The crucial question – what is your intranet for?

January 16, 2011

A good friend of mine recently asked me to present some ideas to the charity he works for who will shortly be re-designing their intranet. As they were still considering their options I reviewed the Lean Intranet presentation I was going to give and realised that there was a crucial question missing.

What is your intranet for?

This eventually became the central proposition of the presentation. Defining what your intranet is for is a necessary consideration before any progress can be made in attaining the Lean Intranet or any type of  intranet improvement. Not defining what your intranet is for is, in fact, the greatest of the intranet wastes.

Intranet wastes

The Lean Intranet approach is partly built around the concept of continually improving your intranet by reducing waste.

Waste comes in many forms. In the ‘Toyota Way‘ Jeffrey Liker identifies eight types of waste that occur in lean manufacturing. I’ve identified below how these wastes might apply in intranets.

  • Overproduction – producing more content to cover a topic than is needed by the user. Not prioritising high value content
  • Waiting – time wasted by users trying to find content and time wasted waiting for responses to queries from the intranet team
  • Unnecessary transport – Can the content be brought to the user (e.g. by RSS feeds or personalisation) rather than the user having to come to the content?
  • Overprocessing – ‘Gold plating’ or ‘gilding the lily’. Fancy graphics and page layouts that do not contribute to the user’s ability to access and assimilate content. Overprocessing does little more than setting up further barriers between the user and the content they need to access
  • Excess inventory – simply too much content; especially obsolete, poor and irrelevant content
  • Unnecessary movement – making the user take longer journeys to access content that is strictly necessary. Minimising the content set will also minimise this waste
  • Defects – poor or missing metadata, broken links, typos, poor grammar make the site look unprofessional and untrustworthy
  • Unused employee creativity – not considering and utilising the ideas of the intranet team, users and stakeholders.

The biggest intranet waste of all however is not knowing what your intranet is for.

If you don’t know what it’s for how can you know if you’ve been successful?

Defining your intranet

If you don’t define your intranet and match expectations to resources before you start thinking about the design or re-design of an intranet you are dooming your intranet to the ‘boom and bust’ cycle.

It is vitally important, as early in the process as possible, that realistic goals are set and documented so that everyone in the organization has the information required to judge whether or not the intranet is performing as it should. Otherwise stakeholders and staff may expect the intranet to provide everything for everyone; an impossibility unless you have infinite resources.

I have had experience with this not just in intranets but over decades working with management systems. As part of the requirements for ISO and other management standards was the need for a mission statement.  The statement documents at a high level  –

  • What the management system goals are
  • What resources are required to achieve the goals
  • How success or failure is assessed

This statement is then signed by the CEO and displayed in reception and meeting rooms. I personally have found the mission statement to be of great benefit in resisting pressure from powerful stakeholders within the organization who may want to do something that conflicts with the goals in the mission statement. If any senior manger or stakeholder suggested something that went against the mission statement, I would get it down, point to the top guy’s signature and suggest that they take it up with him or her. I’ve found this approach to work wonderfully well.

The intranet mission statement

So every intranet should have a one page mission statement that succinctly states –

  • What the core priorities are. Intranets sometimes try to be everything to everyone, an impossible goal. Ensure that what your intranet is trying to achieve is possible considering the resources you have available. This inevitably means prioritization
  • What you will do for all employees as a basic service
  • The person who is responsible for the overall control of your intranet. Intranets that are run by committees, especially those with powerful stakeholders involved, will always end up as a mess
  • How you will judge the success of your intranet
  • How you are going to keep it maintained over time

Then get the top guy in the company to sign it, frame it and hang it on your wall.

So what might your mission statement look like? I’ve put together a generic mission statement which I think would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to write their own –

‘Our intranet exists to –

  • Satisfy the information needs and wants of the employees and their managers who add value through the transformations that pay our salaries and those key staff who directly support these value adding activities
  • Provide a personal service to all employees that will allow them to complete timesheets, book vacations and feedback their suggestions


The Intranet Manager is responsible for the running of the intranet including all content, structural and IT issues. The Intranet Manager reports directly to the CEO. The CEO is responsible for supplying the necessary resources over time to achieve the goals stated in this document.


We will judge our intranet not on the amount of visits it gets but by how useful and usable our staff find it. To establish how satisfied our staff are with our intranet over time user research will be carried out at regular intervals and the research results will be a major factor in helping us to attain our goal of providing our users with the best intranet possible.


We have adopted the ‘continuous improvement’ approach to ensure that our intranet remains a valuable resource over time. We will actively manage content to ensure that our staff can find the information they need and we will provide a service to help staff when they have trouble locating the information they need.’

Powerful stakeholders can all have their own view of what the intranet is for and what it should be doing for them. Without a mission statement who can tell them they are wrong? Write your own mission statement, get the CEO to sign it and then everyone in your organization will know exactly what your intranet is for and, probably more importantly, what it isn’t for.

4 Responses to “The crucial question – what is your intranet for?”

  1. Vivek Says:

    One more great post from you hitting the fundamentals of Intranet!

    I particularly like the mission statement. I dont think I came across this in any of the firms I had worked for. This could just become an extremely effective approach for the Content Management profession if implemented religiously.

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Many thanks for your comment.
      I saw this approach work very well in Quality and Environmental management systems. If you wanted ISO accreditation you had to have such statements. For me, as Quality and Environmental Manager, this gave me written backing from the very top of the organization which certainly made my job somewhat easier.


  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Prescient Digital, Geoff Atkinson. Geoff Atkinson said: RT @intranet2: The crucial question – what is your intranet for? […]

  3. […] “Our intranet exists to provide a personal service to all employees that will allow them to complete timesheets, book vacations and feedback their suggestions.” – manIA […]

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