What NOT to do with your intranet (part 2)

August 24, 2008

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’ diagramsPareto 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)


9 Responses to “What NOT to do with your intranet (part 2)”

  1. Sue Massey Says:

    Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

  2. Some good comments Patrick…what do you think the biggest challenge of maintaining a successful intranet is?

  3. patrick c walsh Says:

    Thanks. Its lovely to get such positive feedback

  4. patrick c walsh Says:

    IMHO the biggest challenge in maintaining an intranet is in minimising mission creep. You start out with a clear vision of what what your intranet is for but then, especially if its a success, everyone wants their say and their stuff in it. And as for management interference….don’t get me started on that one.
    Unfortunately a good intranet manager must not only understand the technical challenges, design, usability, stucture etc. of the intranet but also be a diplomat, marriage guidance councillor and sometimes a bit of a dictator. But isn’t that part of the fun of it 😉

  5. uxarchitecture Says:

    You make a good point about design degradation due to feature creep. For me, the best solution is governance: roles, policies and processes to prevent chaos while preserving the ability to evolve and innovate within the original vision.

  6. patrick c walsh Says:

    UXA, Thanks for your comment.
    Yes, I agree. I’ve worked in management systems most of my life and have found that they can provide a necessary structure and documented way of working without which any organisation will struggle to be effective and continually improve.
    Only problem is you have to be on your guard as sometimes policies and processes can constitute a comfort zone and can ossify becoming a constraint rather than an asset. Best way is to keep things changing. The kaizen approach is excellent in this respect as it encourages change but not change on a scale that might become disruptive.

  7. Pockettes Says:

    This is helpful information.

    I almost wish Patrick would get started on management interference. I am curious as to whether it is the same that I experience.

    After seven years I am about to redsign our IntraNet which has grown freom a couple thousadns hits a month to hundreds of thousands. Requests for more items to be placed is non stop. In amany cases, employees are seeing this as an easier file sharing system that can be accessed anywhere.

    My other concern is management. Our task force has been comprised of Communications and Information Systems.

    Communications wants the whole kit and kaboodle like, video streaming, chat sessions, Social Networking like facebook, blogs, etc. Tehy claim the employees will love this and it will get used a lot.

    Now… my biggest hurdle over the past 7 years was to convince by design that employees needed this Intranet site for both time saving and informational.

    These employees who had to be dragged to the site for their information all the while complaining they had no time to sit at a computer and look up information. Employees who said they are far to busy to use something like an IntraNet as phone lines are faster.

    Well, somehow communications thinks all this fun stuff will get them to the site… why? I don’t know. I don’t know why anyone who has a hard time getting a break would go to a website during work hours to blog and check out something like an internal facebook much less have time to watch streaming videos, unless it were non-work related!

    So I have the gut wretching dilema of making this site cost effective, informational and interactive but not to much fun as staff time is valuable and we have security concerns from Information Services, employees policy breeches from Human resources, and co-worker disatisfaction when staff are spending to much time on the computer versus working.

    I am caught between Communications fun interactive site, Information Systems security and policy breeches such as HIPAA, inaapropriate Internet use, etc.

  8. Pockettes Says:

    good Lord the typos are bad. Sorry y’all

  9. patrick c walsh Says:

    Thanks for your comments. I think you are in a place very familiar to many intranet workers…between a rock and a hard place. It is very hard sometimes to deal with powerful stakeholders when intranet managers are often not senior enough in the organization to say no.

    That is partly why I came up with the concept of the Lean Intranet where intranet governance is totally in the hands of a single team. However what you need is some approaches that will help you right now in fighting off competing (and probably conflicting)demands from stakeholders.

    Let me have a think about it. Could be a good subject for a post!


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