Some more thoughts –
Don’t just make your intranet usable, make it useful
James Robertson of Step Two makes the distiction clear in his article. Usability is a must. If staff can’t find information then it might as well not exist. However usability is not enough by itself. When staff find content it must also be –
- Accessible – Content must be in a format that the user can easily access and understand. Don’t just think of accessibility as a disability issue (although this is incredibly important). I have seen staff not able to access information because IT wouldn’t allow any programme to be downloaded on company PCs. This meant that staff could not access PDFs as Adobe Reader couldn’t be downloaded!
- Complete – Partial information can sometimes cause more harm than none. Where it is important give users a snapshot of the whole process by using flow charts or other graphical means
- Relevant – OK you’ve got a lot of content but it is what users really need? It is really relevant to their work? Try doing a needs analysis
- Current – Obsolete content will erode users’ confidence in an intranet like nothing else
In short make the content useful.
Don’t forget that there usually is a ‘third way’
If you manage an intranet you can sometimes get caught between a rock and a hard place and a solution that all parties finds acceptable is not always easy to find. Trying to square the circle between management and users’ needs and wants, for instance, can be difficult but persevere. It has been my experience that a solution is out there. Think hard enough and consult as many other people as possible. The solution that can accommodate the needs and wants of all parties, the ‘third way’, is always going to be the best one.
Don’t listen to anyone who says ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’
‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do x, y or z?’ Words that now freeze the marrow of my bones. Always, at the inception of an intranet and for each major re-design, decide what the intranet is for and get management to sign up for it. Write this up one one side of a page of A4, frame it and hang it on the wall in front of your desk. A really effective way of making your intranet less usable and less useful is filling it up with stuff that some people think is cool but which isn’t relevant to the majority of users or to the core purposes of the intranet.
Don’t stand still
One of the great tools used in the automotive sector is called kaizen. This means ‘improvement’ in Japanese but in practice has come to mean continuous incremental improvement. The Japanese car industry realised long ago that a large number of small improvements can provide greater efficiencies and savings than most large scale improvement initiatives. Kaizen also has the added advantages of being non-disruptive, as changes are small, and of getting buy in from the work force as they are encouraged to continually look at what they do and improvement suggestions are welcomed.
How can this be achieved in an intranet? Firstly –
- Don’t always be preoccupied by what are perceived as the big problems. Where minor improvements can be made do them and do them quickly. I have found that sometimes a lot of minor changes can either suggest solutions to the big problems and in some cases remove them altogether
- Ensure that all members of the work force are able to and are encouraged to suggest improvements. Whether its a broken link, new information or new categories that needs to be included or just general moans and groans ensure that all comments are reviewed by the intranet team. In fact, for me, moans and groans have provided the best improvement opportunities as they point out where the problems lie but not having a solution suggested sometimes allows you to think of ‘out of the box’ and provide a really creative solution to the problem
- Use continual improvement tools where relevant. Most of these tools have been developed by the automotive and aeronautical industries and have proved their worth over many years. Particularly recommended (and simple to use) are – Ishikawa or ‘Fishbone’ diagrams, Pareto analysis, Radar charts, Deming cycle and creative problem solving tools.
(Thanks again to Joe Saunders http://flickr.com/photos/diamondjoe/ for the picture of his desk)