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A recipe for managing your intranet

There are many ingredients that go into your recipe for how you can manage your intranet well.  Few organisations are excellent with how they manage their intranet.  Even fewer are prepared for their intranets to transform into digital workplaces and take advantage of the benefits on offer.

It is no good looking at a menu for managing an intranet and choosing a few items from the menu that are easy to do.  If you are expecting by doing this people using your intranet will get an improved, consistent, experience you will be sadly disappointed.  If only it is that simple! :)

From first-hand experience as the BT Intranet manager and from the wider view when consulting helping clients with the right approach for their intranet this is my recipe to successfully manage your intranet.

Starters, entree or first course

  1. Have a set of business requirements: your business strategy, values and priorities will help you
  2. Have a set of user requirements: satisfaction surveys, online polls, feedback will be good indicators
  3. Know who your stakeholders are: the senior managers who will champion and support you

Main course

  1. Develop your intranet strategy: scope and align it with your business strategy
  2. Set a few key priorities: what will benefit your business most
  3. Create your governance hierarchy: roles, responsibilities, reporting lines
  4. Define your publishing standards: base them on business, legal and user requirements
  5. Design your information architecture: where people using your intranet expect to find content, etc.

Afters, Dessert or sweets

  1. Measure the benefits: Track your progress with your project plan
  2. User satisfaction: Survey people to assess any change in their views
  3. User engagement: Analyse your statistics for changes in usage

Following this recipe should give you a dynamic intranet, engaging content with plenty of energy for future improvements!  Why not give it a try or would you add any side dishes or change the menu? :)

How to help people to find your content

One of the areas that I get asked for help with is how to make it easier for people using their intranet to find the information they need for their work.

How people are able to find your information or site is critical to how good their experience of it is.  It’s no good having this fantastic source of knowledge on your intranet if no one can find it!

If you are making a major change to your intranet or maybe a smaller improvement to it e.g. launching a new site, it is very wise to test it with some volunteers who can feedback and influence any refinements so it gives the best experience when launched.

One way to help you is to create an information architecture – a structure and menu to help people find their way around your intranet easily – to test with people who could benefit from this new information to be launched.

An online testing tool can take the guesswork out of information architecture and help you check where the right place should be as well as the most suitable headings.

I have found ‘tree testing’ – a usability technique for evaluating the findability of information – is a good way with a simple text version of your intranet structure and hierarchy.  You can also use it to test the structure of a new site to check the content and headings are shown in the best way.

A small amount of funding for online testing can save you the time and effort second guessing where people may expect to find your content.  It will also help people who need to use your information having a better experience.

Can you recommend a tool that has helped you?

How to get your business ready for SharePoint 2010 – the user experience

SharePoint 2010 gives you the opportunity to upgrade your technology to meet the current and future needs of its businesses.   It also enables other changes to improve business effectiveness to be made at the same time.  This helps to justify the cost to the business from investing in SharePoint 2010 and not just keep everything the same as before.  There are many features that SharePoint 2010 offers which will help maximise the benefits.

Your business must aim to give users of your intranet a much improved experience from day 1 with continuing improvements made at regular stages afterwards as part of an ongoing intranet strategy.  Here is part 1 of my tips to get your business ready to use SharePoint 2010:

User experience

  • ‘Mega menu’ at the top of every intranet page with functional titles that can expand to show the most popular and/or important content as a shortcut.
  • Site menu on the left hand side of every page in the site to navigation menu of the site’s contents.
  • Breadcrumb trail below the mega menu on every page to help people navigate easily back to a previous page on their journey.
  • Title of each page to show in the header and footer of every page.
  • Homepage and any other key intranet sites to have common principles of navigation, functionality, and look and feel with the option of having distinct branding.  The type of content and its position can vary for each homepage.
  • Content pages to have an owner, review and last updated date shown consistently at the bottom of each page.  The owner can link to their My Profile for contact details.
  • Content sections will clearly show what they contain.  People will be able to collapse sections within the main page or expand them to show all the links and content within them.  Some sections can be forced to stay open; other sections can have the option to add more links and content if people choose.
  • My Profile will provide information about an individual to help people searching for someone realise this is the right person to help them. The details can include contact details, location, manager and place in the business’ hierarchy, whereabouts and relevant information, experience and interests.

In my next post I will cover how to get your business ready for SharePoint 2010 – the publisher experience.

7 navigation principles for mega menus

Many organisations are are planning to or already use mega menus on their intranet to help employees navigate to the information or tools they need to use.  I have been involved in developing several mega menus based on different business needs while helping with SharePoint 2010.  Some have been more successful than others at giving a great user experience……….and that’s what you are really aiming to achieve.

People need to be confident wherever they are in the intranet and with what they need to go and do next.  I believe some navigation principles help you decide if a mega menu is for your intranet.

Navigation principles for mega menus

  1. It helps people get to what they need more quickly.
  2. The headings are consistently placed in the same position on every page.
  3. The headings are specific and clearly labelled to avoid any confusion or hesitation.
  4. The content under each heading is relevant to the heading’s title and links to the right page.
  5. The content under each heading should only be the most important and popular headings – don’t try to duplicate all your intranet.
  6. The size of the each section of links under each heading should be limited and be used.
  7. Test it with a sample of people first before launching or making any major changes every time.

My view is the mega menu must help people to get quickly and easily to the most important and popular pages they need to use on the intranet.

I have experienced both static mega menus (same headings, position nd links) and moveable menus that change as they follow you around from one part of the intranet to another.  The feedback has been almost universal from people using them.  Static menus work and changeable menus cause confusion and are avoided by most people.

When people are more familiar with and use the intranet more frequently maybe you can test with people want to change to moveable headings and content depending on where they are in the intranet?

What is the right governance model for a digital workplace?

Thank you to everyone who read my last post ‘What is a digital workplace?‘ and contributed to a great discussion helping to define it.  Staying with the digital workplace theme I want to show you the views given in my workshop at IntraTeam 2012 event ‘How to build the right governance model for the digital workplace‘ which produced some great responses.

The workshop covered four areas needed for the right level of governance: Ownership, Consistency, Standards, and Integrity. The outcome was:

Who should be responsible for developing and implementing the digital workplace strategy?

Digital workplace principles need to be put into your own organisational context.  A board of representatives from across the organisation is needed to coordinate a digital workplace strategy.  This board can have decision or advisory status.  Alternatively you could have a central business unit responsible for strategy, processes, planning and implementation.  While there was no clear decision on who led the digital board or business unit there was a consensus it was NOT to be anyone from Communications!

What should everyone expect or need when using a digital workplace?

Everyone should gain a better work/life balance from a digital workplace although managers and their team members will have different expectations.  The digital workplace should have all the information and tools you need integrated, easy to access and to find.  You are able to connect from any device you have.

What standards are needed for a digital workplace?

A governance framework is needed with standards forming a key part with tools to enforce them.  Standards are needed for:

  • Legal requirements: accessibility, personal information available
  • Business needs: usability, design, navigation, findability, ownership, information retention and employee terms and conditions need to encourage the digital workplace
  • Security needs: confidential information restricted, permissions model adopted
  • Technical support: platform functionality, server support, agreed levels of service.

How do employees gain confidence with the digital workplace?

Anyone who plans to work remotely, especially if they are the first person in that team, wants to have the same or better experience than where they currently work.  You gain confidence when the information and tools you need for work are always available to use.  You feel confident that your personal information is there for you (and only you) to use still.  You don’t feel any discrimination because you are working remotely from your manager, team, customers and other employees.

What is missing?

Please help me and the other intranet professionals at the workshop by commenting on the outcomes.

10 ways to increase intranet adoption

Since 1996 I have been pioneering the best ways to increase adoption of new tools on the intranet.  For the 9 years as the BT Intranet manager and since then as a consultant, I have experienced different ways organisations have encouraged adoption of technology.  My top 10 ways are:

Research what people need

Ask what their biggest pain points are.  What could be made easier?  What is missing from the intranet?  What is good and they want more of?

Prioritise improvements

How important is the task to the person and to their organisation?  How many people are affected by this?  How frequently is it happening?

Early adopters to become ambassadors

Identify adopters who have the most urgent need to try something new to solve a business problem.  Involve adopters in proposed changes as early as possible to get their buy-in.  Satisfied adopters will be your best ambassadors and spread the word.

Make the first experience a good experience

You need to encourage not discourage usage to avoid unnecessary costs in extra effort.  Act on early adopters’ feedback.  Test with usability experts.  Compare with existing best practice.

Advance communications so no nasty surprises

Manage peoples’ expectations.  Clearly explain what it is you are offering and where they can get advice, training and help.

Consistent navigation

Give people a bridge from wherever they were on your intranet to get to another part more easily.  Show the same headings and position on every page.  Find out what are the best navigation headings that would help people most.

Personalise and target information

Give people the relevant information they need.  Give people the applications they need to use.  Give people confidence their personal information is secure.

Embed standards into templates

Reduce the barrier for publishing. Make it as easy as possible to do.  Focus on what is important – the quality of the information – not how to use the technology.  Consistently apply governance.  Embed standards in the templates.

Compliance tools give users confidence

Standards need to be enforced when publishers’ behaviour falls below best practice.  Compliance tools enforce important standards – business, regulatory and legal requirements –  and minimise time and administration.  Users’ confidence in the integrity of the information must not  be compromised.

Clear responsibilities and roles

Who is responsible for managing the intranet strategy, standards, IT infrastructure?  What should everyone involved – publishers, contributors – need to do?  Align intranet roles with performance management and job descriptions.

Designing intranets: a ‘must read’

I have just finished reading ‘Designing intranets – Creating sites that work’, the latest book written by James Robertson.  For those of you who have seen James present or read his blog posts, you will know he gives a clear view to help you – whether you agree with it or not.

James is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on intranets. He has used this experience to write this book.

Whether you are new to intranets or, like me, involved as an intranet manager for years, this book will be very useful to you.

This book will cover all you need to know to be able to create intranet sites that work. And it is the ‘sites that work’ words that make this book different to others. It is more than just a pleasing design. It is what else is needed to be researched, planned and created too that will make your time and effort better spent. Even more, you want the people using your intranet to get the best out of it. This book helps you to do just that!

I have found it helps reinforce why BT’s intranet is like it is and why the things I do are important such as:

As I write this blog post ‘Designing intranets’ is by my side. Some parts of James’ book are looking well used already as I’ve thumbed through them several times for tips to help me!

Why not treat yourself? Read James’ book and help make your life easier and your intranet better by reading James’ book.