I read a good quote on Twitter last week posted by Pauli Kongas (@pkongas). He said "Intranets are not built — they are grown. More like plants, not like buildings."
I like this quote because it gave me the answer to something that has been nagging at me since I read the NNG annual 10 best intranets report article earlier this month.
In this report, one of the conclusions is that "Great intranets require years to create." The report goes on to say that "Since 2001, we've tracked the length of time it takes to create a great intranet from inception to launch. On average, the process lasts for 42 months — or about 3.5 years. This year, the average was 27 months, or about 2.3 years to create the winning designs."
Something about this conclusion didn't seem quite right to me (and was also slightly depressing!).
There was a discussion on LinkedIn about whether 3.5 years to create a great intranet was right. Maybe the answer was here? Some people felt that great intranets can be developed more quickly than that, others questioned exactly what was meant by a great intranet, while a few more people felt that user adoption and change management was the time consuming part and could possibly justify this lengthy time frame.
The Organic Intranet is an Intranet that Grows and Evolves
I posted a comment to the discussion where I mentioned that the #1 ranked Worldwide Intranet Challenge intranet — Weston Solutions — only took 12 months to develop their award winning intranet.
However, I have since looked at the case study again and realized that in fact the Weston Solutions intranet had existed since the late 1990's. So in fact from 'inception to launch' — which is how the NNG report defines the time frame — it has really taken around 15 years to build a great intranet (not the 12 month SharePoint upgrade project that is the topic of the case study).
But what is interesting is that the Weston Solution's intranet greatness wasn't a linear path where it gradually went from inception, to good and then to great. It was more of a sine wave.
They did in fact already have a great, award winning intranet in the early 2000's. However, over time the intranet was neglected, technology moved on, end user expectations changed and the quality of the intranet declined until they launched a project to re-build the intranet in 2011.
I then realized what had been nagging me about the NNG article — the implicit notion of the intranet as a big "project." A project where there is a start date, a launch date, some activities in between, a time frame for achieving an end result and then the intranet is "finished." Done!
Intranets are not like this — they are organic, like the Weston Solutions intranet. They ebb and flow. Intranets are more like children or plants than buildings or projects. They need plenty of attention and maintenance. Without this constant attention, the quality of an intranet can decline pretty quickly — just as the Weston Solutions intranet did in the mid 2000s.
So putting a time frame to create a great intranet is like saying it takes 3.5 years to raise a great kid. While it does obviously take time to develop a child's character, time is not something that is usually a major consideration.
As Chris Wright comments in his recent CMS Wire article — 3 Steps to a Great SharePoint Intranet — "Don't ever finish your SharePoint intranet project. If you disband the project team once your Intranet is built, your project will ultimately fail. If you ever even consider an Intranet finished, you might have well not have bothered in the first place."
The Long Wow
Luke Mepham also makes the point in his excellent article, Big Bang Theory for Intranets, that a big bang approach to delivering intranets is not advisable. He says "A long period without any improvement means the perception of the intranet is poor and getting worse. Every week that passes people become more disillusioned."