Designing intranet structures – defining and re-defining your intranet structure (Part 4)

July 31, 2011

In Part 3 I discussed how the design of URLs can play a big part in forming the initial structure of your new or re-designed intranet. In this post I’ll explain how users and stakeholders can contribute to defining the structure, why iteration is the key to a good intranet structure, why content is important and why thinking of the future is important.

It is useful when thinking about structures to roughly define some parts of the intranet structure –

Macro structure – The top levels of the intranet structure

Section structure – Any discrete part or section of the intranet that can be clearly defined e.g. HR, operations etc.

Micro structure -Any part of the intranet at a lower level of granularity

Users and stakeholders

In normal circumstances users and stakeholders will only ever get involved in structuring intranets through card sorting techniques. These techniques may still be required to identify how users view categories and genres on the section structure or micro structure levels but will probably not contribute greatly to the macro structure. The main reason for this is that only a open card sort may be used for the macro structure and, in my experience, it is rare to get a highly convergent set of results when no clue is given as to what the structure should be. It usually ends up with someone in the team having to invent the macro structure thus allowing only limited input to users via a closed card sort.  The approach outlined here and in Part 3, the ‘wall of URLs’,  should allow all users and stakeholders to comment on every level of the structure and at every phase of its deployment.

For both users and stakeholders, at least those at the same location, make sure that the wall of URLs is in a place they can easily access at any time.  Somewhere near the coffee machine or kitchen is good.  Alert them of all changes and they can then go and have a good look for themselves. For stakeholders and users that aren’t co-located send them updates by photographing the wall of URLs and bullet pointing the major changes.

For users you will need to identify particular user groups and then organize an intranet  focus group. Unlike many focus groups this one should not be short lived but should last as long as it takes to complete the intranet structure.  The group should be involved in forming the initial structure and in any major changes that may be required later on.  If the group is representative of your users, and you can encourage members of the group to report back to their user groups, this should help increase ‘buy-in’ from all your users.

For stakeholders this approach should enable them to not only constructively comment on their areas within the intranet but appreciate the intranet as a whole.  It should make it easier to explain the needs of other stakeholders and users and to sell potential trade-offs.

Input from both users and stakeholders has to be iterative and frequent if it is to be effective. It will also be very useful to hold joint reviews of the structure involving both users and stakeholders so that a conversation can be started about the inevitable trade-offs that will need to be made between users and stakeholders as the project progresses.

Considering Content

It is also important while iterating ideas for the structure to get an idea of what content goes where and the volume of content as this can have an effect on the structure. It is also very convenient to use this opportunity to lever knowledge from users and stakeholders about existing content and possible future content requirements. Content can be represented by a post it note where the  content type only is detailed e.g.


where the semi-colon represents a content type and not a page.

Think of the future

One of the problems that intranets suffer from is keeping up with change. Organizations inevitably need to respond to an ever changing world and, if it is to be effective, the intranet must reflect these changes. It is possible however to, at least partially, ‘future proof’ your intranet by levering knowledge from your user focus group and stakeholders. They know a good deal about their areas and making sure that your intranet structure allows for foreseen change should reduce the need for re-designs.

In the fifth and final part of Designing Intranet Structures I’ll be looking at how you can map your intranet structure and how this approach can offer ongoing sustainable improvements to your intranet.

See Part 5 Mapping and Continually Improving Your Intranet


(Many thanks to Ramberg Media for the Flickr CC photo)

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