So you want to redesign your intranet? - Part 1

David Humphreys and Tania Lang
October 29 2008

Welcome to the first issue of our online newsletter! Each month we'll feature a new article by our consultants as well as usability tips, tricks, industry events, and the latest in user-centred design. Tania Lang and David Humphreys kick things off with the first in a series of articles on redesigning intranets and we share our tip of the month. In Part 2 we focus on design and development challenges. So keep reading and please get in touch with any feedback or article suggestions. We'd love to hear your thoughts!

So you want to redesign your intranet?

Part 1 - Challenges in kicking off your intranet redesign

Your intranet needs to be redesigned huh? You've known it for ages and senior management are starting to listen as everyone is complaining. Or maybe you've internally restructured and it's an excellent opportunity to get rid of that awful organisation-based IA you've hated for ages. Whatever the reason it's time and now you've got to do it. Sweet.

Unfortunately there are a lot of pitfalls you could fall into on the path to a usable intranet that adds value for your organisation. A successful intranet redesign project, or at least painless success, is very much based on addressing many of the key challenges. Here are a few challenges that we have seen organisations face over the past few years and ideas to tackle them.

Trap 1 - Getting management buy in and funding for your intranet

When it comes to resources the internet site usually trumps the intranet. In most organisations the intranet is usually the internet site's poor cousin, having to beg and scrape for adequate resources and funding.

You know there is a problem with your intranet. Staff are always complaining and requesting a better intranet search engine (which usually is an indication they can't find anything in the menu structure).

However, management don't hear the complaints from staff and are not particularly interested in funding an intranet redesign. They don't really use it much themselves and don't understand the impact a poor intranet has on staff productivity, efficiency and satisfaction.

Senior Management control the funds and do not usually understand the need to align the menu structure to user's 'mental models' i.e. how users group and think about organisational information. Management and business areas often do not understand what the problem is with a menu structure that is aligned to the organisational structure and often insist on calling things by their politically correct name. They don't understand the impact of meaningless menu labels such as 'Organisational Capacity and Performance Management' instead of 'Human resources'.

Tip - Conduct some research and help management understand the impact on the organisation; such as:

  • Our staff spent on average 2-5 hours a week wasting time searching for things on the intranet or asking colleagues where to find information.
  • Business support areas such as HR and Finance waste an estimated 20 per week each (equivalent to 1 FTE) answering common questions from staff who cannot find information on the intranet or who don't have confidence in the accuracy or currency of the information.
  • Many of our staff are saving corporate policies and procedures to their own hard drives because they can never find them on the intranet site (a couple of quotes or specific examples can be invaluable here).
  • Our staff are making important decisions that may affect community safety or service delivery based on verbal advice with other staff as they can't easily find relevant policies or procedures.

Tip - Collect data on the effectiveness of your intranet. Run surveys, interview staff in their workspaces, speak to internal client facing staff in business support areas, and run focus groups with staff. Consider getting some assistance from outside of the organisation to undertake some of these activities and make recommendations if you don't have the skills or resources in-house. The harsh reality is that sometimes management will only listen to external 'usability experts' and consultants, even though you may know a lot of the problems already.

Tip - Consider running some exploratory usability test sessions with users and presenting usability test video footage of users struggling to complete common tasks. Also present task completion rates to management to show how bad your intranet really is. You can run usability test sessions yourself with some basic usability testing training or seek the assistance of external usability testers.

Tip - Try to communicate the return on investment of redesigning and maintaining the intranet to senior management. Useful metrics are calculations for lost sales or average lost productivity per staff member X the number of staff. If you can find out the average wage and put a $ figure here, even more compelling. Another metric is the potential cost or risk to the business if staff don't follow policies and procedures published on the intranet because they couldn't easily locate them or were referring to old printed versions. Use that research!

Trap #2 - Managing management expectations

Management have finally wised up because of your great efforts or because the pain levels are increasing across the organisation and people are now complaining directly to management. There is now pressure from management and staff to deliver a new intranet in a couple of months but they don't understand what is really involved in delivering a usable intranet.

Senior management often only care about what they can see as they often don't even use the intranet. Their interest is often limited to the home page and visual design. Addressing these issues will often get management off your back and give you the time to do activities properly.

Tip - Explain the approach and what is involved in improving the intranet. Highlight why you need to understand business and user needs so that you can redesign a new intranet that allows staff to find information more efficiently and with greater satisfaction.

Tip - Focus on quick wins i.e. changes that are easy to implement which make a significant impact or improvement. For example, doing a bit of user research and redesigning the home page to address common employee goals as well as applying a new visual design and CSS to the whole site.

Be aware that senior management may also lose interest and associated support and funding once you have improved these. Once they have seen the 'new' intranet launched, they may not want to commit additional funds. That brings us to our next tip.

Tip - Try to secure funding for the whole project up front if you can before you get too many quick wins on the board.

In our next newsletter we will explore some of the challenges intranet managers face in the design and development phase.

Usability tip

Protect user's work - Don't place 'clear form' or 'reset' buttons at the bottom right hand side of forms where users expect a Submit button.

Whilst some practitioners suggest avoiding the use of cancel and reset buttons altogether, our research suggests otherwise. Whilst most of our test participants indicated they had lost data when they accidentally clicked on a reset button (which they said had frustrated them), the majority also indicated they still wanted a 'Cancel' or 'Reset' button in the event they changed their mind as they wanted to ensure that the data was really gone. Users said they would expect a Cancel button to appear at the top right of a form (so they wouldn't accidentally click it) or the bottom left of a form with the Submit button to the right of the Cancel button. Consider also the use of colour e.g. green for Submit and red for Cancel or amber for Submit and grey for Cancel.

Categories: Intranets