In my last journal entry, I chronicled the beginning of my enterprise's efforts to re-envision the company intranet and detailed our team's strategy to change the conversation around the intranet program and its priority relative to projects with more compelling returns on investment. We had just received approval to develop a strategy engagement with an outside firm and we were just starting our efforts to share some of our thoughts on a vision with a wider audience.

Journal Entry: Pitching a Rather Large Tent

One of the harder parts of working in a consensus driven company is understanding, embracing and working through the dynamic where a single "yes" is relatively meaningless. In many large organizations one person rarely, if ever, has the full authority to say yes to anything. This is even more true when the yes in question will impact every employee in the company. 

Several individuals within the company have gotten wind of our proposed voyage and are interested to see if there is any overlap with engagements that they are working on.

  • Several Information Technology executives are pushing for a new suite of collaboration tools.
  • The Sales team is replacing a sales specific portal for use by the company's nationwide salesforce.
  • Customer operations is looking for a more robust knowledge management toolset.

Depending upon how we provision our journey any one of these groups could strike out on their own and create a use-case specific tool for a single audience. Our core team has decided to go with a "big tent" approach with the idea that an adaptive intranet can understand the individual needs of an employee by calling upon a mix of personalization and customization design tactics.

Several individuals from across the organization are skeptical that a general purpose tool can be as useful and efficient as a more specific tool. I acknowledge these concerns and am able to, for the time being, table them by articulating a few key concepts:

  • Rather than asking if it is impossible for people to be as productive with a multi-purpose tool, we should be asking how much more productive people could be if they did not have to navigate amongst the sea of modes, channels and destinations that make up their current online employee experience. The collapsing of mode-specific engagement channels into a personalized and customized experience will not only bring the features and content most important to users to the forefront, it will also reduce the mental noise that inevitably accompanies the beginning of a task when a person has to spend brain-cycles figuring out where to go and how to get there.
  • While we are aspiring to achieve a future state with fewer channels for employees to keep track of, we have not yet decided to collapse them all. Making a well informed decision around this question is the prime purpose of the strategy engagement. With a well crafted engagement plan, our strategy vendor will be able to help us understand how to balance the overall concept model between a single dynamic and and adaptive experience and a suite of more focused destinations and tools.
  • We are not attempting to design a one-size fits all experience. We are trying to create an experience that molds to the employee and changes as their role, area of responsibility and set of interests change over time.

Journal Entry: Time Kills Deals

Harder to accept than the task of getting a boatful of yeses is the fact that almost anybody can say "no" and kill a project before it starts. The disadvantage to the big tent approach is that it begs the question "how long will it take to build something like that?"

To a person, directly after an individual bought into the idea that the possibility of an adaptive intranet was worth looking into, the next topic was if it could be built in a time that would match up with the business needs. Given that these needs were based in reality, rather than possibility, this topic is a possible killer for our voyage. In responding to these concerns we remind our fellow explorers and patrons of a few points:

  • Given that we, like many enterprises, are finding that building and maintaining our own intranet platform is not a sustainable IT strategy, our pace to deliver a solution will be accelerated by using outside firms that are less distracted and able to give more focus to an engagement like this. As an example, I cite an engagement from my days as a consultant where we designed, built and deployed a 70,000 global employee intranet for a major CPG company in less than 4 months.
  • Just because we are going "big tent" does not mean we have to go "big bang". Using the "cupcake model" of product strategy and evolution we can target a few time critical audiences for a first release and navigate along a charted course to wider audiences and deeper functionality.

After dodging the early obstacles to departing on our journey there are still many obstacles in front of us. In my next entry, I'll cover topics including selecting a vendor, navigating the straits of corporate budgeting and procurement and keeping such a wide array of stakeholders connected to the program in a meaningful way that does not invite stagnation. Please feel free to comment below or ask any questions related to your intranet journey.

Editor's Note: If intranets are your focus, check out: Why Intranets Need to Be Intelligent and The Future of Collaboration and Communication is Not The Intranet.

And from Stephen, check out: Think User Experience is About Creating Great Designs? Think Again!