I have worked on many Intranet projects, have started designing them back when I worked for Microsoft Services and then, but even now I’m often confronted with rather static and old-fashioned Intranet environments. The Intranet is rarely an environment that people enjoy visiting and companies make the most obvious mistakes when realizing these environments, but you have to be involved in several of these types of projects to see the correlation. I’m going to share the most important factors that result in the failure of these projects and how you can prevent having to force the Intranet as the homepage on company laptops. Just to be clear. Forcing the Intranet as the homepage equals a failed Intranet project
Don’t assume consultants to be critical of your idea for an Intranet
Consultancy firms or freelance consultants and designers are rarely impacted because the Intranet or some portal isn’t used or visited often. Most of the people helping you to create the new Intranet will embrace your input and simply want to get the project done. You can’t blame them afterwards because the Intranet isn’t popular if it’s you that made the decisions regarding the look & feel and the overall experience. Ask them for their feedback and push them to be critical. Consultants and designers that consider you as experts should be replaced with people that take their job more seriously. Consultants need to be passionate about the topic and they need a clear vision.
The Intranet committee doesn’t consist of a group of Intranet experts
Each and every Intranet project is done pretty much the same way. You have a group of representatives from the different departments, they have several workshops, a design is chosen and the Intranet is built. Don’t simply assume that they are the experts. I understand that this is just one of the things that they can decide on and you don’t want to take that away from them, but the Intranet is intended for all employees and they need to be represented here as well.
You need someone to drive this project that actually cares if the Intranet is used or not and someone that has designed and implemented environments that generate traffic and result in interaction. You shouldn’t simply ask a project manager to do whatever the Intranet committee wants as they have made the decisions about the existing 90’s Intranet. Why would you expect the same committee to be able to fix it now? Are you really sure that a representative can’t wait to regularly update people that don’t work for the same department and do you think they want to make it easier for them to comment on everything they share? When answering both questions with “yes”, then please read my article “Enterprise Social, an inconvenient truth” as we need to cover that first. Why not ask the internal communications department how often they have to reach out to them to get updates on the Intranet or input for a newsletter. I have had this discussion many times before and can tell you that they don’t necessarily represent employees working for the department. I have received quite some pushback when sharing ideas to generate more traffic to and get more interaction on the Intranet.
Sending out a survey is not the best way to get input from employees
Stop using black box feedback systems such as surveys. Why not ask the employees for feedback by using the Enterprise Social network? You don’t have to be afraid of getting too much input as most people don’t really care about this anyway. They have been disconnected weeks after the first Intranet was launched, many years ago. They’re used to the Intranet just being there when they turn on their computer or when they occasionally visit it to see a couple of news items each week. They probably use it mostly for search and they will directly navigate to the advanced search page if they know how to find it. Feedback is important, but it’s more valuable to have an open discussion about this feedback. People need to build on top of the feedback of others and you should facilitate this, especially if it concerns an internal application such as an Intranet. Seriously, ask yourself. What are the risks associated with internal applications?
Share the concept with employees before a single line of code is written
We’re used to asking for feedback after all decisions have been made, but feedback before you have someone realize the solution is far more important. Based on my experience I can tell you that this really works. You shouldn’t be too worried if you have a great concept and the most valuable feedback could very well come from people that might not even have to use the Intranet. Trust me, the best feedback mostly comes from people that wouldn’t like to be part of a key-user group. They are willing to post a small update and join discussions online, but they’re not willing to fill out forms or spend hours to spot obvious mistakes and then see how their feedback is ignored. They already know how this works and they play by their own rules. It’s very simple, you won’t get feedback from the people with the best ideas if you haven’t set this up correctly as people with the best ideas don’t like to waste their time.
Adding likes, comments or a social feed is not enough to realize a social Intranet
More and more companies have been advertising their own “social Intranet” solution. Simply allowing people to “like” the news, comment on it or showcasing the “following feed” won’t make it an effective social experience. You need to make use of the algorithm of the Enterprise Social network, you need push notifications on the official apps and you are not supposed to compromise the Intranet or the Enterprise Social network experience.
You need to accommodate different types of users
Some people only visit the Intranet, others only visit the Enterprise Social network and we also have the people that limit their online interaction to Outlook. A social Intranet can bring these worlds together and connect people without them having to change their preferences. Make sure to tell the people that prefer email vs Enterprise Social how they can enable email alerts for the Intranet and give them incentives to comment on the news being shared. As an example: when you integrate Yammer effectively in the SharePoint Intranet, the news is automatically triggering an announcement on Yammer and this will reach them in their Outlook inbox. This also means that a reply to the email will end up as a comment on Yammer. We’re all very happy for them that they can structure all the information in Outlook folders, but that’s not helping the company or anyone else. Don’t spend too much time convincing them that the world has changed and focus on the people that have already joined your coalition. These are your foot soldiers. They should drive this change with support from management.
Check their references before you sign the contract
You’re probably dealing with a company or people that have done this before. This is why it’s important that you ask them about their previous experiences. Let them explain if their Intranet environments are actually used and try to reach out to their customers. They should have a clear vision about an ideal Intranet environment and you shouldn’t let them get away with “each situation is different” or “it depends”. It’s not about you confronting them with the statistics afterwards, it’s about them asking you because they want to learn. Let’s face it, they’re not helping anyone by building the same 90’s Intranet environment over and over again because they simply do what is asked. When dealing with consultants that don’t feel comfortable challenging your ideas and input, rest assured that they’re not discussing things with their colleagues and accept the fact that this consulting firm does not have the right people to help you with this. Great consulting firms consist of consultants that constantly reach out to each other and challenge themselves to become an expert in their field. Feedback from their colleagues should be a very important part of their job as they are not only representing themselves as individuals but their company and colleagues as well.This is one of the most important things I have learned during my time at Microsoft. We all knew what it meant to represent the company and this is why asking for feedback was part of our daily routine.
Aks how much code they can re-use in your project
Intranet environments exist of components such as news, events, highlighted information etc. The company, developer or consultant you’re hiring has been confronted with the same set of requirements since they started working on this topic many years ago. They happily develop everything from scratch based on your requests, but chances are that they are re-using existing code. You should at least negotiate a discount for code that can simply be re-used. You should be surprised if they don’t have the most common elements available to them right now and if they’re advertising a social Intranet, then this integration between the Intranet and the Enterprise Social network (e.g. SharePoint & Yammer) should already have been developed and shown to you before you agree to do this project. Also keep in mind that it’s becoming more difficult for them to sell huge and expensive Intranet projects. The main reason why you’re seeing these standardized Intranet solutions is that you have also by now figured out that Intranet environments have to meet the same set of requirements.
Be careful of standardized Intranet solutions
This is especially the case if you’re dealing with a Microsoft environment (SharePoint & Yammer). Microsoft’s roadmap is evolving pretty fast now and this is mostly due to the acquisition of Yammer back in 2012. They are doing a lot of A-B testing and are improving the experience with incremental updates. You need to check if the solution you’re getting is taking into account the existing roadmap. They should also be able to look ahead and take into account possible changes in the future. The framework for a standardized Intranet can easily be deployed and customized. They’re betting on you signing a support contract and I would strongly advice against that. These support contracts mean you’re being locked-in while it’s in your best interest to keep full control over the Intranet. Trust me. You don’t want to rely on both the Microsoft and Microsoft partner’s roadmap as the Microsoft roadmap is evolving too fast on its own. These are just some of the factors that play an important role with regard to these types of project. More information about how I realize social Intranet environments can be found on the following pages. Feel free to reach out to me if you need a new Intranet or need an update to an existing one. I’m also happy to review your existing Intranet and give you some pointers to improve the experience