I read a couple of blog posts recently that seemed to make a lot of sense to me when thought of together. The first post was in Toby Ward’s excellent IntranetBlog entitled ‘Intranet 2.0 sits on the back burner’. Here Toby comments on a recent survey which semed to indicate that Intranet 2.0 isn’t really getting off the ground with the take up rate for blogs, wikis and social tagging in organisations not getting above 15%.
The other post was in Giraffe Forum and was entitled ‘Intranets are not information dumps’. In the article the author states ‘The vast majority of intranets would be far more productive and collaborative if they deleted at least 90 percent of the content they currently have’. Not long ago I was responsible for redesigning the intranet for a large local government department. Having giving it a lot of thought I ended up cutting out around 40% of the content, much of which I had been responsible for inserting in the first place. It was painful but I was quite staggered with the minimalist, clean lines of the redesigned intranet. No-one seemed to miss the content that had been removed and I started to get compliments on how easy navigation had become.
So where is this leading?
I think that a lot of senior managers are sceptical of Intranet 2.0 because Intranet 1.0 in many organisations is not providing the goods. Perhaps a new way of thinking about intranets is required. A way that will give more credibility to intranets in the eyes of senior managers and make the process of introducing Intranet 2.0 concepts more of a continuum than a ‘big leap forward’. I have called this concept the ‘lean intranet’.
The concept of ‘leanness’ comes from Toyota and automotive manufacturing. ‘Lean manufacturing’ occurs when an organisation has cut out all waste and non-essential activity leaving only value adding activities. Only truly ‘lean’ automotive organisations can fully support the ‘just in time’ delivery of goods and services and allow for the flexibility of of supplying in a ‘pull’ environment i.e. supplying only what the customer needs when he needs it.
So how can an intranet become ‘lean’?
In the seminal book Lean Thinking five ‘lean’ principles are defined –
Specify what creates value from the customer’s point of view
Any user from the CEO to the receptionist should be able to point to content they find valuable. To achieve this you need to understand what content your users really need to create value within your organisation. Once you’ve done this then remove everything that doesn’t add value from the intranet. This can be really hard as a lot of people get attached to their stuff but be ruthless. More stuff means more ‘information fog’ making it harder for the users to find what they want.
Identify all of the steps across the value stream
Identify and document how the intranet works in terms of –
What needs to be done, who should do it, when should they do it, how they do should do it and where it goes once they’ve done it.
Once the process is fully understood and documented it now becomes possible to continually improve it. In really good organisations this will be done for all value adding activities not just the intranet and this information will, of course, form a vital part of the intranet content.
Make those actions which create value flow
Remove abstacles, constraints and eliminate gaps between discrete activities. This can sometimes be hard to do especially when dealing with people who are used to working in silos but, if a smooth flow between activities can be achieved, significant improvements will definitely accrue. This is especially important for those activities that assist content creation and information flows.
Only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time
This is particularly important with peformance data. Ensure that all content is current and is delivered to the user when and where needed. Ongoing user research will keep you up to date with your users’ needs and content should be constantly churned to reflect this.
Strive for perfection by constantly removing layers of waste
Constantly examine your intranet’s processes and continually reduce all non-value adding activities therefore reducing the time it takes to do something .
Waste comes in many forms – in manufacturing they are called the seven muda (Japanese for waste). Candidates for the seven wastes in intranets might be –
– no vision of exactly what the intranet is for (if you don’t know where you’re going you can never get there and everyone’s time is potentially wasted)
– poor or no metadata scheme (again wastes everybodys time and the potential for improvement)
– search not optimised (wastes your users’ time)
– poor categorisation and navigation (wastes your users’ time)
– poor, irrelevant or incomplete content (wastes your users’ time)
– obsolete content still accessible (wastes your users’ time)
– typographical and grammatical errors (wastes your team’s time going back to fix errors)
What’s ‘lean’ got to do with Intranet 2.0?
Firstly you need to show your bosses that the intranet is really adding value. The simpler it is the more they will ‘get it’. The whole intranet process should be treated as any other vital business process. Show them what you are doing in terms of process flows, policies, procedures, transactional pages etc. Show them the value through the iterative user research you’ve carried out. Once you convince them of this then it should be easier to get them to move to the next level – Intranet 2.0.
But there is a deeper strand to this discussion. Intranet 2.0 approaches rely on good metadata schemes to ensure that content is findable and relevant. With a ‘lean’ intranet the emphasis should be on supporting the content that has been identified as valuable with a set of rich metadata and getting even more value out of the content through rich interlinking. Getting the management of the intranet right and reducing the volume of content should allow the intranet team to spend more time on the metadata. There is a lot of information out there on metadata standards such as the one used by the BBC so you shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Once the metadata scheme is in place it should now possible to roll this out and use it in creating the intranet’s social spaces. Having users tag their own contributions will work much better when metadata schemes can suggest tags (based on intranet content metadata) that will be of more relevance within the system. Of course we must enable users to create their own metadata but re-using existing metadata will open up much more of the existing content to the user. I believe that this has been called a controlled folksonomy (I first heard this term in a post by Christina Wodtke). To me this approach makes absolute sense in the enterprise setting.
In a previous post I stated that you shouldn’t have news in your intranet. In my opinion Intranet 2.0 applications are perfect for news and stuff that might be interesting to users. But a word of warning about brands. If you whittle down your intranet and really make it work for your organisation and users, it will inevitably become a brand. Users will begin to respect it and a prevalent term for the brand will emerge. Protect the brand at all costs. Bundle up all of the Intranet 2.0 under another brand name e.g. if your intranet is called ‘The Information System’ then call the Intranet 2.0 social networking stuff ‘Your Pages’ or some such and also give it another colour scheme. If the initiative fails then it won’t take the core intranet down with it.