Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’

September 5, 2008

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.

(My thanks to Mr. Greenjeans for his stunning Flickr photo)

19 Responses to “Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’”

  1. Tom Humes Says:

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. Interesting post. One question – what sort of sign off did you have to get to remove 40% of the content of your old intranet? One of my challenges is the reluctance for anyone to give the power to the web team to remove old content.

  3. patrick c walsh Says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback.


  4. patrick c walsh Says:

    You make a very valid point. I say in the post that –

    ‘The whole intranet process should be treated as any other vital business process’.

    What I mean by this is that a manager is made solely responsible for all matters affecting the intranet and that she would be placed at a level in the organisation where she could have an input into the overall strategy and direction of the organisation. The intranet would be subject to peformance indicators and review as would any other vital business process.

    The organisational intranet needs to be recognised as an important business process else the ‘lean intranet’ cannot be achieved. The present situation, where most intranets have lots of editors stuffing the intranet with content they think is important, is clearly untenable and offers most organisations no clear benefit. In fact, with regard to the worst of these intranets, it could be argued that having no intranet at all would be an improvement.

    In short if most organisations conducted all their processes in the same manner as their intranets they would quickly go out of business.

    I was lucky as I was employed at a high enough level to influence management decisions and was made solely responsible for what went into the intranet.

    Best of luck with slimming your intranet!

  5. […] Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’ « manIA has some sensible advice on keeping an Intranet efficient and functional. I was drawn to the section where Patrick Walsh discusses “controlled folksonomies”, a phrase he attributes to Christina Wodkte. Essentially, you let content contributors choose their own tags, but prompt them with suggestions. Presumably, people are far more likely just to use the existing tags (thus preserving the underlying controlled vocabulary) most of the time, because it is easier than making up their own. He implies that people could use terms not in the CV, but not what would become of those tags. If they get added to the CV automatically, you would lose the control element as mis-spellings and ambiguous terms etc would slowly creep in. To keep the CV tidy would require some ongoing editorial work. For one of the CMSs used at the BBC, there are rules – once a folksonomic tag has been used a certain number of times, it gets sent to the IA team who can then add it to the core CV if they think it will be useful. Presumably, you also need someone to produce an initial CV in the first place. […]

  6. I would suggest that it would be better and more productive to consider the corporate intranet as part of many corporate processes, rather than a process itself. That way it is easier to relate its usage to the accomplishment of specific goals.

    You will find, however, that what contributes to one process’s “leanness” contributes to another process’s “bloat.” Reconciling the two can be a challenge.

    This why a more decentralized resource for building and maintaining individual process oriented websites using blog and wiki technology may make more sense than a single corporate “intranet.”

  7. patrick c walsh Says:

    Excellent point! I agree entirely.
    In the future I could see an intranet team initially spending almost as much time building the metadata structure and CV as in structuring the content and navigation. The ‘lean intranet’ should be the firm foundation on which Intranet 2.0 is built, supplying the content and metadata structure for the more fluid UGC approaches. The ‘harvesting’ of content and metadata from Intranet 2.0 would then be returned to the ‘lean intranet’ contributing to continually improving and expanding the content and the CV.
    Intranets at the moment are confined and interlinking with outside sources is not generally an integral part of the overall strategy. I can foresee a progression here –
    – from the solid foundation of a curated and constantly enhanced metadata and content (‘lean intranet’)
    – to Intranet 2.0 where communication is vastly enhanced and knowledge is levered by social applications and returned to the ‘lean intranet’
    – to Intranet 3.0 when much of the intranet’s content will be available to and richly linked to everything thing else out there – the semantic web.
    I see metadata as being the key and the first organisations that are enlightened enough to start building towards the target of Intranet 3.0 will, I believe, reap rich rewards in terms of innovation, knowledge creation, information synergy and reputation.

  8. […] Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’: Besondere Herausforderung besteht imho darin, das den sehr mitteilungsbedürftigen Abteilungen (Contentverlustängste) beizubringen […]

  9. patrick c walsh Says:

    Many thanks for your comment.
    I feel that the inherent problem with decentralising intranets is that authority is handed over to staff who in many cases don’t understand intranets – they aren’t information architects or information designers. In most cases they don’t have the resource to do anything other than the least that will get them by and they rarely have time to look over the walls of their silos.
    I honestly believe that introducing blogs and wikis into such an environment will only make the situation even more chaotic and the silos will continue, just wrapped up in fancier software.
    The gist of the ‘lean intranet’ approach is simply to concentrate on the simple things, like documenting processes, and do them well thus building a good metadata foundation before attempting anything more complicated.

  10. patrick c walsh Says:

    Webzeugkoffer blog – Hope your English is OK. Luckily my boss is German and translated. Thanks for including my post in your blog.

  11. Jed Says:

    Patrick, on your reply to Dennis ref decentralising – how do you feel about the ‘hybrid’ approach – keeping a central control aspect but using simple workflow to allow devolved authorship? After all in a large enterprise you really need content to be developed in the business unit or department its supposed to represent.

  12. patrick c walsh Says:

    I have no problem with what you are suggesting. Local content has to be provided locally and by the experts – the people who are doing the job. But I think there is a major problem in a lot of intranets with what happens next. The intranet team provide the cyberspace and look afte the techie bits while the content owners continue creating inefficient vertical silos.

    IMHO the intranet team’s structure should be horizontal cutting across the vertical silos. The team members could be co-located and get to know areas of the business and contribute to ensuring that the content is up to scatch. Meanwhile the content should be vetted and navigation approved centrally. That way we won’t have staff constantly re-inventing the wheel, something I’ve seen happen a lot. Communication between team members would be paramount and rotation of members a must.

    it may seem a bit bureacratic but if the approval process is thought out and streamlined it should not cause problems. After all many organisations with ISO management systems have been doing something like this for some time.

  13. Jed Says:

    I agree totally, its not rocket science, and the emphasis you put on metadata management in your original post, plus your comment above ref simple approval processes should prevent both bureaucratic ‘bogging down’ and allow content to be found by others (hopefully preventing silo’s). Still Intranets are often ‘political’ beasts, which is where ‘2.0’ often stumbles (“you want to let users do what?!”) and the ‘lean’ concept might help in preventing some of that too – all good stuff eh ?

    Anyway I have added your blog to the bunch of feeds I maintain at and thanks for a thought provoking posting 🙂

  14. patrick c walsh Says:

    Many thanks for your comments. Unfortunately politics and people do get in the way all too often but I really like your point. I agree its likely to be true that with less content, centrally managed, there might be less politics too.

  15. […] « Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’ […]

  16. The term “folksonomy” is generally attributed to Thomas Vander Wal (

    There’s a half-decent discussion about the term here:

  17. patrick c walsh Says:

    Thanks for your comment and the links. I was probably assuming (wrongly) that everyone would know what a folksonomy was.

  18. […] Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’ « ECM WORLD Veranstaltungen in 2009 […]

  19. […] Intranet 2.0: the need for ‘lean intranets’ […]

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