make a badly structured intranet more usable it could be argued that an “ugly” intranet will cause an adverse reaction amongst users no matter how well structured and relevant it is.

12. Have a roadmap

The “intranet project” does not stop at launch. Intranets evolve in the same way the organisation within they exist evolves. Objectives will need to be reviewed and possibly redefined. It is unlikely that everything will be delivered for launch and therefore there should be a phased approach. At launch your intranet might be version 1. You should share what the development plans and schedule is for version 2, version 3 etc.

The missing piece of the puzzle
Intranet Best Practice Check List
What was the deliberately omitted task? – This question was also asked on the seminar.

The answer? Governance.

Governance is about having a process to make decisions and as such should begin during the first conversations with the Intranet Sponsor and objective setting phase and then underpins everything you do in the implementation and beyond launch.

What do you think?

I’d welcome your thoughts on the order I’ve settled on above, there are many other activities and decisions that need to be made when planning a new intranet. I’ve drawn out those key 12 and underpinned them with the application of governance, but I’d love to know your alternative order or alternate 12 maybe.

Please leave a comment below.

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