In this fifth and final post on Designing Intranet Structures I’ll be looking at what should happen once you have agreed the structure of your new or re-designed intranet with your users and stakeholders – mapping and continuously improving your intranet.
In many intranet projects that I’ve come across or read about it seems that once the work has been done then everyone breathes a sigh of relief and walks away because there it is, like your first new car, all gleaming and new. However rust never sleeps and, like a car, ongoing maintenance is essential. Indeed as much thought should be given to how you can maintain and adapt your intranet structure over time as is given to forming the structure in the first place. In order to do this you need to know what your current structure is at any time. This means finding a ways of mapping your intranet and keeping that map up to date.
Mapping your intranet structure
There are many different ways of mapping intranet or web structures, some simple approaches that can be done manually and some more complex that can be done automatically using special software. For myself I prefer the manual approach. While this might take a little more time it has some real benefits –
– You can choose the mapping approach that suits your organization best
– You can ensure that it is made available in suitable formats to users and stakeholders
– You can ensure that it is maintainable i.e. not dependent on bespoke software, particular skills sets or personnel
– Getting your hands dirty by manually digging into the dusty corners of your intranet makes you really aware of what you’re dealing with and you can often see where things can be improved as you construct the map
My candidate for this is a version of Frank Beck’s famous tube map which can be seen below and accessed here –
The advantages of this approach is that it is simply represents the structure and importantly it also maps the structure of the links as well. The map is intuitive, as almost everyone around the world understands the concept of this type of map and it can be saved as a clickable set of web pages allowing you to upload it to a site so others can access and comment on it.
Why should you need to spend time doing this? A very true saying from the world of Quality is that ‘if you don’t know where you are, you can’t improve’. The map represents the baseline, at any point in time, of where you are. But what about improving your intranet structure?
Continuously improving your intranet structure
I have seen intranets that resembled a house of cards. Extra sections and content on loaded on to the structure until it inevitably falls down – failure in this case being defined by no-one wanting to use your intranet because they can’t find anything and its structure resembles a plate of spaghetti. So how are we to ensure that our intranet structures remain fit for purpose?
All organizations change over time and our intranets must reflect that change if they are to stay effective. We must think of our intranet structures as being fragile and in need of constant attention –
– Like an unruly hedge it will need pruning back into shape by removing obsolete or low value content or even sections
– Changes to responsibilities and departments will need to be updated in a timely way
– The intranet may need to be re-aligned to new and changing business goals
– The intranet must continually improve to stay where it is
That last point is important. I think it is possible to maintain an intranet in a near pristine state but what is needed is the resource and the right approach. This approach allows an intranet team not only to preserve a record of their intranet’s structure but also to play around with alternate structures and try out new configurations when change is needed.
Basically if you’re standing still you’re going backwards, as change, and sometimes rapid change, is inevitable. This lightweight approach to the design of the structure of intranets and websites may help you keep your intranet ahead of the game.